Any drama left? Colorado governor race full of twists

Coloradans would be hard-pressed to find many people in the state, including the candidates themselves, who don’t agree that this year’s governor’s race has been the weirdest in recent memory.

But while it’s been plagued with nasty politics, negative campaigning and off-the-wall scandals, many political observers have had a hard time explaining why the race has become so, well, bizarre.

“It is the weirdest one I’ve ever seen, but ... um ... um ... it’s a ... it is ... it’s the weirdest race I’ve ever seen,” said Club 20 executive director Reeves Brown, who clearly struggled to find the right words to describe the race.

“If people are hoping to learn about the candidates from the barrage of campaign messages that they’re seeing, they’d have a better chance learning about them reading something off the bathroom wall,” he said, finally finding those words. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a bunch of meaningless, destructive fodder used for campaign messaging from all sides.”

The weirdness began last winter, when Gov. Bill Ritter unexpectedly announced he would not seek re-election after already starting his campaign for a second four-year term.

When the Democratic governor was still in the race, he was expected to face either one of two Grand Junction Republicans: state Sen. Josh Penry or former congressman Scott McInnis. Fast forward several months, and none of those people are in the race today.

A month before Ritter stepped aside, Penry quit the race, citing the same reason: family issues.

Penry and former Republican congressman Tom Tancredo, who had considered entering the fray a year ago, put their support behind McInnis. Regardless, the anti-establishment tea party movement gave political newcomer Dan Maes top line during the Republican convention in May.

About a month later, McInnis was hit with a plagiarism scandal that derailed his primary race, losing it in August to Maes, who faced his own scandals that involved allegations of embellishing his r&233;sum&233; and being forced to pay what is believed to be the largest fine for campaign finance violations in the state’s history.

That result immediately caused Tancredo to become the first Republican to denounce Maes, saying he didn’t have the wherewithal to defeat Democrat John Hickenlooper, who stepped in earlier this year to replace Ritter on the ballot.

Not long afterward, the lifelong Republican Tancredo left the GOP to become a candidate himself, but with the little-known American Constitution Party.

Within weeks, numerous Republicans, including such well-known ones as former U.S. Sen. Hank Brown, have withdrawn their support for their own party’s nominee, throwing it instead behind the third-party candidate.

For the voters, however, all these changes in the candidates has done little to help them understand who would make for the best chief executive of the state, said John Straayer, a longtime political science professor at Colorado State University.

“I think the voters sense a difference between Hickenlooper and the two conservatives, but even Hickenlooper hasn’t said anything that I know of about what he’s going to do about the budget crisis in Colorado,” Straayer said. “On the other hand, he hasn’t said anything about cut, cut, cut taxes like Maes and Tancredo. That’s part of their general image, that very, very, very conservative wing of the Republican Party.”

All three candidates have talked about making the state’s government smaller and more effective. At the same time, though, none has provided details for precisely how he would do that at a time when it’s already had to be trimmed by billions of dollars because of a recession that dramatically cut revenues and brought layoffs, which sent record numbers of Coloradans to the state applying for unemployment and health care benefits, he said.

“Cutting more government, it’s crazy. It’s off the charts,” Straayer said. “We’re getting to the point where you’re not going to be able to run the state effectively. Anybody who looks really carefully at the budget ... what’s left? Are we going to take the cops off the highways and shut the prisons down? A lot of this talk is terribly unrealistic.”

Among that rhetoric Straayer points to:

Maes has said he would fire 2,000 state workers his first day on the job even though it may be illegal to do so.

Tancredo said, among other things, he immediately would get rid of the state’s business personal property tax even though local governments heavily rely on it.

Hickenlooper talks about improving the state’s highways, providing human services for those who need it, maintaining public safety and supporting education, but offers few details about how he would do that while making government smaller.

“This isn’t surprising because this is the way campaigns are run anymore, but particularly with the craziness in the governor’s race, there’s been almost no real serious hard-nose attention to the horrendous budgetary predicament and fiscal-policy mess that the state is in,” Straayer said. “The questions that ought to be asked is, what level of higher ed and infrastructure and health care do you want, what will it cost and how are you going to pay for it? We’re not getting any answers to those questions.”

Some area residents have noticed that, too, and aren’t happy about it.

At a recent Tancredo campaign stop in Grand Junction, Redlands residents Ed and Judy Hunt got into a brief conversation with the candidate. They came specifically to ask him to stop running so many negative campaign ads, particularly one attacking Maes.

“Why is he running Maes down so much? He isn’t after Maes, he’s after Hickenlooper,” Ed Hunt said outside Main Street Bagels, where Tancredo addressed numerous supporters earlier this month. “I think the Republican Party put him up to it to knock Maes out. I’m just so tired of this whole crap. I don’t know Maes, probably wouldn’t have even voted for him, but this stuff is ridiculous.”

Though the couple said they don’t plan to support the Democrat in the race, they aren’t pleased with the Republican, either. And now Tancredo’s lost any chance of getting that support after Donna Hunt asked him to stop running one television ad in particular.

“He said he didn’t want our support, then,” she said. “Why should we give them any money because of those kinds of commercials? It doesn’t help at all.”


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