CD 2 Dems raise stakes; candidates spew cash, insults

By John Schroyer
THE COLORADO STATESMAN

Ballots for early voting and registered absentee voters in Colorado’s primaries will begin hitting mailboxes in mid-July, so for any candidate running in a contested primary, the campaign season is almost at its apex. And nowhere is this more true than in the Democratic race in the 2nd Congressional District.

Within the past few weeks, the primary has become ever more contentious, with the three candidates throwing position statements, advertisements and accusations back and forth as if they were hand grenades.

Former state Senate President Joan Fitz-Gerald has accused Jared Polis, a multimillionaire and former member of the State Board of Education, of trying to purchase the race. Polis, for his part, has begun saturating the mountainous CD 2 with TV ads. Meanwhile, environmentalist Will Shafroth, a former executive director of Great Outdoors Colorado, successfully petitioned onto the ballot last week and officially made the primary into a three-way race.

Polis made headlines last week after contributing another $2.1 million of his pocket money to his campaign, bringing his total self-donations to more than $3.6 million. That total, according to one news report, puts him at the all-time top among self-funders in Colorado, and his propensity to throw cash into his campaign wasn’t lost on Fitz-Gerald or Shafroth.

“It’s clearly not the way I have chosen to run my campaign,” said Shafroth, who then noted that 99 percent of his contributions have been made by individuals.

Fitz-Gerald press secretary Matt Moseley called the donations a “desperate attempt to buy the race,” and said Polis’ strategy seems to be to purchase enough air time to raise his name identification and overtake Fitz-Gerald, who took top line over Polis at the CD 2 assembly with 60 percent of the vote to his 40 percent.

“(Fitz-Gerald) is flattered that he’s spending this much,” Moseley said. “It’s crazy money. It’s loco money.”

Polis campaign manager Robert Becker fired back, “Basically, they’re complaining about the fact that Jared is communicating with the voters … He wants to earn this seat. For her to say he’s trying to buy it is ludicrous.”

Becker accused the Fitz-Gerald camp of having an “unhealthy obsession” with Polis’ campaign finances, and further pointed out that Polis has thrown millions into other Democratic races and causes in the past, including various candidates and 527s in 2004, when the Democrats took control of the state Legislature for the first time in 44 years. He argued that Fitz-Gerald herself, as a former legislator, indirectly benefited from Polis’ generosity because he helped give her a majority in the Statehouse.

“It’s highly ironic … not once did Sen. Fitz-Gerald talk about the hundreds of thousands of dollars that Jared put into the Democratic Party to help them win back the majority,” Becker said.

Still, Becker couldn’t deny the cash probably is helping. Though he declined to disclose how much Polis’ two recent TV ads cost, such spots, one at 30 seconds and one that runs a full minute, usually cost a minimum of several hundred thousand dollars each. That’s partly why neither Fitz-Gerald nor Shafroth have put up TV ads yet — they simply can’t afford to, although they’ve raised more than $1 million each.

So cash could make the difference in CD 2. Polis’ first ad was a friendly biographical spot, calling him a “Colorado success story” and briefly summarizing his meteoric rise through online businesses. It paints him as a dedicated community activist who uses his wealth to help build schools and create jobs, and touts the fact that, following his election to the State Board of Education in 2000, he became the board’s first Democratic chair in 30 years. The second spot focuses more on his role as a SBOE member, and advocates smaller class sizes, more educational resources and richer school funding.

Fitz-Gerald and Polis also have sparred continuously over energy issues, with Polis charging that Fitz-Gerald is a front candidate for the oil and gas industry because she has accepted thousands in donations from mining and oil companies. Fitz-Gerald, however, has staunchly insisted she’s an advocate of renewable energy and protecting the environment, and this week even issued a position statement calling for an end to federal tax subsidies for oil companies.

“We must realign the priorities of this nation, stop subsidizing Big Oil and start investing in renewable energy,” Fitz-Gerald said in a statement. “We are giving away the farm to the big oil companies and sacrificing the future of America.”

Both Polis and Shafroth agreed with the position, and Shafroth commented that there is “something inherently wrong” when oil companies are making “record profits” while gas prices continue to climb.

Polis, however, took the opportunity to blast Fitz-Gerald for supporting an “oil and gas dream bill” in 2002 while she was in the state Senate.

“The author of Colorado’s ‘oil and gas dream bill’ is now playing ‘me-too’ politics by vowing to end taxpayer subsidies for Big Oil,” Becker charged.

The measure, Senate Bill 141, was sponsored by members of both parties, including now-U.S. Rep. Ed Perlmutter, D-CD 7, and ultraconservative former state Senate President John Andrews, R-Centennial. The bill was aimed at establishing more equity in the contracts used by oil and gas companies and the landowners they lease from.

Moseley said of Becker’s critique, “This shows Jared’s lack of understanding of the legislative process.”

He pointed to Fitz-Gerald’s 100 percent rating from the Colorado Conservation Voters, and said she has an “incredibly strong” record as an environmentalist.

Polis also recently vowed to battle price-gouging by the energy industry, and, in a statement last week, blasted Congress for being “far too timid” in dealing with oil companies. Like Fitz-Gerald, he called for an end to tax subsidies for energy companies and more investment in renewable energy research and development.

Fitz-Gerald got a political boost of her own this week with a key endorsement from the Progressive Democrats of America.

“We believe that Joan Fitz-Gerald has demonstrated her ability to be an effective legislator and that she is the best candidate at this time to represent CD 2 in the House,” said Kenneth Nova, a local spokesman for the PDA.

Fitz-Gerald said she was “honored” to have the group’s backing and said it indicates “who has the real record of standing up for the middle class in this race.”

Shafroth was easily certified for the ballot last week after submitting more than 4,600 signatures to the Colorado Department of State. Candidates need only 1,000 valid signatures to earn a spot on the primary ballot, and the state deemed 3,453 of those to be valid. An employee with the secretary of state’s office verified that Shafroth’s number is a record high for CD 2. (The statewide record, she said, is held by Republican Marc Holtzman, who turned in more than 21,000 signatures in 2006 during his bid for the governorship.)

Shafroth said the number of signatures he was able to gather is “indicative of the groundswell of grassroots support for my very different kind of candidacy … Voters who feel that the usual partisanship and bickering in Washington can’t be solved until we change the kind of politician we send to Washington.”

Moseley had no comment on Shafroth’s certification, and Becker said there was “never a doubt in our minds” he was going to be on the ballot.

“Congratulations. Welcome to the race,” he added.