House District 54: Menger vs. Wright
When Rep. Laura Bradford, R-Collbran, decided not to seek a third term in the Colorado House, that opened the door for other candidates to run for the newly redrawn district that primarily covers Mesa County outside of Grand Junction and the western half of Delta County.
As a result, two candidates have emerged for the November elections: Republican Jared Wright, a 29-year-old Fruita resident, and Libertarian Tim Menger, a retired 61-year-old who lives in Unaweep Canyon.
It took nearly a lifetime, but Tim Menger is now living the American dream.
He and his wife, Debbie, are active and healthy, his two adult children are educated and living their own lives, he’s gotten his first grandchild and his 30-acre ranch and home that he built himself in scenic Unaweep Canyon is bought and paid for.
All it took was his own two hands, patience and a little bit of ingenuity, the 61-year-old said.
Now the Libertarian Party candidate for House District 54 wants to help others get there, too.
“I’d love to give my final years of being paid to do anything and give representation to the people of this district on the floor of the state Legislature,” Menger said. “In my younger years, I was a liberal Democrat. As I grew up, matured more and became a property owner I became a conservative Republican. But through the years, the whole party process turned me off, which I think is happening to most Americans now.”
Menger ended up turning to the Libertarian Party in 2010 because he believes in the U.S. Constitution, limited government, low taxes and the freedom for individuals to do what they want as long as it doesn’t infringe on anyone else’s rights.
As a result, Menger believes he’s the better candidate in the race because he understands what voters on all sides of the political spectrum want from state government.
“Libertarians follow the Constitution, they stick up for people’s rights, they respect people with property and they’re against the growing, bloated government that’s tearing us down,” he said. “If we lost an R from (HD54), I would be the middle man. People (in the Legislature) would come to me for tie-breakers. I’ll tell them what I tell everybody. I listen to every side of the story and fit it into: Is it constitutional? Is it going to cost more money? If it is, I’m against it.”
Menger is a fifth-generation Coloradan who spent his childhood in a modest neighborhood near downtown Denver.
Later, his family moved to the suburbs, where he graduated from high school in Englewood.
After a short attempt at college life on a baseball scholarship at Rangely College and Colorado State University, Menger decided instead to come to Grand Junction in 1972, but not because of the work or the Western Slope scenery.
He was following a girl.
“This girl, I was supposed to marry her, but my dad drowned in a scuba-diving accident two months before,” he said. “I told her, ‘I can’t marry you. My mind’s too messed up.’ She got mad and said, ‘I’m leaving.’ “
That’s when he took the first of what would later prove to be numerous jobs in his life: pushing cows at an Orchard Mesa dairy.
The job involved standing hip-deep in mud and manure moving cows to the milking machines.
He lasted all of two weeks.
Later, his jobs would include laying railroad tracks, selling real estate, building homes, working at a refinery, programming computers, working as a custodian at local schools and putting out wildfires as part of a Bureau of Land Management fire crew.
All the while, though, Menger and his wife, who worked as a local teacher’s aide, would never earn more than $55,000 a year.
Now, Menger hopes to add another job to his long resume, that of state representative, a job that pays $30,000 a year.
“When I signed up for this, I didn’t expect much. I was shooting for 100 votes,” he said. “I figured the Republicans and Democrats, they’re going to take everything. But all of a sudden, Jared Wright gets in trouble and people are looking around asking, ‘Well, who’s running against this crook?’ All of a sudden I have a viable chance.”
That’s exactly what Jeff Orrok thinks, too.
The state chairman of the Colorado Libertarian Party said because the Democratic Party didn’t run a candidate for the open seat and issues with the GOP candidate that has some members of that party calling for his ouster, Menger can do what no Libertarian candidate has ever done in a legislative race: win.
Menger hopes to do that without raising any campaign contributions.
“There does seem to be this phenomenon of the voters themselves who are making their own homemade yard signs, their own homemade bumper stickers,” Orrok said. “They’re just spontaneously supporting him.”
Orrok is on the Western Slope this weekend meeting with his candidate and other supporters in hopes of figuring out the best way the party can support his campaign without Menger spending any money.
Much of that likely will involve waving homemade signs on street corners and a lot of door-to-door knocking in the district, the two men said.
“He has a very strong sentiment of how money corrupts politics,” Orrok said of Menger. “So, we’re trying to discuss when it would be appropriate to spend money. But for the time being, he’s made his feelings very clear and I am not going to come in and strong-arm him.”
Menger said his politics offers something to people of all political stripes.
He calls himself a fiscal conservative who will vote against any attempt to raise taxes or fees.
He’s against abortions, for the death penalty and doesn’t have a problem if same-sex couples want to enter into civil unions.
Welfare programs such as food stamps are important as long as such programs aren’t abused, and the people on them only use them when they absolutely need help.
