By Rick Langenberg:
The highly contested Colorado gubernatorial race landed in Woodland Park last week, as one of the main GOP front-runners came out verbally swinging during a meeting hosted by the Teller Tea Party Patriots.
Scott Gessler, the current Colorado Secretary of State who played a big role in reforming Teller elections, made it clear he is ready to wage a serious battle with Governor John Hickenlooper, a Democrat, in the upcoming 2014 contest. Gessler told frequent jokes about his often controversial reputation in the eyes of the Denver mainstream media, referring to himself as the “Honey Badger of Colorado politics” and a frequent target of Denver Post editorials. Gessler expressed much opposition to the status quo administration of the governor’s office, and vowed to make changes. “Our state is headed in the wrong direction,” said Gessler, one of four main GOP candidates vying for the office, during a short speech at Denny’s restaurant in Woodland Park . “We’ve got to make a change in direction and turn the state around… Colorado is still a place of freedom and opportunity. I don’t want to lose that.”
Compared to other nearby states, the GOP candidate maintained that Colorado is not doing very well economically and in attracting jobs, a scenario he depicts in his latest television ad with the theme, “The Desk to Nowhere.” He painted his Democratic incumbent opponent as a leader in love with higher taxes, fees and unnecessary regulations. Gessler also criticized Hickenlooper’s wavering stand on the death penalty, citing the case surrounding Nathan Dunlap, accused of brutally killing four people in an Aurora Chuck E. Cheese’s restaurant in 1993. The governor refused to follow through with the requested death sentence against Dunlap.
Gessler’s message of common sense conservatism struck a favorable cord with the crowd of Tea Party Patriots and key leaders of the Teller Republicans. The GOP candidate heavily touted his record as secretary of state, saying he has advocated voter integrity, campaign finance reform and a business-friendly administration. He also said he strove to make the office much more efficient and easier for customers to use. “Government is not here to whack people over the head,” said Gessler, in citing his concerns for common sense regulations and lower fees and taxes. He expressed a strong desire to reduce the confusion many citizens experience in dealing with government agencies. “We need to treat people right,” said Gessler.
Gessler noted that insiders considered his previous 2010 candidacy for secretary of state dead on arrival, especially since he had no experience as a political leader in Colorado . But he boasted that he proved them wrong and “I won by a solid majority. I kept my promises.” He hinted that he planned to resume this underdog role in his quest for the governor’s office, and not remain shy about his differences with Hickenlooper.
According to current polls, Gessler is definitely the underdog. He trails Hickenlooper by six percentage points in the latest poll, released last week. But on the upside, Gessler was rated as the most competitive GOP candidate in a prospective gubernatorial battle against Hickenlooper. Most political observers see the Republican governor’s race turning into a showdown between Gessler and former Congressman Tom Tancredo, who made a bid for the office four years ago. Gessler told the crowd last week that he faces five major election hurdles in order to capture the seat.
During his presentation, Gessler didn’t touch on too many specific issues or any of the controversies he has faced while serving as secretary of state. He has generated much criticism for his stand against some of the new voting laws, such as a measure that allows people to register on Election Day. Also, an ethics group has alleged that he misused office funds for political purposes.
Instead, many Republican leaders sought his views on water rights and overzealous water commissioners, stream-lining regulations, oil drilling and fracking, education and state’s rights. For the most part, Gessler expressed views that generated a thumbs-up by the Republican crowd. He mainly advocated the stand, “keep the government out of the way,” regarding most issues.
Gessler, not surprisingly, received many cheers for his criticism against the Affordable Health Care Act, referred to as Obamacare. He jokingly said that with the Colorado Secretary of State’s office, phone calls were actually answered.
Gessler, though, didn’t have to do much arm-twisting. He already is a hero in the eyes of some county leaders for reforming the Teller elections department. He also initiated major changes with the clerk and recorder’s office. He heavily criticized the way former Clerk and Recorder JJ Jamison handled the primary elections in 2012 and requested that his office, through a consultant, take over the management of the presidential elections in Teller County . At the time, many local leaders were impressed with his personal attention to the county’s election woes. These developments led to the resignation of Jamison.
Besides the race for governor, several county candidates made short presentations. Sheriff Mike Ensminger, who is seeking re-election, cited much progress in the financial plight of the Teller jail, once considered the fiscal albatross of the county government. He said the jail is generating $75,000 to $80,000 a month in revenue, through contracts with the federal government and other entities. He stated that the 110-bed facility is seeing its inmate population increase dramatically, averaging between 85 and 105 prisoners per night.
And in direct response to a question from the audience, Ensminger expressed satisfaction in the ongoing effort to prosecute a suspected arsonist, who officials believe ignited nearly 30 fires in Teller County in the summer of 2012. “We believe we have identified the arsonist,” said Ensminger. According to the sheriff, more than 1,000 pages of documents have been submitted to the District Attorney’s Office regarding this case. “We have good circumstantial evidence,” said Ensminger.
Short speeches were also made by Teller County Commissioner Dave Paul, who is running again for the District Two seat. Also, Teller County Assessor Betty Clark-Wine and challenger Violet Watt made short candidate pitches.
The forthcoming state and county elections will kick into high-gear during the party caucuses and assemblies, starting in early March. A candidate’s forum for the U.S. Senate race will be held at the Ute Pass Cultural Center on Feb. 22 from 2 to 4 p.m. This event is being sponsored by the Teller Tea Party Patriots.