Just around the corner from the regional office of U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn sits The Presidio, a four-story, glass-faced wedge of an office building on Kelly Johnson Boulevard. One first-floor suite has been home to Robert Blaha's company for the past 17 years.
But since Jan. 20, when Blaha announced his candidacy against Lamborn in the Republican primary, the space has doubled as Blaha's campaign headquarters. So it's fitting that on his desk this weekday morning lies a bookmarked copy of New York Times best-seller Throw Them All Out by Peter Schweizer.
"He makes a pretty compelling case for why things are the way they are," Blaha says. "The graft, the kickbacks."
Schweizer is an editor in the Andrew Breitbart's Big Government universe of blogs. The subtitle to his book: "How Politicians and Their Friends Get Rich Off Insider Stock Tips, Land Deals, and Cronyism That Would Send the Rest of Us to Prison."
It's the perfect fuel for Blaha's fire, and he relies on a phrase ripped from Schweizer's lexicon — "permanent political class" — when discussing the congressman whom he hopes to unseat.
Blaha and his wife, Susan, moved to Colorado 18 years ago from Atlanta. At 38, he wanted out of the corporate world, having worked for Ford, Monsanto, Engelhard, and finally as a senior vice president at Asea Brown Boveri, an engineering company. He started Human Capital Associates, a business consulting firm that specializes in efficiency and leadership training.
He also helped found Integrity Bank & Trust, a regional bank in northern El Paso County that he co-owns.
This Saturday, local Republicans will have their county assembly, and Blaha intends to speak to the crowd of delegates and elected officials. It won't directly impact his campaign; the county assemblies don't vote on congressional candidates, and he's petitioning to get on the ballot anyway. But he's hoping to win a few votes.
The Indy wanted to meet Blaha to ask why Republicans should vote for him in the June 26 primary. It's an offer that we also extended to Lamborn, through his spokeswoman, but the third-term congressman declined.
Indy: Explain your company, Human Capital Associates.
Robert Blaha: It's a company that focuses on leadership, teaching leaders to lead. ... Along with other folks, we were at the very front end of a process called Lean Six Sigma, which is a very sophisticated tool set to attack waste and variations in large enterprises. ... It really gets at: How do you find the waste, how do you find the variation, and how do you make that smoother and move faster so that you can accelerate the delivery of goods and services?
So it's not about removing people, it's about removing all the stuff that keeps people from being able to produce goods and services. And the applicability there is, do you know of anything today more messed up than the government?
A lot of people are talking about Lean Six Sigma now in the political circles — Republican candidates, the Obama administration — a lot of people are talking about those concepts. So I could wind up being the first sitting congressman that actually, they're implementing the concept that we've lived with for decades.
Indy: Judging from information on your website, your beliefs are very similar, in general, to Lamborn's. Where are the differences?
RB: I am a conservative. I have a long history in the area of being a conservative. I don't make apologies for that; that's my persuasion. I'm a pro-life, pro-family, pro-marriage, pro-Second Amendment and pro-10th Amendment person. But that's about where the similarities end with the congressman.
I'm very concerned about the social issues ... but then when you move to the other side of the equation, and say, "Well, talk about your business background," I'm a 35-year leader. I've done nothing but lead and teach people how to lead.
I'm for term limits. I'm for stopping earmarks. I'm for eradicating this total permanent political class that Washington has been able to create. ...
We could not be more different.
I'm coming in and saying that it is time for business expertise to be brought to the problems that the permanent political class has created; he's part of the permanent political class. ...
He's failed us. ... I believe you have to make your arguments, as emotional as they may be, with data. You have to use data to form your opinions, then use emotion to sell your opinions.
He's been the lead sponsor on 37 bills. He's never had a law passed that's become part of our society. As lead sponsor ... the person who actually had the idea, led the way, leads the charge up the mountain, reached to wherever you had to, to make the deal work, communicated it, sold it, stood on your feet, fought for it in the court of public opinion, that type of thing — zero. Zero.
So what does that tell you as a voter? If you want more of that, I would be surprised.
Indy: What did you think of Lamborn's refusal to attend the State of the Union address?
RB: I think that first it's important for me to say that I don't agree with our current president on much, probably next to nothing. Now having said that, there's a decorum that a statesman has to demonstrate. There's a way to deal with people with a courtesy standpoint, and Article 2, Section 3 of our Constitution is crystal clear. Our president was delivering, by our Constitution, the State of the Union address. ...
If I'm a member of the military, let's say you're my commanding officer, and I don't like you. What, do I just refuse to salute you? Think about that one. ... I don't think we want to let our society move in that direction too far. I think we need to demonstrate some class and ability to show respect to people and their position.
Indy: Where else do you feel he has opened the door for criticism?
RB: If it's about leadership, if it's about advancing your cause, if it's about creating jobs, if it's about being perceived in the greater context as being a leader in Congress, if it's about the things that most of us would want from somebody representing us, he's failed. In every one of those categories.
That's why I'm running. If this was a conservative guy that I could look at and say, "He is just nailing it. He's a Marco Rubio. He's an Allen West. He's a guy that's making it happen," I would have written him a check. He's not. It's that simple.
Indy: The military is a constituency to which Lamborn plays strongly. What kind of relationship would you like to form with our local military?
RB: I think that the five installations that we have are absolutely crucial to what's happening here. The problem is ... we haven't had a plan.
The congressman hasn't had a plan to come and grow those installations, or be the lead spokesperson and go out and look for new things. ...
You know, Schriever just laid off 17 percent of their [civilian] folks. The question I would ask is, "What happens if we would have really been on our toes there?" Would that number have been 5 percent? Maybe we would have gotten something.
As a businessperson, you're either moving forward or you're moving back. You're not staying stagnant. And what I've seen happen with the military and with our congressman is, due to his lack of aggressiveness and knowing how to create businesses and consortiums, we kind of remain stagnant. ...
And that's a concern to me, because the military is incredibly important to this area. So I say things like, "Why aren't we a hub of innovation? Why don't we have a lot of small production facilities that have sprung up across this area?" I mean ... who in their right mind would not want to get up and live in Colorado?
Meet the 'other' GOP challenger: Doug Bergeron
Doug Bergeron says that he has been interested in running for office "for many, many years."
An insurance agent in the Colorado Springs area of 27 years, he says he was planning on running against U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, but ran into some unexpected medical issues.
"Now I look at this as my last and final opportunity," Bergeron says. "I am getting real tired of looking across my desk to people who say, 'I've lost my job. I had to turn my car back in. My house is in foreclosure.' We've got some problems. Can I do anything? I don't know, but I won't be able to sleep at night if I don't try."
Like the other man looking to unseat Lamborn, this is Bergeron's first foray into the political arena.
"I think that the biggest problem with Doug Lamborn," he says, "[is that] he is run by the Republican Party. If they ran Atilla the Hun for something, he'd vote for him. Doug is the typical politician."
He says that what the 5th Congressional District needs is a representative who is bipartisan, who can "think outside the box," and can put what's right for the people over what's best for the party.
Bergeron is a strict conservative when it comes to the economy, he says, but he ventures far from the socially conservative path.
"I am a moderate Republican," he says. "A perfect example, the Doug Lamborns and the Robert Blahas of the world are pro-life, pro-life, pro-life, pro-life. I'm personally pro-life myself, but my political position is: I don't think that I have the right to tell a woman what to do.
"Lamborn and Blaha want to build a fence around the country and lock them all out. Where did your grandparents come from? If they want to come here legally, let them come. That's what built this country. ... I lean more to the middle and more to common sense."
Bergeron says he will attempt to petition onto the ballot.
— Chet Hardin