Penry makes bid for governor official
By GARY HARMON
Long-drawn-out political campaigns generally pull families apart, but Josh Penry is hoping his bid for governor will bring his family together.
Penry has now traveled regularly over the Continental Divide to Denver as a state representative, now a state senator, for five years. While he’s been a legislator, his family has been 250 miles away in Grand Junction.
In the coming months as he pursues the Republican nomination for governor, he’ll travel the state, but not alone.
Penry, his wife, Jamie, son, Chase, 7, and daughter, Emma, 3, gradually will pull up stakes and move to Denver as his bid proceeds.
“We are in,” Jamie Penry told a crowd of some 200 supporters Saturday morning at the old Mesa County Courthouse, confirming her husband’s bid to challenge Democrat incumbent Gov. Bill Ritter.
Come time to travel the state in full campaign mode, they’ll do it together in pursuit of what Penry calls an “incredible opportunity.”
The travel and campaigning with his wife “will be much easier on our family,” he said. “I love being in the public arena, but it doesn’t define who I am.”
His bid makes for a novel twist in recent Colorado politics. He’s running against the man who gave him a start in politics, Scott McInnis, and should either of them reach the general election and defeat Ritter, they’ll break the stranglehold the east side of the state has on the state’s top job.
Penry, 33, is a graduate of Grand Junction High School and Mesa State College and, more recently, a student of political polling that convinced him of something.
“We believe we can win,” he said in an interview before Saturday’s announcement.
Taking on McInnis, as well as one and possibly more Republicans in a primary battle, and taking on Ritter in the general election are two different things, he said.
Dan Maes, a businessman from Evergreen, is also seeking the GOP nomination.
Facing off with his old boss will be “awkward,” Penry acknowledged, but ultimately healthy for the Republicans.
Witness, he said, the Democratic presidential primary battle a year ago between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.
“Obama was a better candidate in 2008 because of a tough primary with Hillary,” he said.
The nomination for governor “isn’t owed to anybody,” he said. “I wouldn’t be a state senator if that were a determining factor.”
A primary also gives voters a choice in their leadership, a much-needed change, he said.
“The days of the Republican Party holing up in a smoke-filled room in the Brown Palace Hotel and picking its nominee are over,” he said.
At the end, Republicans will rally around the winner, he said.
Penry once aspired not so much to oppose McInnis as to succeed him in the 3rd Congressional District, which includes most of western Colorado.
A state legislator, though, can have immediate and powerful influence on state law, as was the case with his successful freshman proposal establishing roundtables in the state’s river drainages.
Such a sense of accomplishment, though, is rare in Congress, he said.
Now the minority leader in the Senate, he’s in position to take on Ritter on the same issues with which he’s dealt in the Legislature, he said.
A general election race with the sitting governor will be difficult for whoever captures the nomination, taking into account the difficulty of upending incumbent Colorado governors, Penry said.
Even if the economy improves over the coming year, “and we all hope it does turn,” he said, Ritter remains vulnerable.
“Under his stewardship, he made a bad economic situation worse” with new drilling rules, new fees and taxes and reopening old union-business wounds.
“Even if the economy is on the upswing, voters will still hold him accountable for those decisions,” Penry said.
He said his Western Slope background isn’t a handicap because the entire state is struggling under the same difficulties.
He plans to keep a house in Grand Junction but is selling a rental property in Fruita.
“We’ll always have a home base in Grand Junction,” he said.
“Timing is everything” and the GOP is in the market for a new face and fresh leadership, which he seems fitted to supply, Penry said.
Another chance might not arise, he said. “I want to make the maximum impact while I’m here.”
Staff writer Paul Shockley contributed to this story.