Old injuries scar Dem primary in SD 18
By Chris Bragg
While serving as president of the Boulder chapter of the National Organization for Women, Regina Cowles signed on to manage Cindy Carlisle’s 2002 campaign to represent the 2nd Congressional District on the University of Colorado Board of Regents. Cowles volunteered to run Carlisle’s campaign, she says, because she wanted a woman on the board of regents who would fight for women’s issues.
With Cowles’ help, Carlisle won the seat in a hard-fought election. But Cowles had no time to appreciate the victory. Just a month later, Cowles was “shocked” to learn that Carlisle’s husband, attorney Baine Kerr, would represent Lisa Simpson in a highprofile rape case against CU.
Her husband’s involvement would make it necessary for Carlisle to recuse herself from all meetings and events concerning the alleged rape committed by members of the CU football team.
“The reason I worked for her was to make sure these sorts of things had representation up there. But after Cindy got up there, these issues continued not to have representation. She had to recuse herself on these issues over, and over, and over again,” Cowles said. “It was appalling, really. And I believe that the reason she didn’t tell me is because I am someone who knows about conflict of interest.”
Kerr had been in confidential negotiations with the university about Simpson’s Title IX case throughout Carlisle’s run for regent. But Carlisle never disclosed that to either her campaign manager or the voters.
Carlisle is now running for the state Senate. And, over the past year, she has consistently blasted Rollie Heath, her opponent in Boulder’s Senate District 18, for what Carlisle believes are conflicts of interest. Their contentious Democratic primary will end with Tuesday’s Democratic primary election. The winner will determine who holds the seat, since there is no GOP challenger.
The questions about the Lisa Simpson case have resurfaced during the Senate campaign. Carlisle, 62, admits it technically was not privileged information that Kerr was representing someone considering suing CU. The larger point, Carlisle said, is that Kerr was in negotiations to “end the lawsuit” at the time of Carlisle’s regent run, and that there was no way to know that negotiations would end in litigation.
“All good lawyers try to a settle a case vigorously before it is prosecuted,” Carlisle said in an interview. “You don’t know what’s going to happen. I eventually had a conflict of interest. But I didn’t have a conflict when I ran for regent, because there wasn’t a case.”
Kerr, for his part, said he was working on 19 other cases that Carlisle reported as potential sources of conflictof- interest when she became a regent.
“Nobody really knew that it would turn into what it did,”Kerr said of the Simpson case. “It was like any other case my firm had. It was no big deal.”
Cowles retorted, however, that, “that’s like being ‘a little bit pregnant.’”
“Lisa Simpson did not hire Bane Kerr to set up a Tiddlywinks match. You don’t negotiate a settlement unless you have a client who has a beef that could become a lawsuit,” she said.
“Either she should have run for regent, or he should have taken the lawsuit,” Cowles said. “There are other people who could have run for regent, and there are other people who would have taken that lawsuit. The most basic conflict of interest is one where someone stands to gain financially. And this was it.”
Cowles noted that Simpson eventually won a $2.5 million settlement from the school, and another client of Kerr’s won $350,000 to drop her claim against CU over similar allegations.
Kerr said he was not allowed to disclose how much money his family has made from the lawsuit. He did, however, say that his firm had put 10,000 hours into the case, and that about half of those were pro-bono.
Kerr also cast aspersions on Cowles’ motives, calling her a “publicity hound” who, as the head of Boulder NOW, was upset when Kerr’s lawsuit stole the spotlight.
“She didn’t like that the credit didn’t go to her for the changes that were going on at CU. She resented all the attention that the lawsuit had gotten,” Kerr said.
So, hindsight being 20/20, would Kerr and Carlisle have done anything differently in regards to the Simpson case?
“I think the answer is no,” Kerr said. “The way things turned out, I was able to make real changes with the lawsuit. And Cindy made real changes as a regent, working with Hank Brown and Bud Peterson.”
Carlisle said the range of meetings from which she had to recuse herself because of the case was “very narrow” and that she only had to sit out a limited number of “executive sessions.”
“She was extremely effective on athletic reforms and women’s safety issues,” Kerr said. “More so than any of the other regents she served with.”
Carlisle dogs Heath over business ties
Meanwhile, as the Aug. 12 primary approaches, Cowles said, despite the controversy over the Simpson case, she wouldn’t be surprised if Carlisle wins the Senate seat.
“They run extremely aggressive campaigns,” Cowles said of Carlisle and Kerr. “They play very hard politics. Extremely hard.”
Carlisle, who won top-line on the ballot at the SD 18 Assembly, has relentlessly gone after Heath, 70, a businessman and the 2002 Democratic gubernatorial nominee in Colorado. Heath, a founder of the NorthStone group in Louisville, has served on the boards of numerous businesses and nonprofits. Those connections have helped him to an $11,000 cash-in-hand advantage over Carlisle, according to the latest campaign finance reports.
