The Democratic party in Colorado seems to be banking on an optical illusion — that their incumbent governor will be faced with Republican opponents who are so radically far right that while Governor John Hickenlooper leans right, his positions will still look like they’re at the center.
It’s a game of politicking that fails to address the kind of discontent within the Democratic party that led to Hickenlooper getting heckled at the Democractic Assembly by an anti-fracking contingent, and may leave the governor’s office open to the forays coming from a wide field of Republican candidates. Colorado’s registered Republican voters will make their choice from four candidates in the June 24 primary: former Congressman Bob Beauprez, who’s got the hallmarks of Western charm that’s worked for previous cowboy bootwearing politicians; current Secretary of State Scott Gessler, running on the merits of his achievements in that office and a demonstrable ability to get done what he says he’s setting out to do; former state senator Mike Kopp; and former Congressman and state legislator Tom Tancredo. Tancredo, for one, favors local control, even when it comes to fracking. It’s on the oil and gas industry to make the case to communities that their developments are safe, he says, and if they can’t do it and they get voted out of town, well, that falls, in principle, in line with the local control he supports.
Bob Beauprez earned his cowboy boots working on his family’s dairy ranch in Lafayette as his first job after graduating from the University of Colorado Boulder. They’re getting dirty again now as he’s opened a ranch near the Continental Divide that one of his sons manages — this time, they’re raising buffalo and selling the meat all over the country. For Beauprez, Boulder County is and will always be home — he was born on a ranch in what’s now Superior and has already purchased a cemetery plot in the county.
He was a semester away from finishing college when he came to his parents with two pieces of news: he was asking his long-time girlfriend, Claudia, to marry him, and wanted a job on the family farm. The business career he built from there saw him leading the family dairy ranch to host a breeding stock that saw their cows shipped around the world. When the time came for his father to slow down a bit, it coincided with an interest from the city to annex the ranch. It’s now the Indian Peaks golf course subdivision, a development Beauprez helped steer to completion. The sale from the dairy farm fueled his next business venture into community banking.
“To bank the hair salons and liquor stores and the restaurants and the mechanics and the small contractors, the plumbers, I mean everybody in town, you get to know them at their kitchen table, their place of work and you get to know their struggles and successes and you partner with them,” Beauprez says. “Couldn’t have been better training for when I was asked to go to Congress, which I did in 2002.”
He became Republican party chairman for Boulder County in the 1990s at the invitation of the GOP at a time they were looking for someone to reunite the party — “seems like we do that a lot,” he jokes now — won a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives in 2002 and served in Congress from 2003-2007. In that race in 2002, he says, he won a crowded primary as the last to enter the race and went on to win the closest election in the country that year. He’s hoping that’s the way things will go this year.
“Thoroughly enjoyed my time in the House, but as I looked around I was also frustrated that Congress moved so slowly and in my life I’d been a little less patient than Congress requires one to be, and wanted to make a big difference,” he says. Colleagues in Congress told him, to make a difference, run for governor.
So he did, in 2006.
“I ran in a very difficult year — ’06 was a tough time to have an R behind your name,” he says. “The wind was blowing straight in our face, and you know how that one turned out.”
He lost to Democratic candidate Bill Ritter.
“You learn from once in a while bruising your toe and busting your nose,” he says.
He’s running again this year out of the belief that a different political environment — one in which people are less enchanted with the possibilities of a Democratic governor — will lead to a more favorable outcome.
“I just saw some poll the other day that 63 percent of millenials say the American dream is not likely going to be there for them,” he says. “I’ve lived it, I’ve seen it work, my dad saw it work, his immigrant dad came here with less than nothing, borrowed the money to get here on a boat, that’s what’s always been here for people in Colorado.”
The governor is essentially the CEO of the state, he says, and he’s got practice with that job from having run the dairy farm and the bank before running for office. He knows how to manage the business end of things — like the state of Colorado.
“I believe and trust in the genius and the goodness of people,” Beauprez says. “Right now, we live in an era where leaders, especially government leaders, apparently don’t trust in you. They’ve got to make all the decisions for you, everything from the light bulbs we buy to the toilets we flush, the health care we have to buy. I grew up witnessing the goodness, the genius, the decency of people, the inventiveness of people, that people figure things out pretty good and take care of the environment and build up not just tear down.”
