Vote nudges GOP to the right

By Jason Kosena
THE COLORADO STATESMAN

FORT COLLINS — Lower taxes, family values and the protection of TABOR were the major themes Larimer County Republicans reiterated during a vacancy committee hearing to replace Sen. Kevin Lundberg in House District 49 on Saturday.


Photo by Jason Kosena/The Colorado Statesman

House District 49 Rep. BJ Nikkel speaks
during the vacancy committee hearing in Fort Collins on Saturday.

Lundberg vacated his House seat last week after being selected by a different 128-person Republican vacancy committee to replace Sen. Steve Johnson in Senate District 15. Johnson is taking a seat on the Larimer County Board of Commissioners.

The committee selected BJ Nikkel, a former Marilyn Musgrave campaign staffer who lives south of Loveland in Larimer County.

Nikkel beat out never-elected Windsor Republican and small business owner Ray Walter, eight votes to two.

Unlike the race to replace Johnson — in which Lundberg bested the never-elected but more moderate Republican Mike Lynch — in the race to replace Lundberg, both Nikkel and Walter represented the hard right line, advocating for strict conservative values on issues from tax relief to bans on abortion and gay marriage.

“It wasn’t fiscal conservatism that got us into the messes that surround us, and it’s because of these messes that we need to apply fiscal conservatism now, not abandon it,” Nikkel said. “For all of the fiscal problems facing the state right now, just imagine how bad it would be if we didn’t have TABOR in place.

“Do bureaucrats like TABOR? No, because they have to ask first before taking our money,” she continued. “TABOR is doing its job. It’s keeping government from growing in an out-of-control way, the way it used to before TABOR was in place.”

Although he took only 20 percent of the vote, the opinions Walter expressed to the vacancy committee varied little from Nikkel’s stated values and political ideology.

“I am concerned about the direction this country is going, and I am concerned about the direction Colorado is going,” Walter told the panel. “I am concerned for my children and my grandchildren because we are like a runaway train going down the wrong track each year, and we just keep picking up more momentum on that track — which is runaway debt.”

Walter said his values are in line with those of “Mainstream America” in that he opposes abortion and gay marriage and supports Second Amendment rights.

“I am ex-military, an N.R.A. member and a big game hunter,” he said. “I have not filed for a concealed weapon because I am afraid that, sooner or later, we will have to report all the people who do that.”

Lundberg is known as one of the state’s most conservative legislators, and the decision by Larimer County’s Republican Party to bring the choice down to Nikkel or Walter represents support for the party’s conservative wing. They believe conservative officeholders are most likely to be re-elected, despite recent indications of moderate voting trends in the county.

Some in the Republican Party believe out-of-control spending by President George W. Bush’s administration and the growth of government size on Bush’s watch has led the party astray and blurred the choice between conservatives and liberals. Others believe the electorate is hungry for moderation in politics and has been easily wooed by Democrats — especially in Colorado — who have moved to the middle on many issues.

Although trends will become clear only over the course of time, the discussion within the Republican Party has begun, and the selection of Lundberg, and now Nikkel, could indicate that at least some of the party’s faithful believe a hard-line conservative approach will lead them to victory in 2010 and beyond.

Under term limits, Lundberg could serve 10 years in the Senate if he wins re-election in 2010 and 2014. He said he knows the Larimer County electorate well and understands their yearning for conservative fiscal policy and strong family values.

“I think we had two good candidates today, and what I heard when they presented themselves was the essences of those (conservative) values,” Lundberg said. “Ray Walter would have presented the interests of HD 49 in a good fashion, but I believe that BJ Nikkel will present them in the best fashion. I look forward to working with her and building a good strong team in Larimer County.”

Nikkel is well known among Republicans in Northern Colorado. In addition to working as a staffer for former Congresswoman Marilyn Musgrave, Nikkel has been involved in many Republican campaigns in Larimer and Weld counties during the last 10 years. Although her appointment to fill out Lundberg’s term is her first foray into elective office, Nikkel may have a better chance of re-election in 2010 than many Republican officeholders.

During November’s election, Lundberg beat out Democrat James Ross with 57 percent of the vote to reclaim the HD 49 seat, even though 2008 was an especially bad year for Republicans. HD 49 encompasses the towns of Berthoud, Windsor, Estes Park and some areas of unincorporated Larimer County. Lundberg — who many in the party believe will have to raise significant amounts of money to hold the SD 15 seat — was able to win re-election in HD 49 twice with relatively few campaign donations.

Nikkel, who was sworn in Thursday morning, said she is not sure what bills she will be able to sponsor this year or what committees she will be assigned to.

“I have been sitting in on... opening day where both House and Senate leaders gave speeches about which direction the Legislature might take, and I have sat in various committee meetings,” she said after her selection. “I have a feeling that I know what to expect when I get down there and I am anxious to get working.”

Jason@coloradostatesman.com