Effort to clean up CD 5 campaign besmirched

Lamborn supporters threaten to oust party chair

By Leslie Jorgensen
THE COLORADO STATESMAN

COLORADO SPRINGS — El Paso County GOP Chair Greg Garcia skidded on a dangerous curve and hit a concrete barrier of Republican resistance when he wrote a commentary that called for ethical campaigning.

The county chair cited ads that dented or demolished the truth. Most of the examples emanated from the campaigns of Rep. Doug Lamborn, Bentley Rayburn and Jeff Crank in the GOP’s 5th Congressional District primary.

Garcia’s road to good intentions was blockaded by key supporters of Lamborn, including El Paso County Commissioner Wayne Williams, who has endorsed Lamborn, and whose wife, Holly Williams, manages the incumbent’s CD 5 office here.

Williams said he contacted Garcia and Colorado GOP Chairman Dick Wadhams to inform them that the commentary posted July 25 on the county party Web site had set off a revolt and a potential effort to recall Garcia.

If the county party becomes bogged down with a recall of Garcia, Williams warned, divisive internal politics would impede efforts to get out the vote, potentially reducing GOP turnout in the general election.

Republican presidential candidate John McCain and U.S. senatorial candidate Bob Schaffer need substantial votes from El Paso County to win the statewide elections.

“Wayne basically threatened to blow up the county party unless Greg removed his statement,” said a source privy to the closed-door conversations. “That’s pretty shocking when you consider that Wayne Williams is a county co-chair for the McCain campaign.”

“It’s difficult to be the arbitrator of what’s fair and what’s not in campaigning,” said Wadhams. “When you’re the party chair, it’s virtually impossible.”

As for Garcia’s recall, Wadhams stated unequivocally, “I would not support any attempt to remove a county party chairman. I have great respect for Greg Garcia, and he’s been an outstanding chair. I believe in Greg’s inherent sense of fairness in wanting to do the right thing — that’s rare in
politics.”

Lamborn and his supporters have repeatedly accused Garcia and local party leaders of favoring Jeff Crank over Bentley Rayburn and the incumbent in the 5th Congressional District primary race.

Both Rayburn and Lamborn incorporated that charge in their explanations for petitioning onto the primary ballot instead of traveling the traditional caucus-to-assembly route earlier this year.

“All three campaigns have called and complained over the length of this race,” recalled Wadhams. “They’ve complained about each other’s campaign rhetoric … That’s the noise of politics.”

In El Paso County, there’s also a perception problem. Garcia was elected chair by a landslide in February 2007. Now, however, some Republicans question his ability to remain neutral in the CD 5 race because he supported Crank in the 2006 primary. Lamborn edged out Crank in that primary, winning by 892 votes.

Garcia’s commentary cited one of Lamborn’s ads in a list of electronic and print campaign ads that were reviewed and either barely passed or failed the “truth test.” The ads were selected for review by party leaders because they had generated complaints from voters and campaign staffs.

Summaries of the reviews were incorporated into Garcia’s commentary, which was e-mailed to newspaper editors and posted on the county party’s Web site. About 72 hours later, the party removed the commentary from the site and asked that it not be printed in newspapers.

Lamborn’s “lying” ad deemed dishonest

On the infraction list was Lamborn’s one-minute ad that asks radio listeners, “Why is Jeff Crank lying about Congressman Doug Lamborn and Bentley Rayburn?”

As The Colorado Statesman reported last week, Lamborn’s ad drops “lying” like a grenade, but never addresses the accusation, much less validate it after the explosion.

“…There is not objective evidence of a lie,” stated Garcia, concluding that Lamborn’s charge against Crank was untruthful. “Therefore, we have asked the Lamborn campaign to reword or remove this question, but they declined.”

Nothing was mentioned of Lamborn’s ad accusing Crank of pushing earmarks.

Yet, during an appearance on KVOR radio, Lamborn defined the term “earmark” as sneaking an unnecessary and expensive project into the budget at the last minute. He said that neither he nor Crank had promoted projects through earmarks.

Rayburn ad needs to update Crank’s job

Rayburn’s introductory TV ad snapshots through his biography, from U.S. Air Force Academy graduate to fighter jet pilot to major general to candidate.

“During my 31-year military career, one thing I learned was that leaders need to listen to the people,” Rayburn tells viewers.