When it comes to the governor telling communities whether they can or cannot ban fracking, though, he says, “This isn’t about safe or efficient development of resources, it’s about chasing them away. … There is zero evidence of any fracked well ever contaminating groundwater. Zero. Now do we want to keep looking, do we want to make sure? Absolutely. But out and out bans, or effectively regulation that tells an industry that you’re not wanted here, I think that’s a mistake.”
Tom Tancredo admits he should probably be doing more politicking in these last days before the Republican primary, but he’s having a lot more fun at his grandchildren’s baseball games, so that’s where he’s spending his time.
The former Congressman, a Colorado native, ran for governor in 2010.
And what makes this the right year for him to run again?
“I don’t know if it’s the right year, I just know it is the right thing for me to do in terms of how I feel about the state and how I feel about my own ability to actually create some sort of change here that I think is desperately necessary,” he says. “It’s like real estate — real estate is location, location, location, and in politics it’s timing, timing, timing, and it seems like the right time.”
The state’s a little more right of center than the political profiles seem to paint it, he says, and it’s time for a realignment of the leftward tilt in both the governor’s office and the state legislature — that would mean more transparency, for one thing, in something like a deal with a private company to build a road, he says, alluding to the contract that’s put Highway 36 in the hands of a private company for 50 years.
Asked what in his background has prepared him to be governor, he says, “I always only half-jokingly say that it’s the fact that I owned a Jani-King janitorial franchise. I was a hands-on owner and I had to clean up the crap all the time, and that’s pretty much what prepared me to clean up the junk, the crap that’s here. It’s only half joking, the fact is that the best thing I do, frankly, is put really good people into places of authority. … I don’t really pay a lot of attention to party hacks or patronage type of stuff. It’s just people who have really served me well in the past or have shown an ability to tackle problems and get results.”
Tancredo first worked bagging groceries at a Safeway store in Denver for $.65 an hour. He moved up from there to sweep the grounds for $.85 an hour at Elitch Gardens, where he went on to become rides boss and summer manager, a job he kept while teaching school in Jefferson County. He’s also run the U.S. Department of Education’s regional office and served in the state legislature, which included time on the joint budget committee.
As he sees it, Colorado’s governor has few options for unilateral decisions, and leads by using a bully pulpit and appointing people to run state agencies well. Looking over the annual audits of those agencies, he says, “I get the impression that there’s nobody really in charge here in Colorado, that the state agencies are really running amok, no oversight except the audit committees.”
They need leadership, he says, and a management style that tells the people running those agencies that the governor is paying attention to what they do.
“I’ve been called by the oil and gas guys and they want me to make a statement on these anti-fracking local initiatives, and I keep telling them, ‘Go get your buddy. Why me? Go get the guy that brought you to the dance. You supported him. You fund him. Now trot him out there, let him make his will known. Let him provide some leadership on this issue,’” Tancredo says, referencing Hickenlooper.
He supported Amendment 64 to legalize marijuana because it gave communities local control. He takes the same principle to the question of fracking.
“I happen to think fracking is OK … and depending on the issue, depending on the way it’s phrased, I would probably say that fracking should be able to continue in my community. But who has to make the case of that, is it supposed to be me or is it supposed to be the industry itself?” he says. “I keep telling them, you have to make the case to those communities, to those constituents, it’s really not up to me to do so. I mean, I think it’s an important part of the economy in Colorado, and I think it can be done in a way that minimizes the footprint and protects the environment, but if the industry can’t make that case, then whose fault is it? …
“I think generally the concept of local control is something I agree with, now, every one of these has a different sort of characteristic to it, some may be acceptable, and some may not. But the concept of local control is one that I buy into, and as I say, if you can’t make the case for it.”
Scott Gessler’s tactics have earned him the nickname “honey badger,” and asked to respond to those who have characterized him as driven, he says, “Yeah, I think that’s fair. I’m focused on getting stuff done. I believe we’re all put on Earth to do things and I try to do things right.”
