HD 6 Dems face questions on records

By Chris Bragg
THE COLORADO STATESMAN

The original question has since become a refrain: Why did Josh Hanfling wait to switch his registration from Republican to Democratic until mid-2006?

Hanfling first heard that question last November, in the first forum held for the five Democratic candidates seeking to replace House Speaker Andrew Romanoff in Denver’s House District 6.

In the same Windsor Gardens room where that first debate was held, the heated primary campaign’s final forum was held on Tuesday night.

It soon became apparent that many district activists still view Hanfling as a Republican “Trojan horse” aiming his sights on one of the state’s safest and most influential Democratic seats.

“That’s all these guys care about — that I was a Republican,” Hanfling said in disgust of the 50 or so attendees at the debate, mostly party activists. “I was a registered Republican two years ago.”

In the race with public issues consultant Lois Court and former Legislative Council staffer Liz Adams, Hanfling, a Denver businessman and philanthropist, has often been forced to explain why he lasted so long as a “Republican In Name Only.”

Hanfling says he registered as a Republican in business school and has been working on Democratic causes ever since.

The biggest difference between now and six months ago, though, is that Adams and Court also have started facing scrutiny of their political pasts — Adams because she once worked for two GOP lawmakers, and Court after a recent editorial blamed her personally for the failure of efforts to fight Douglas Bruce’s anti-tax crusade in the 1990s.

The recent blow to the Court campaign came from a July 18 editorial in the Cherry Creek Times entitled, “Setting the Record Straight on Lois Court,” written by Guerin Lee Green.

Green, the publisher of the Times, also was a founder of Balance Colorado, a group formed to fight Bruce’s efforts.

The editorial goes at the heart of Court’s assertion that her 25 years as a public issues consultant will help her hit the ground running as a legislator. It also attacks Court’s effectiveness in fighting Douglas Bruce’s anti-tax reforms in the 1990s, raising questions about whether she’s the best candidate to take Romanoff’s mantle and help fix TABOR.

Green writes that Balance Colorado hired Court to operate the organization, in “one of the worst hiring decisions I have ever been a party to…” calling Court a “polarizing figure” who “within months had alienated many of the organization’s funders and important allies within the political and business communities.”

“Court was unable to translate broad political and financial support into a sustainable organization, and she was unable to work with those who had those capabilities,” Green writes. “Her record in Balance Colorado further undermines any assertion that she has the leadership qualities most voters seek in their representatives.”

Green also wrote that Court fudges her résumé on her campaign Web site by claiming that she was a “Co-Founder/Executive Director of Balance Colorado.” Green states that Balance Colorado was founded by three people: him, Catherine “Kitty” Mientka and Republican Joe Drew.

However, Drew, as an acknowledged co-founder of Balance Colorado, disputed Green’s assertions about Court in a phone interview.

Drew admits that Court technically did not attend the very first meeting for Balance Colorado. But, he said, if you asked the question “Who runs this show?” to anyone involved with the organization, the answer would have been that he and Court did. Meanwhile, he said, those who dealt with Balance Colorado probably “wouldn’t know who the hell Guerin Green was.”

As for Court’s effectiveness in running the organization, Drew said that Court “under the circumstances did as well as anybody could have” and that the organization failed because its mission was flawed. Their mission of promoting representative government, in lieu of government by initiative, he said, was “too ‘big picture.’ ”

Drew said he was “disheartened” by Green’s “cheap shot” and speculated that that the editorial was written because Green supports Hanfling.

“I think a lot less of Guerin Green now than I did a week ago,” Drew said.

Meanwhile, Adams, who has top line on the ballot, also is facing new scrutiny. Like Hanfling, it’s over GOP ties. Adams, who worked in a staff capacity at the Capitol for 15 of the last 18 legislative sessions, was an education policy analyst with the nonpartisan Legislative Council and was responsible for staffing the House and Senate Education committees. But she also worked in the offices of Colorado Senators Lewis Entz and Don Ament — both Republicans.

Adams touts that work for GOP legislators as a positive, however, and candidly admits it on her Web site. She says Entz was a moderate in the Senate who often voted with Democrats. And Ament, a rural legislator who would become the state’s agriculture commissioner, offered Adams valuable insight into rural issues, she said.

“I think it is really an example of how I can reach across the aisle and work with everyone and their different viewpoints,” Adams said. “And it’s also given me an agricultural viewpoint.

