State Sen. Owen Hill, a Colorado Springs Republican, plans to announce on Monday that he’s running for the 5th Congressional District seat held by six-term U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn, The Colorado Statesman has learned.
Although he’s long been rumored to be considering a run for state treasurer in next year’s election, Hill confirmed Saturday that he intends to notify supporters he’s jumping in the congressional race.
If Lamborn, 62, seeks a seventh term — he hasn’t announced yet — it could be the sixth time he’s been faced with a primary in the heavily Republican congressional district.
Hill, a 35-year-old Air Force Academy graduate and small business owner, was reelected in November to a second four-year term representing El Paso County’s Senate District 10. He serves as the chairman of the Senate Education Committee.
Hill ran in the 2014 Republican U.S. Senate primary eventually won by Republican Cory Gardner, who went on to unseat Democratic incumbent Mark Udall. Before Gardner entered the race, Hill received endorsements from Ron Paul, the former congressman and presidential candidate, and the Tea Party Express organization.
But Hill, who first ran for office at age 28 — he lost a bid in 2010 in a different state senate district by just 340 votes to Democrat John Morse, then the incumbent Senate majority leader — defies easy political classification.
In the past year, Hill has made headlines for sponsoring bipartisan legislation to repeal a state law banning ballot “selfies” and overturn another law that made it illegal to possess a switchblade in Colorado. He’s also led the charge on a bill to create a framework for self-driving cars on state roads.
Hill told The Statesman he’d “absolutely” consider joining the conservative- and libertarian-leaning House Freedom Caucus if he winds up in Congress, but stresses that he isn’t that easy to peg.
“There are a lot of folks there I respect — Congressman Ken Buck, a lot of good people I respect,” he said. “At the same time, you’ve tracked me around the Capitol, you realize I try to represent my district as well as I can and work well with everybody. That’s my passion.”
As far as the agenda in Congress, Hill called it imperative that Republican lawmakers get their priorities in order and keep their promises, particularly when it comes to repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare.
“I respected the Freedom Caucus for stepping up and saying, ‘Here’s the things we want,’ and appreciated (President Donald) Trump for working with them, but was frustrated they couldn’t put some differences aside and get a bill that worked for both folks,” Hill said.
Last week, House Republicans cancelled a vote on the GOP-sponsored American Health Care Act, a bill lawmakers called a first step in replacing Obamacare, when it appeared both some conservative and some moderate lawmakers were unwilling to support it.
“We need to repeal the individual mandate, we need to be able to buy across state lines,” Hill said Saturday. “I think those are two pretty simple things we need to keep working on. I was surprised when they just kind of walked away from it. No, you don’t get to go home until you get it done. We’ve promised for seven years we’re going to repeal Obamacare. We need to repeal Obamacare.”
While Hill says he agrees Republicans need to tackle tax reform, which the administration and congressional leaders have said will be next on the agenda, he questioned the timing.
“We have the most complicated tax code in history. In my mind, if you make under $200,000 a year, you should be able to do your taxes on a postcard — done, finished, send it in,” he said. “Beyond that, I’m nervous they don’t have the credibility, the staying power to say, ‘We’re going to check this box off and make sure we get it done.’ I’m surprised they shifted to that. Obviously, it needs to get done. I think it’s the top priority. I just had hoped they’d keep the train on the tracks and get Obamacare repealed.”
As for some of the headline-grabbing bills he’s championed this session, Hill shrugged and smiled. Then he pulled a switchblade from his pocket and activated it.
“I’d talk to some of these sheriffs and police, and I mentioned I was doing this and asked them what they thought about it, and they got this sheepish look on their face,” Hill said, shaking his head with a grin. “They’re like, ‘Uh, what do you mean they’re illegal?’ So, I mean, half our law enforcement carries these, and we’ve got a law on our books that was criminalizing people, obviously law-abiding, good people — time to get that law off our books.”
It was a similar situation with ballot “selfies,” photographs of voted ballots that some Coloradans had been posting to social media last year when prosecutors issued statements reminding voters that the practice was against the law. In the week before the November election, Hill won an injunction against enforcing the law and then this session carried a bill to repeal it, which the governor signed last month.
But it wasn’t just about posting ballots to Facebook, he said, naming numerous situations — from family members around the kitchen table to residents at an assisted living facility — where people were forbidden from letting anyone see how they’d voted.
“The law basically made it illegal to share it,” he said. “Voting with mail-in ballots has become something of a community thing. I think that’s healthy. The First Amendment was foremost, protecting political speech. And we needed to make sure that some rogue (district attorney) out there wasn’t going to get someone in trouble for exercising the right to free political speech.”
The bill to usher autonomous vehicles onto state roads, he said, has been a challenge.
“People immediately go to this idea that tomorrow there’s going to be cars on the road with no drivers in them,” Hill said and shook his head. “But so much technology, like your phones — we didn’t start with the iPhone 7, we started with something very basic, and we develop, and we develop. So we’re beginning to see cars that can maybe parallel park themselves. We’re starting to see cars that can stay in their own lanes.”
“We’re just saying,” he continued, “as this technology develops, the state and municipalities are not allowed to come up with new regulations and taxes and fees just because it has some of this technology. So let the technology play out. I think everyone’s going to be safer, more productive, and have more time on their hands. I know a lot of people who love driving, but I’ve never met anybody who likes commuting.”
First elected in 2006, Lamborn has only won the GOP nomination once, in 2010, without having to get past a primary. Last year, he defeated activist Calandra Vargas by a wide margin, but in the 2014 election Lamborn beat challenger Bentley Rayburn, a retired Air Force major general, by just 5 points.
Lamborn’s campaign committee reported $317,319 cash on hand at the end of the year.