“That is why I’ve challenged our current congressman to debate and discuss the issues before the people. Unfortunately he refuses to face the people in public, and that’s one reason why I believe we need new leadership.”

It wasn’t the substance of Rayburn’s ad that got flagged, it was the closing tagline, which also has been incorporated into his speeches and introductions by his twin daughters on the campaign trail. The sophomore college students ask Republicans to vote for their dad, “a fighter pilot” and “the only candidate who is not a lawyer, lobbyist or professional politician” in the CD 5 primary.

Garcia wrote that the tagline “is not true in the present sense. We have asked the Rayburn campaign to reword or remove the false statement, but they have declined.”

The only objection was to Rayburn referring to Crank as a lobbyist — a job he hasn’t held in more than two years.

No one apparently complained about Crank’s radio ad about his faith and family.

Crank’s canine caper bites Lamborn camp

“When I was 14, I lost my Mom to cancer. It taught me at an early age that sometimes life’s trials help build character,” Crank tells listeners. “I believe in God’s providential plan… I know that each and every day is a gift from Him from which we can build our faith and stand by His principles. As your congressman, I won’t be satisfied simply casting pro-family votes. I’ll seek God’s advice and wisdom daily, and work to promote His plan.”

The ad tagline is “a family man, a businessman, born and raised in Southern Colorado, a committed conservative.”

It was the pro-family-dog mailing and “canine coalition for Crank” rally, however, that raised the dander of Lamborn’s campaign manager Robin Coran, who complained to the county GOP.

“Why doesn’t Doug Lamborn think dog fighting is a crime?” bellowed the postcard mailed by Crank’s campaign.

“When given the chance to join Senator Wayne Allard in protection of animals, Doug Lamborn SAID NO and voted AGAINST the Animal Fighting Coalition Act.”

Bold red letters pop the question, “Why did Doug Lamborn vote to protect criminals like Michael Vick who abuse animals?”

On the other side of the card is a photo of Crank with his two family dogs, Gracie and Indy, beneath the caption, “Dog gone it! Doug! We can do better!”

Vick, a quarterback under contract with the Atlanta Falcons, was arrested for promoting illegal dog fights, gambling and criminal conspiracy in Virginia last year.

If Coran hoped her complaint about the mailer would result in the party leadership verbally spanking Crank — fodder for a headline or opposition ad — she was sorely disappointed.

Garcia reported that reviews of the Crank campaign’s ad found nothing substantially untrue, but conceded that the packaging was “extremely provocative.”

Crank’s mailer was so “provocative,” that the Lamborn’s campaign launched phone banks to counter its implied message.

“I support states’ rights over federal power grabs,” countered Lamborn in a media release defending his vote against tougher penalties for animal cruelty.

“FBI agents and federal prosecutors are already concentrating their efforts on issues such as fighting terrorism. Shouldn’t they keep their focus on protecting citizens and prosecuting dangerous criminals?” asked Lamborn.

Lamborn’s campaign manager confronted Crank during a KVOR radio interview, and questioned his Christian principles.

“Why don’t you, as a Christian, Jeff, consider those lies?” asked Coran, who read the definition of “lie” from Webster’s Dictionary. “You’re creating the misimpression in people’s eyes that Doug Lamborn is for dog fighting, and he absolutely is not.”

“Robin, you continuously make charges that this is a lie,” retorted Crank. “The county party came and asked you to prove it. You couldn’t.”

“Michael Vick was convicted under state and federal laws, and Congressman Lamborn applauds the decisions,” asserted Coran. “As a Christian, I don’t believe your principles are correct.”

Vick has been tried under federal law — not state law. He was convicted of criminal conspiracy, and is serving a 23-month sentence in the U.S. Penitentiary in Leavenworth, Kan., Lamborn’s hometown. After completing the federal prison term, he will face charges of dog fighting and gambling in the Commonwealth of Virginia.

“He would have been hammered under the new federal law,” declared Crank. “Lamborn was one of 30 something members in Congress that voted against” the Animal Fighting Coalition Act.

Republican Club of Falcon raises hell

Back at county party headquarters, Garcia is revising his original statement that called for fair and ethical campaigning. The following excerpt contained an omen of the imminent revolt.

