Aaron's Real Opinions:

Bill Ritter's Big Surprise
by Aaron Harber
November 8, 2006 - Print Article

Part 3: Bob Beauprez’s Major Miscues

There is no question that 2006 was a tough year to be a Republican in many parts of the country. Colorado was no exception. With unhappiness about the War in Iraq, broken promises about fiscal responsibility, and a dominating sense the Republican leadership - wracked by scandal and influence peddling - had not come close to fulfilling the promises it had made to the American people in 1994, when the Republican Party took control of Congress, many voters had lost faith in the Republican Party. And even though the Colorado Economy was doing well, Bob Beauprez faced a tough crowd in 2006.

With Marc Holtzman dogging him in 2005, Beauprez came out against Referenda C & D - two much-needed measures meant to give Colorado’s State Government some fiscal breathing room. Holtzman was the primary critic of the two measures and Beauprez felt it was necessary to join the Ref C opposition. He miscalculated, however, as the campaign for the Referenda was led by Republican Governor Bill Owens, long known as a fiscal conservative, and was supported by a major segment of the traditionally Republican business community across the entire State. This miscalculation was Beauprez’s first major mistake.

Beauprez elected to not use Owens and many other prominent and well-respected Republicans such as former U.S. Senator Hank Brown as “cover” and, instead, mimicked Holtzman. While that negated Holtzman politically, it was an overreaction by Beauprez and moved the moderately-viewed Congressman further to the Right. Once Referendum C passed in November, instead of welcoming the fiscal relief, Beauprez failed to regroup and continued his opposition to it.

Several months later, given a second chance to mend fences, Beauprez instead elected to prominently sign a petition seeking to limit the Ref C proceeds to $3.7 billion over five years rather than allow the State to keep all net tax collections, even if they cumulatively exceeded the $3.7 billion figure. This further alienated many Republicans and an entire range of businesspersons who wanted to see the State repair roads and bridges as well as better support education at all levels. It also unintentionally made Beauprez look like a sore loser and unwilling to embrace the public’s decision. Rather than simply say, “Ref C is the will of the people and I’m the best man to implement it effectively,” Beauprez continued to paint himself as an opponent of Ref C and only came around to the “best man” position late in the campaign.

Beauprez’s next major mistake was to sign a petition supporting Amendment 38 - the Petition Rights Amendment. The PRA was a proposal to streamline the Colorado petition process and ensure that citizens could petition their government at all levels within Colorado. It was a reaction to the General Assembly and Secretary of State’s efforts to limit the petition process. It was written too expansively, however, and encountered stiff opposition - failing overwhelmingly at the polls on November 7th.

The PRA was opposed by most elected officials and many businesspeople - resulting in Beauprez being seen as even further to the Right at a time he should have been focused on getting to Colorado’s political center. He backtracked and eventually disavowed the PRA but the damage had been done - and now, adding to his problems, he was appearing facile and inconsistent (qualities one does not want to have in a political race).

Part 4: The Wrong Nominee And A D.A. Attack Misfires

Marc Holtzman’s campaign ended when he failed to get on the Republican Primary Election ballot and Bob Beauprez then automatically became the Party’s nominee. However, rather than moderate his tone and tactics, Beauprez moved further to the Right by selecting newly-elected Mesa County Commissioner Janet Rowland as his running mate. No one understood the selection because Rowland was a complete unknown. Coming from the Western Slope might have been a plus for the Democratic nominee but for Republican Beauprez, the nomination made no sense at all. Getting someone such as Lola Spradley, the first woman ever to serve as Speaker of the House in Colorado, would have been a coup. And there were many other excellent choices to be considered. Rowland, while an extraordinary person and very well-accomplished in her own right, simply was a complete unknown.

Then the Rowland nomination backfired when a video clip surfaced of her appearance on “Colorado State of Mind,” a KRMA-TV Channel 6 program hosted by Greg Dobbs. The discussion involved gay marriage and Rowland made comments about it possibly leading to bestiality. She apologized for her comments but the incident stymied any attempt by Beauprez to move to the political center. It also caused pundits to question his campaign management in that the Beauprez team either severely underestimated the reaction to the PBS appearance or had failed to identify it before the nomination. Either way, Beauprez lost ground.