“There is a difference between campaigning and governing,” she added. “When someone calls your office, you don’t say, ‘Are you Democrat or Republican?’ Your job is to serve the people of Colorado.”

More attention, however, remains focused on Hanfling’s GOP ties than on Adams’. The most recent incarnation? A spat on a Colorado political blog, followed by the spray painting of about 50 of Hanfling’s yard signs early on Sunday, July 19.

According to Hanfling campaign manager Berrick Abramson, the yard signs destroyed in a three-block radius near the County Club area along Speer Boulevard bring the total of destroyed or stolen Hanfling signs to about 100.

One of the culprits in the yard sign incident was caught on video camera, according to Abramson. Abramson said the campaign is looking into having the tape digitally enhanced in order to determine the culprit’s identity. Abramson says the video shows someone spray painting one of Hanfling’s signs, and propping up the signs of his opponents. (Abramson wouldn’t say whether it was an Adams or Court sign that was propped.) Abramson said he later spoke with the Court and Adams campaigns, which agreed to discourage such behavior among their supporters.

Abramson suggested that incident, which he called part of a “disgusting game,” may have been fallout from a contentious discussion on the political Web site ColoradoPols.com last Saturday, a few hours before the incident. In the discussion, posters questioned Hanfling’s former Republican affiliation and a campaign contribution Hanfling gave to Rick O’Donnell, the 2006 GOP candidate in the 7th Congressional District, three weeks after he registered as a Democrat. Abramson eventually, if reluctantly, hopped into the discussion to vigorously defend Hanfling, and the discussion grew so heated that charges of anti-Semitism eventually were leveled.

If some party activists are deterred by Hanfling’s GOP history, how are voters reacting?

“It’s only a concern to the precinct captains, and to Tom Russell’s friends,” Hanfling said.

That would be the former HD 6 candidate and University of Denver law professor who got the ball rolling on the “Trojan horse” talk during a speech at the Denver County Assembly. (Hanfling, who petitioned onto the primary ballot, was not present to defend himself.) Hanfling contends that Russell and his supporters are still bashing him to voters in e-mails sent to district residents, even though Russell left the race months ago.

The donation to O’Donnell, the Republican who eventually lost to Democratic Rep. Ed Perlmutter in 2006, is a newer wrinkle in the argument that Hanfling is actually a “Democrat in Name Only,” and Hanfling addressed it in an interview after the debate. Hanfling explained that a good friend, Carrie Besnette, a well-known Democrat who is Metro State’s vice-president of Institutional Advancement, was dating O’Donnell at the time. Hanfling met with O’Donnell at her request.

Hanfling said he was advised that making the donation would be politically risky if he ever ran for Democratic office, but gave O’Donnell $250 on June 19, 2006, anyway.

“A friend asked, ‘Will you help Rick?’ And I helped a friend,” Hanfling explained.

Hanfling’s campaign finance report shows a mixed record in his donations. In Colorado, before he became a Democrat, he donated money to Republican Secretary of State Mike Coffman, who was then running for treasurer, Republican Sen. Ted Harvey, and Republican gubernatorial candidate Mark Holtzman. But in 2002, for instance, Hanfling also wrote a $300 check to liberal Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin.

Since his switch to the Democratic Party in 2006, Hanfling has showered money on Democratic candidates.

And Hanfling has received quite a few donations in return. As of the most recent campaign finance-filing deadline, Hanfling had over $42,000 cash-on-hand, Adams had about $28,600 and Court about $19,200.

Some party insiders concerned about Hanfling fear that Adams and Court may split votes, and Hanfling will win based on a big fund-raising advantage and a long roster of endorsements — including Denver City Council President Michael Hancock, Denver auditor Dennis Gallagher, Denver District Attorney Mitch Morrissey and Rep. Buffy McFadyen, D-Pueblo — earned, in part, through his years of involvement in Denver philanthropy.

Despite Hanfling’s assurances and the endorsements, suspicion of Hanfling runs deep. Russell, Hanfling’s loudest critic, has endorsed Court, and the two in recent weeks have walked the district in tandem. But neither Court nor Adams have themselves chosen to go negative on the campaign trail by bringing up Hanfling’s history as a Republican.

“It’s not my job to tell voters about my opponents. It’s my job to tell voters about me,” Court said.

According to the Hanfling campaign, relations between Hanfling and Court have grown heated, however, with Court and former Russell supporters often attacking Hanfling at public forums.