“Advisers have pointed out to me that making public these distasteful instances will upset people in the party, perhaps causing deeper divisions. I disagree. I believe that the El Paso County Republicans in general want the Republican primary races to clean up their acts. For, if we do nothing, what does it say about the party?

“I know the candidates cited here, and they are honorable and capable Republicans who may well serve in the near future as an elected official. With these individuals and with every other person running for office in these Republican primary races, we should expect ethical and clean campaigning.”

Republican Club of Falcon members were very upset.

Judging from its Web site, the club is on a decidedly pro-Lamborn crusade. More than 15 articles extol Lamborn’s virtues under such titles as “Defend Doug” and “My prediction — NO Debates for Lamborn.” Some are press releases from his congressional office.

The site contributors bash Crank and Rayburn in articles such as “Jeff Crank and Me Generation Selfishness” and “Rayburn no guarantee of more military jobs.”

That isn’t a surprise considering that the club was headed by John Vander Meulen before he became district director of Lamborn’s congressional office in 2007.

Republican Club of Falcon blogger, NEWSMAN, posted the following on the club’s Web site and the Colorado Pols Web site on July 26. The dual posting is neither rare nor coincidental.

“The Republican Club of Falcon is shocked and dismayed that our Republican County Chairman Greg Garcia has cast aside his pledged commitment to remain neutral during primary election contests and thus has violated our party by-laws.

“He ignores false statements repeatedly told by Jeff Crank about Congressman Doug Lamborn and Bentley Rayburn and criticizes Lamborn and Rayburn for pointing out Crank’s false statements.

“Garcia’s proclaimed code of fair campaigning was never approved by the membership, and is a smoke screen for political favoritism … Garcia and (Nathan) Fisk are biased and using rose-colored glasses when viewing Crank’s false statements.

“Garcia’s behavior is dividing our county party and negatively impacting our ability to unify and help Bob Schaffer and John McCain win in November. Therefore, the Republican Club of Falcon calls for the resignation of Greg Garcia.”

Garcia aimed to avoid 2006 rocky horror rerun

State GOP Chair Wadhams debunked the club’s accusations against the county party chair.

“To suggest that Greg Garcia had ulterior motives or some hidden agenda to promote one candidate over the others — and the Lamborn campaign had every right to raise the question — I do not believe that for a split second,” replied Wadhams. “If anything, he stuck his neck out to be fair.”

“It’s fixed. It’s over,” declared Williams, whose name was floated as a replacement for Garcia. He said Garcia had good intentions, but that because he’s fairly new to politics, he didn’t realize how his actions would be perceived.

“The role of chairman is to pull Republicans together, not to criticize Republicans in public,” said Williams, adding that differences or complaints are settled outside of the public eye.

To others, Garcia’s concept of evaluating campaign ads for truth and fairness appeared to be a logical extension of the county party’s “Ethical Campaigning” statement that encouraged candidates “to be honest and truthful, to demonstrate integrity and to act with respect.”

When Garcia was elected chair last year, he said his goal was “to mend fences.” He spearheaded an effort to prevent a rerun of the 2006 shoot-’em-up primary in CD 5 that severely fractured the party.

Two years ago this month, the Christian Coalition of Colorado accused Crank and Colorado Springs Mayor Lionel Rivera of pushing a “homosexual agenda” in a mailer splashed with images of embracing lesbians, waltzing gay men and parading drag queens. Mark Hotaling was director of the Christian Coalition, a position held previously by his brother Jon Hotaling who had resigned to manage Lamborn’s campaign.

Lamborn refused to denounce that preposterous propaganda during the primary campaign and after winning. Consequently, former Congressman Joel Hefley refused to endorse Lamborn in the general election.

This election is a recycling of the top three Republican candidates of 2006, Lamborn, Crank and Rayburn — and in that order, according to polls.

In the waning days of this year’s primary, Garcia is steering back on track.

“While there are sometimes folks who are upset about one thing or another… we are in a strong position going into the final 90 days of this election,” said Garcia. “Our staff, the officers and I have remained neutral in all of the primary races and will continue to do so.”

By modifying his “truth in campaigning” commentary and deleting his campaign ad evaluations, Garcia quashed the rebellion threatened by the Republican Club of Falcon. Their vow to recall Garcia remains on the club’s Web site as they await his revised statement.

As for campaign ads that lie or distort the truth, Wadhams said, “They’ll be judged by a much bigger committee — the electorate.”