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Endorsements gone wild



During election season, candidates trot out lists of supporters almost daily. Endorsements have become beacons, guiding voters to candidates who share their values. Labor unions and gay rights groups support Democrats. Big business and developers stand behind Republicans.

But not always. This season, a few strange bedfellows make you wonder whether endorsements mean anything at all.

The most glaring example: One Colorado, a Denver-based gay advocacy group, has backed Republican state Rep. Larry Liston, despite his voting record against gay and lesbian issues.

Last year, Liston opposed the extension of benefits to domestic partners of state employees. He previously opposed bills pushed by the gay community dealing with adoption issues and workplace discrimination, according to Project Vote Smart.

Incumbency matters

To be blunt, Liston has a "zero percent voting record on lesbian and gay issues," according to state Sen. Pat Steadman, D-Denver. Steadman should know: A longtime lobbyist, he represented Equal Rights Colorado, One Colorado's predecessor, for years.

"I can't think of a single thing we worked on that Larry Liston voted for," Steadman says.

But One Colorado's Brad Clark says incumbency is valued by the organization's political action committee, and Liston is a three-term House member.

Clark says Liston "pledged support and commitment on a number of LBGT issues," and One Colorado hopes Liston doesn't backpedal. Clark says he doesn't know what the endorsement means in cash for Liston's campaign, but he's already leading Democrat challenger Jan Tanner $30,955 to $5,735.

Liston also is staunchly conservative on social issues; you may remember him referring in 2008 to unmarried teen parents as "sluts."

"I was told that I was only one of either two or three Republicans who returned the questionnaire. I think they were pleasantly pleased at that," Liston says. "I had a little chat with them a few weeks later, and I guess they were comfortable. We just talked about workplace issues, discrimination, adoption issues. I think some of the legislation that's out there should be looked at ... on a case-by-case basis."

Liston opposes blanket protection of homosexuals "because a lot of people, you really don't know whether they're, uh, unless someone tells you, so I don't know that they need to be a protected class, because they have all the rights and privileges as everybody else under the law."

He later adds, "Just because you get an endorsement doesn't mean you will vote their way hook, line and sinker on every single issue."

Tanner, who also filled out the organization's questionnaire, finds the endorsement, well, queer: "I am wondering why I wasn't contacted. I have no idea why they didn't call me and why they contacted Larry Liston. I can't tell you what was in their mind. I don't see any legislation he's supported that would be important to them." Tanner supported gay-rights measures on the School District 11 board.

Sorry, brother

Meanwhile, in Senate District 11, the state Fraternal Order of Police has bypassed former Fountain police chief and current Senate Majority Leader John Morse, instead endorsing Republican challenger Owen Hill.

In House District 17, the same group bypassed Republican Mark Barker, a longtime member of the Colorado Springs Police Department, to back incumbent Democrat Rep. Dennis Apuan.

"I've never talked to them," says Barker, who now practices law. "I didn't receive anything. No e-mail, no letter." Asked if, after 24 years as a cop, he understands the Fraternal Order's issues, he says, "I'm sure I do."

Morse's opponent didn't give an interview or release his FOP questionnaire, but the FOP's endorsement letter says Hill "cares about public safety" and is "a quality candidate who is able to effectively handle the tough decisions necessary to properly tackle those issues." Hill, an Air Force Academy grad, works at Compassion International.

Morse suspects the FOP's decision stems from his opposition to the failed Peace Officers Bill of Rights proposal, which would have standardized officers' due process in administrative proceedings.

"In my view, it protected police officers way beyond how they need to be protected," Morse says. "The way that bill was written, the chief of police would never be permitted to be the one with the final say [on discipline]. There was always another authority to go to."

In his FOP questionnaire, Morse also called for public disclosure of officer misconduct investigations, saying it would add transparency so that "everyone could see and follow the process."

Mike Violette, state FOP executive director, says a background in law enforcement doesn't make someone a slam-dunk for support from his group. The FOP, he says, researches candidates and doesn't trade endorsements for votes.

And, he adds, "Mr. Hill is, like most people, in favor of due process."

Be ready to vote

To vote in the Nov. 2 general election, you must register by 5 p.m., Monday, Oct. 4.

— Pam Zubeck

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