He’s increased the speed and efficiency with which that office gets its primary task done — overseeing elections — by creating an online voter registration system and a central hub for elections reporting from all counties on elections night. He says the 2012 elections saw higher turnout, particularly from military voters overseas, and had better elections integrity than ever before. He’s empowered his staff to spot and address issues, he says, using as an example the reforms in the system for nonprofits, who were asked what the Secretary of State’s office could do better for them to help prevent their applications from being denied.
“Our mission statement is ‘We serve the American dream,’” Gessler says. “When we look at what we do, elements of the American dream are political freedom and expression, and that’s us. Whether it’s voting and running for office, speaking out on issues, which implicates campaign finance, and the other part of the American dream is one day running your own destiny, having your own business, and we’re the gateway to business in the state of Colorado.”
Gessler grew up in Chicago, attended college at Yale University, completed a law degree from the University of Michigan Law School and an MBA from Northwestern University. He did construction for his father’s company, took an auto-mechanics class so he could fix his own car, served in the Army Reserve in Bosnia, biked around the Midwest and western U.S., including nearly every mile of Highway 1, and has worked in the U.S. Department of Justice.
Of his varied career, Gessler says, “I think it’s given me a lot of tools, a lot of tools in the tool chest.”
He moved to Colorado in 1997 and got back into practicing law before running for Secretary of State in 2010.
He tries to run his office based on the philosophy that the vast majority of people want to do the right thing the vast majority of the time.
“I’m very much a limited type guy, you know, I’m a conservative Republican and I think government is not the answer to everyone’s problems, but government has a role to play and that role is to serve people,” he says. “Unfortunately, sometimes people in government lose sight of that.”
He argues that Colorado is leading the way nationwide for openness of data and governance in part because of the things he’s done in the Secretary of State’s office, and that’s the kind of transparency that seems to be missing when the governor allows a state agency to make a deal like the public-private partnership that’s locked up control of Highway 36 for the next 50 years.
“We got a back door deal, and it doesn’t smell good,” Gessler says.
As for the question of allowing municipalities to pass their own fracking bans, he says, “Sometimes local control is good and sometimes it’s not optimal. I think it’s best for the state to be regulating most of this stuff. The state’s going to have better expertise and knowledge of this stuff rather than having every municipality try to create their own expertise, because it’s a highly technical area.”
Mike Kopp’s office did not respond to requests for an interview. He was the Republican leader of the Colorado Senate and author of the bill that would have allowed Colorado to “opt out of Obamacare.” He characterizes himself as a taxpayer watchdog and cites efforts to overall state government to cut spending, reduce taxes and end job-killing regulations. At the Republican state assembly in April, Kopp received the most votes.
In his response to Hickenlooper’s State of the State speech in January, Kopp said, “He has not defended Coloradans against the Obamacare machine, he is a champion of tax increases, he ignored the pleas of the sheriffs and gun owners everywhere, and presided over a continued expansion of the regulatory state which makes it harder for people to get back to work. In short, he has chosen to empower government; I would rather empower individuals to make Colorado a land brimming with opportunity for generations to come.”
Gessler had raised the most money for two reporting periods in a row before the latest reports were filed on June 16. Those numbers show Beauprez had received $47,649 in monetary contributions between May 29 to June 11, while Gessler raised $43,667.55, Tancredo raised $42,356.16 and Kopp raised $22,059.40 in the same period. Tancredo had out-fundraised the field, claiming a total $792,778 in contributions. Gessler is behind him with $534,812, Beauprez at $306,499 and Kopp at $266,347.
At the end of his conversation with Boulder Weekly, Tancredo offered some broad predictions for the race: “For Republicans anyway, in a primary, when they’re looking at this, they better realize that the only way we will ever, ever win a statewide election, especially one against an incumbent governor, which we haven’t actually tossed out in something like 40 years, if you want to win an election in statewide, you better understand that you need every Republican vote and a majority of those folks who identify themselves as independents. I’m the only candidate that can get that, and I just warn all my Republican friends, if you want a traditional candidate and a traditional campaign, you will get a traditional outcome, and that tradition has been that we lose.”