Rather than gaining momentum, Beauprez unintentionally kept impeding his own campaign. The campaign felt confident it could successfully attack Democratic nominee Bill Ritter the same way Beauprez had eviscerated Dave Thomas, the District Attorney for the First Judicial District, who had been the Democratic nominee for Congress in 2004.

That year, the Beauprez campaign selected several controversial cases Thomas’s office handled and attacked him as having been incompetent and having endangered the public. Thomas did not have the resources to respond in kind and found the attacks devastating. They were fatal to an already uphill effort to unseat a popular incumbent and Thomas lost by a wide margin.

This year, Beauprez rolled out a similar attack by focusing on a large number of cases (almost 200) which made former Denver District Attorney Ritter look bad. Ritter had plea-bargained 19 out of every 20 cases and some of the plea bargains were very controversial.

Part 5: Beauprez’s Last Chance Backfires.

When Bob Beauprez deployed the same tactic in his 2006 gubernatorial bid against former District Attorney Bill Ritter which he had used successfully in 2004 in his congressional reelection campaign against Jeffco D.A. Dave Thomas, it backfired. Right away a number of DA’s across Colorado - including some prominent Republican DA’s - came to Ritter’s defense. This mitigated much of the effect of the attack. Then a number of newspaper editorial pages criticized Beauprez for oversimplifying the reality that all DA’s are forced to plea bargain the same average of cases because of the extraordinary number of cases they are required to process as well as the limits which exist on jail and prison space.

What really surprised political analysts, however, was the level of sophistication voters displayed. Many understood the problems with an overburdened judicial system and, as a result, did not always see the selection of less than 200 out of over 60,000 cases prosecuted by Ritter’s office as being relevant. Colorado citizens knew most cases got plea-bargained and that, without plea bargaining, the entire judicial system would collapse. And Ritter already had prepared his campaign for exactly the attack Beauprez launched.

The result was Beauprez’s attacks were not nearly as effective as he had hoped. Even worse, however, they backfired when it was determined his campaign had used information procured illegally by a supporter. The supporter was a federal agent who had accessed a restricted, confidential government database and communicated his findings to the Beauprez campaign. While Beauprez and his campaign did not know the information had been gained improperly, the scandal which resulted killed any remaining chance of a Beauprez victory.

Rather than denouncing the illegally gotten information and pulling the ad, Beauprez made the situation worse by declaring the federal agent was a hero. This allowed Ritter to put on his DA “Law & Order” hat and argue that those who break the law should not be held up as model citizens. The situation made Beauprez look bad – i.e., a Republican arguing that breaking the law was excusable. And it made Ritter look good – i.e., a centrist Democrat emphasizing the need for Law & Order and for all Coloradans to follow the law and be treated equally under it. The situation again made many experts wonder who was advising Beauprez. Although he was trying to make lemonade from lemons, he ended up in a worse position (holding a stinking pile of rotting lemons, perhaps?).

The outcome was Beauprez had lost the confidence of the majority of voters and was unable to get it back. He went from the favored frontrunner, with ample resources, to the losing candidate in what, at worst, should have been a close race. His +170,000 Republican voter registration advantage was rendered meaningless as Ritter got the solid support of almost every Democrat in the State along with the vast majority of unaffiliated voters and numerous Republicans.

In less than ten months, Bob Beauprez had taken a downward ride on a campaign trajectory consistently pointed in the wrong direction. Even before Election Day, the Washington Post labeled it as one of the nation’s “Ten Worst” campaigns. Unfortunately, for one of Colorado’s own, the label was well-deserved.

By the end of Election Day, Bob Beauprez had magnanimously conceded the Republican governorship of Colorado and watched as his Congressional District elected Ed Perlmutter, a Democrat, to help forge a Democratic majority in the U.S. Congress for the first time in a dozen years. It was a tough day to be a Republican.

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