Wright quits race

Embattled state Rep. Jared Wright quit his short-lived bid for re-election to the Colorado House on Saturday.

In a hastily called press conference, and with his GOP contender at his side, the Fruita Republican said he was leaving the race for the good of House District 54 and his family.

“The tipping point for me was really when I heard (Yeulin) announce and talk about his family, (and) honestly having done some soul-searching at that point, you ask yourself, ‘What’s right for your family?’ ” Wright said. “This takes a toll on you.

“I knew going into this that me as an individual, your character can certainly be called into question, you can be attacked, that you can be publicly called out on choices you made in your past. There’s no question I knew that was going to happen,” he added. “What I wasn’t prepared for was the impact that has on members of your family and even supporters. Doing some soul-searching made me arrive at this conclusion.”

Wright immediately endorsed Grand Junction attorney and political neophyte Yeulin Willett to take his place in the Legislature.

Willett, a Delta County native who has been practicing at the Grand Junction law firm of Younge & Hockensmith since 1987, announced late last month that he would challenge Wright for the GOP nomination. That entry, coming just before Tuesday’s caucuses, raised questions about whether Wright could garner enough delegates to qualify for a June primary ballot.

As the sole Republican in the race now, Willett will face Orchard Mesa Democrat Brad Webb and Republican-turned-unaffiliated candidate James Fletcher, who once said he may drop out if Wright no longer is in it, but has decided to remain in the race.

Wright has faced problem after problem since just after he won the party’s nomination for the district in 2012.

First, he left his five-year job as a police officer in Fruita, saying he was resigning to focus on the election, in which there was only one Libertarian candidate. But a story in The Daily Sentinel revealed that he was forced to resign or face termination after an internal affairs investigation raised questions of Wright’s honesty and integrity. The probe said Wright was repeatedly late for work, and lied about why.

Two weeks later, The Sentinel discovered that Wright had filed for bankruptcy in 2011, walking away from a $74,000 debt after spending thousands of dollars on such things as classic automobiles, expensive jewelry and a $1,000-a-year membership in a local tanning salon.

At the time, Wright told state party leaders he blamed his financial woes “on the Obama economy,” saying his wife, Rachel, lost her job during that time.

But his own bankruptcy filing showed that Wright blamed his problems on personal expenditures, rather than business ones.

Those revelations about Wright created an outpouring of criticism from all sides, including people in his own party who called on him to drop out so it could choose a replacement before the 2012 general election.

Wright refused.

He went on to win the race, losing 41 percent of the vote to Libertarian Tim Menger, who raised no money and barely campaigned for the seat. Generally, such third-party candidates win 2 to 3 percent of the vote.

During his 14 months so far in office, Wright continued to be criticized for the types of bills he would introduce.

Last year, he managed to get three bills passed, but only with help from Democrats who hold a majority in the Legislature.

In his re-election bid announcement in November, Wright was accused of embellishing that record, saying he got measures through the Legislature to cut government waste, offered greater protections for victims of human trafficking and improved the health of Colorado rivers and streams.

In reality, of the five bills Wright introduced last year, only two passed: one that prevented deadlines in appellate court case filings from falling on a weekend, and another to require a legislative committee to review existing human trafficking laws in the state.

Wright also was the House sponsor along with Rep. Millie Hamner, D-Dillon, of a Senate bill to create the Protect Our Rivers license plate.

Like last year’s bills, Wright was further criticized for not carrying measures that have a direct impact on his district, which includes Mesa County outside of Grand Junction and the western half of Delta County.

This year, he’s introduced bills to do away with concealed-carry gun permits, preventing law enforcement from cooperating with federal officials in national defense matters, and requiring fingerprint background checks at marijuana stores even though none of those stores exist here.

He further drew the ire of some local residents last month when he introduced a bill to undo some reforms made last year for bail bonding agents, changes to which even the bondsmen had agreed.

Just last month, Wright made national news when he left a loaded handgun in his briefcase unattended in a House committee hearing room.

Even though it is illegal — even for people with conceal-carry permits such as Wright — to carry weapons into the State Capitol building, Wright said he’s allowed because he’s still a certified peace officer in the state, even though he isn’t employed by any law enforcement agency.

The governor’s office checked on his Peace Officer Standards & Training certificate with the Colorado Attorney General’s Office, which oversees the POST board, and found that his certification hasn’t yet expired.

Throughout it all, Wright has said he’s been every bit the conservative that voters in the district wanted, arguing with legislative Democrats over everything from gun-control measures to increased renewable energy standards on rural electric associations.

He even won the support from GOP House leadership, including House Minority Leader Brian DelGrosso, R-Loveland, and Assistant Minority Leader Libby Szabo, R-Arvada, who, along with two other Front Range Republicans, came to Grand Junction to introduce him at his re-election announcement.

Those lawmakers have helped Wright raise nearly $23,000 in his re-election bid, nearly 90 percent of which has come from sources outside the district.

Wright said he would continue to speak out for conservative issues during his remaining time in the Legislature.

“I believe we’ve gotten good things done in the Legislature,” he said at his announcement. “But I don’t want you to think I’m throwing the towel in. We’ve got a few good months ahead of us in the Legislature and I plan on sprinting to the finish line and finishing what I set out, what I committed with all of you, to do.”


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