But Heath has faced scrutiny from Carlisle for sitting on certain boards. She has questioned his ties with the insurance broker IMA Financial Group and his past ties to the Colorado Association of Commerce and Industry. Carlisle also raised the fact that Heath has not disclosed his income from sitting on the board of the aerospace and defense company Allied Motion Technologies, and Heath’s work for the company Johns Manville in the 1970s, which, at the time, faced a slew of asbestos-related lawsuits.
“As CU Regent, I learned the more disclosure the better,” Carlisle stated in a Mar. 5 press release. The statement went on to say that Carlisle “ran for regent from the 2nd Congressional District on a platform of transparency and accountability.”
“When people run for office, they should run on their records, and not away from their records,” Carlisle added in an interview. “[Heath] has a record of ties to industry and a record of involvement with industry lobbyists. And if you run as an environmental progressive, then you ought to have a record as an environmental progressive. That’s all. When I bring up his record, he says I’m negative campaigning. That’s a classic Republican tactic.”
Carlisle asked Heath in a mid-July debate, to “guarantee that your industry and insurance allies will not have your ear in the Senate,” according to the Boulder Daily Camera.
Heath has responded that he joined Johns Manville decades after the company’s asbestos issues had been raised. And he’s said Carlisle is in a poor position to ask for conflict-of interest pledges in light of the Simpson case.
“If you serve on lots of boards for forprofits, or nonprofits — I don’t care what board it is — if your spouse is suing the board, I guarantee you’re not going to be staying on,” Heath said in an interview.
Carlisle colleagues back Heath
On the Board of Regents, Carlisle has developed a reputation for being somewhat abrasive with colleagues.
“Knowing both candidates, and having worked with both of them, I’m confident Rollie can be more effective addressing the issues facing Boulder,” said CU Regent Michael Carrigan, who represents Denver’s 1st Congressional District.
Carrigan and the board’s other current Democratic regent, Stephen Ludwig, as well as both of Carlisle’s former Democratic colleagues on the board, Susan Kirk and Gail Schwartz, have endorsed Heath. In other words, all of Carlisle’s former colleagues on the board have endorsed her opponent.
Carlisle says of her working style that “you don’t necessarily have to get along to get work done,” and pointed to her “transformational” environmental work when she was on the Boulder City Council in the mid-1980s and early 1990s.
Her campaign motto, promoted on yard signs around the district, is that she is the “Progressive Choice” in the race, based, in particular, on her history of fighting for environmental causes — in contrast, she says, to Heath’s bigbusiness background. That’s why Carlisle says she has the support of the liberal district’s grassroots activists.
Carlisle has won the endorsement of the progressive Boulder Weekly, which stated that, “Carlisle will bring the same ethical, courageous approach to the state Senate that she demonstrated while serving on the Board of Regents.”
Heath, for his part, says he’s been plenty progressive. For instance, he says, he was the founding chair of the Rocky Mountain Progressive Network, which became the liberal Colorado activist group Progress Now.
As for differences on the issues between the two, Heath says he’s mainly discussed TABOR reform and other fiscal issues with district voters, and that’s “something [Carlisle] has hardly ever talked about.”
Carlisle, meanwhile, highlights her more progressive position on health care. She says she would push immediately for fully government-run health care in Colorado, while Heath would first try to cover all children under 18 by 2010. Heath says it would take help from Washington D.C. to provide health care for all Coloradans.
Heath says he’s tried not to bring up Carlisle’s ties with the CU rape case in an effort to keep the campaign positive, and has had to “grit his teeth on more than one occasion” during the campaign. Heath says he feels that restraint led to an endorsement by the Daily Camera last weekend, which stated that, “Heath showed some grace under pressure, and his tendency to put past grievances behind him will serve the district well, as he works with legislators across the state.”
Heath admitted he did “lose his cool” on a couple of occasions after Carlisle harped on his business associations. In one debate before the Sierra Club, Heath insinuated Kerr and Carlisle had personally profited from money left to them by Kerr’s recently deceased father, who happened to be an executive for Pennzoil.
Heath later said was attempting to make the point — poorly — that Carlisle’s accusations about his business background were irrelevant, just as Kerr’s family connections to the oil industry were.
Carlisle, meanwhile, is still peeved about Heath’s statement.
“We’re talking about his past,” she said, “versus my now-deceased father-inlaw’s life. And my father-in-law is in the ground. He’s not running for office.”
In what’s sure to be a relief to Boulder voters, all the mudslinging will be over on Aug. 12. Whoever emerges victorious can be glad they live in a safe Democratic district — and that no Republican will be waiting in the wings to pounce on all the negative fodder produced by the most contentious legislative primary in the state.