“A lot of people have a misconception about Libertarians,” Menger said. “They picture a person with a cowboy hat, a rifle in one hand and a marijuana cigarette in the other. They think, ‘That’s a Libertarian. You can’t trust that guy, He’s radical and noisy.’
“A Libertarian seeks a world of liberty were all people control their own lives, and no person is forced to sacrifice his values,” he said. “People are free to make their own choices in life, but they must accept responsibility for those choices, and they must not infringe on anyone else’s rights.”
A fighter. A religious man. A principled person.
Those are some of the words people around the Grand Valley used to describe Jared Wright, the Republican Party candidate running for House District 54.
At 29, Wright has spent a lot of time and effort getting involved in state politics, and getting to know how the process works, those people said.
And he knows it well.
“His guttural reaction is to stand up to a fight,” said Erik Groves, a Grand Junction attorney and volunteer for the Wright campaign. “I’ve known Jared politically more than most people have, firsthand.
“All these attempts to try to get rid of him and try to force him out or scare him or threaten him do nothing more than embolden him in his race.”
Groves was referring to the recent calls from members of his own party to drop out of the race and allow the GOP to choose his replacement. Those calls came after allegations of dishonesty as a Fruita police officer and his 2011 bankruptcy filing.
Wright was home-schooled during his high school years while simultaneously helping run the family business, the now-defunct Monument Camera. He did that because his father, Phil, was hospitalized with a life-threatening illness at the time, Wright said on his Facebook page.
In 2001, he received a full scholarship to Mesa State College, where he graduated four years later with a bachelor’s degree in political science.
While in college, Wright was elected student body president, where he demonstrated his fighting skills, said Groves, who also was a student there and a member of Wright’s “cabinet” as his chief lobbyist.
That’s when he took on Tim Foster, president of what is now called Colorado Mesa University, Groves said.
At the time, the college wanted to raise student fees, turning some over to the administration’s control rather than the student council, Groves said.
“He didn’t take my advice and went out into the foxhole and took on Foster,” Groves said. “I told him to make an alliance with Foster. He took a principled fight that I thought was politically expedient not to take, and I respect him for it.”
Groves said Wright won that battle, adding that Foster ended up winning the war when he proposed the idea again under “a weaker” student body president after Wright graduated.
Foster, however, disputes all that, saying in his recollection of the matter, the student body agreed with what he was trying to do.
“His memory’s bad,” Foster said of Groves. “His recollections are always more interesting than reality.”
In his final years in college and immediately afterward, Wright would hold a number of short-term political jobs for such people as former U.S. Rep. Scott McInnis and state Sen. Josh Penry, both Republicans.
In 2007, after completing courses at the Delta/Montrose Law Enforcement Academy, Wright took a job as an officer for the Fruita Police Department.
He would hold that job for five years, but be offered the chance to resign or be fired because of a history of lateness to work and then trying to hide that, according to a recent Fruita Police internal affairs investigation of Wright.
While still a police officer, Wright married Rachael Golike, and the two now have a 13-month-old daughter, Evangeline.
At about the same time his daughter was being born, however, the young couple amassed a $74,000 debt and was forced to petition for Chapter 7 bankruptcy protection.
That debt included such things as a classic car, thousands in jewelry and a $1,000-a-year membership in a tanning salon.
Wright chalked all that up to not properly planning for a bad economy, and apologized to the voters last month for it, saying that he now knows what many of them are going through and can better represent them in the Legislature.
One of his supporters, William Jeff Steele, agreed.
“All this bashing that’s going on bothers me,” Steele said. “Everybody makes mistakes, and I have enough experience with mistakes.”
As owner of Scream Graphics, Wright has hired Steele on several occasions to handle various aspects of his campaign.
But Steele said Wright is a man of character simply because the candidate hired him. He’s impressed that anyone running for public office would have the guts to do so, and then stand by that decision when questioned about it.
Steele is a registered sex offender.
“I’ve never gotten a sense that he was trying to avoid ... that the way to deal with these types of issues is to stand up and take responsibility,” said Steele, who was convicted in Jefferson County in 2000 on three felony counts, including assault on a child by a person in a position of trust and pattern of abuse of a child under the age of 15. “He hired me for my talent. The rest wasn’t even a consideration.”
Wright said his political positions are much like other Republicans. He’s for limited government, lower taxes and fewer regulations.
“We have to restore economic vitality back to Western Colorado and the rest of our nation,” Wright said late last month at the home of Alan Story in Fruita, when he apologized to voters about his bankruptcy filing. “To do this, we must focus on taking government out of competition with small businesses whenever possible.”
He said he wanted to do away with the business personal property tax, Obamacare and the “devastating impacts” of House Bill 1365, a bill partially sponsored by Penry requiring Xcel to convert some aging coal-fired power plants on the Front Range to burn natural gas instead.
Story said Wright’s stances show he can represent the values of his constituents in Mesa and Delta counties.
“He’s got good character with integrity,” Story said. “He’s a real good family man, and he’s really religious. I like that.”