COLORADO SPRINGS – El Paso County Republican Party’s assembly produced five primary contests – a phenomenon in an election year when the prize is defeating Democrat President Barack Obama.
Predictable is the primary battle between Reps. Amy Stephens and Marsha Looper for House District 19. The other primary races are in El Paso County Commissioner Districts 3 and 4, House District 21 and Senate District 10.
Flying under the radar with barely a blip of media attention was the race for Senate District 10 between Rep. Larry Liston and Owen Hill – until Hill, a political newcomer who has never held elected office, snared top line on the primary ballot over Liston, a veteran legislator and party leader, at the El Paso County Republican Party Assembly last Saturday.
Hill won 63.8 percent of the delegate vote; Liston garnered 36.2 percent.
Hill is a Compassion International financial executive and 2010 Republican candidate who fell a few hundred votes short of unseating Democrat Senate Majority Leader John Morse. Liston, a 40-year resident of Colorado Springs and a retired RBC Dain Rauscher vice president, has served four terms in the state House.
Both candidates express fiscal and social conservative values. Liston is campaigning on his legislative experience with thorough knowledge of complex issues and procedures that he calls assets in steering Colorado through the economic recession. Hill is banking on polls reflecting a voter malaise of anti-incumbent sentiment.
“I’m floored and excited!” declared Hill, who said the assembly outcome indicates that “voters are ready for new leadership.”
“I’m happy that I made the ballot after two weeks of persistent negative attacks,” said Liston of hit pieces mailed to delegates that included a four-page letter written by former state Sen. Dave Schultheis, and a blast email and glossy postcard issued by Hill’s campaign.
The healthcare insurance exchange has also become an issue in this race. Liston, who voted for the passage of SB 200, disseminated a campaign statement to delegates at the assembly to clarify that he firmly opposes ObamaCare and correct other mischaracterizations of his voting record asserted by his opponent.
During Liston’s nomination acceptance speech, he was heckled by Summer Vanderbilt, a 2008 Republican National Convention delegate and then, supporter of the Personhood Amendment.
“Planned Parenthood! You fund Planned Parenthood!” shouted Vanderbilt. When she continued to heckle Liston, other delegates yelled, “Be quiet!” Sit down! You’re rude, lady!”
Some critics believed that Liston’s vote for SB 200 would result in funding abortions – an assertion made in flyers distributed by Rep.Marsha Looper’s campaign to attack her House District 19 opponent House Majority Leader Amy Stephens, who sponsored the bill. Earlier that day, Stephens said the statement was absolutely false.
Liston continued his speech, citing his record of pro-business legislation that cut regulations and taxes to help spur job growth. But, if he was secretly stunned by Vanderbilt’s outburst, he was even more shocked by nominating speeches for his opponent.
“I’m here to set the record straight. Representative Liston cast the vote to send my E-verify bill to the (House) Agriculture committee to die. That’s my bill!” declared Looper. “That is my bill that Owen Hill will fight for as hard as he can. So I’m here to second his nomination.”
House Bill 1309, sponsored by Reps. Spencer Swalm (R-Centennial) and Looper and Sen. Keith King (R-Colorado Springs) would require employers to check employment applicants through E-verify. It was heard on March 22 by the House Economic & Business Development Committee chaired by Liston.
Critics such as the Colorado Dairy Farmers and Colorado Competitive Council, say E-verify has mistakenly identified legal citizens as illegals and vice versa, adds to an existing federal law and imposes a maximum $25,000 fine and loss of business license for failure to comply.
Rep. Kevin Priola (R-Henderson) made a motion to send the bill with a favorable recommendation to the House Agriculture, Natural Resources & Energy Committee. Republican Reps. Libby Szabo ofArvada, Priola and Liston joined the Democrats in voting 7 – 5 in favor of motion.
Liston said later that he supports E-verify, but he “honored a request” that the bill be heard in the Agriculture committee because farming and ranching are primary industries that hire illegal immigrant workers.
The day before the assembly, Hill hammered the issue in a blast email to Republicans and lobbyists. “Rep. Liston again joined the Democrats in playing political games on the important issue of immigration. While other Republicans had the courage to stand up and fight for what is right, Liston chose to duck for cover and send a good bill to the political graveyard.”
In the same e-mail, Hill criticized Liston for taking campaign contributions from lobbyists and political action committees. In his nomination speech, Hill asserted that Liston won’t stand up for conservative values because he’s “bankrolled by lobbyists and special interest groups.”
Asked if plans to reject contributions from special interest groups and lobbyists, Hill said, “I never implied or said that I wouldn’t.” He explained that his objections were to Liston’s campaign being two-thirds funded by special interest and that comes with a price.
“They expect returns on their investment,” said Hill.
If that’s the gospel, wouldn’t the same sentiment apply to any candidate who receives special interest money? “We’ll take it on a case by case basis,” replied Hill.
Hill confirmed that a few days after filing his candidacy papers with the Secretary of State in October, he met with lobbyists in Denverand solicited campaign contributions. Hill snared contributions from a few lobbyists, PACs and a unique combination of faith-based ministry leaders and liquor store owners.
Both candidates in 2010 had campaign coffers tainted with lobbyist and PAC money.
Liston took issue with Hill for emails and mailings that falsely claimed the legislator had supported Referendum C in 2005. In e-mails and a flyer at the assembly, Liston cited the Colorado House Journal as proof he had not.
Liston’s team includes campaign manager Karon McCormick, who worked on his previous re-election bids, and political consultant Dustin Olson. He’s been endorsed by Attorney John Suthers and local elected officials.
Hill’s campaign is steered by Jeremy Isaac, a Colorado Springs realtor, and political consultant Jon Hotaling. Hill has the blessings of former Sen.Dave Schultheis and Sens. Kent Lambert and Ted Harvey, who lauded Hotaling as a “guru.”
After reapportionment, the redrawn boundaries moved Rep. Bob Gardner into House District 20, leaving an open seat in House District 21. FormerFountainCity Councilwoman Lois Landgraf captured 66.6 percent of the delegate vote, and Albert Sweet of Security snared 33.3 percent.
El Paso County Commissioners Sallie Clark, Dennis Hisey and Amy Lathen stirred a hornet’s nest of anger when they approved a ballot measure to limit terms to three four-year terms in 2010. The measure passed, but some voters felt duped to learn that it actually extended the existing two-term limit.
Citizens asked that the question be put again to the voters on the November ballot, but the same three commissioners voted to wait until 2012, citing election costs. The delay ensured that Clark and Hisey would be eligible to run for a third term; Lathen is seeking a second term.
The backlash of anger was clearly expressed in Commissioner District 3 where challenger Karen Magestrelli of Green Mountain Falls captured top line on the ballot over incumbent Clark, winning 54.5 to 45.5 percent of the delegate vote.
The division of supporters in this race reveals the fracture in the county party between traditional fiscal conservatives versus a hodgepodge of rigid right, tea party and Libertarian-leaning Republicans.
Clark’s more than $6,800 campaign coffer is fueled by influential leaders including Steve Bartolin, president of The Broadmoor and developers Doug Stimple and David Jenkins. Magestrelli has not yet filed a financial report, but she has been endorsed by Schultheis.
In Commissioner District 4, Hisey garnered 61.4 percent of the delegate vote, but was unable to shut out challenger Auddie Cox, who gained 38.6 percent.
District 2 Commissioner Lathen fended off challenger Phil McDonald, winning 75 percent of the vote. McDonald failed to receive the 30 percent threshold to win a spot on the ballot, but he has the option to petition onto it.