Forget about the November 5 general election for the time being. Next Tuesday's primary election will pretty much wrap things up for several local seats.
Believe it or not, the number of Democrats living in conservative El Paso County actually exceeds that of liberal Boulder County. Even more unaffiliated voters are registered here. Yet for the past six years, Republicans have represented El Paso County in every single partisan office, whether it be in county government or in the state Legislature.
In recent years, the turnout for the August primary election has been dismal, meaning that special-interest groups and a few die-hards end up, for better or for worse, selecting the public servants who will represent all of us -- including Republicans, Democrats, Greens, Libertarians and unaffiliated voters.
The five contested Republican races this year, detailed below, are critical. At stake are two vacancies on the El Paso County Board of Commissioners, which is currently composed of five Republicans who have often voted in lockstep and generated a great deal of controversy in recent months.
In addition, next Tuesday will decide the Republican candidate for the crucial District 11 state Senate seat, House District 16 seat, and determine the county's next treasurer.
Reform vs. Status Quo
Experience and coattails define District 1 Commissioner race
This black-and-white race pits an ex-Colorado Springs City Councilman who is screaming for reform against the former head of the local GOP who claims he can't pick his favorite sitting official because he "loves them all equally."
Bill Guman, a landscape architect who served for eight years on council, underscores his expertise in land use, water and transportation issues, critical to the fast-growing northern El Paso County district he wants to represent.
Wayne Williams, meanwhile, has secured the support of the developer and business special interests, all of the sitting board of county commissioners, as well as numerous other county and statewide elected officeholders -- many of whom can thank him in part for their own elected posts.
The race, Guman says, should be more about experience and the drive to reform county government than political expediency.
With no Democrat in the race, next Tuesday will likely decide who will be the new county commissioner of District 1.
Right and wrong
Specifically, Guman is critical of several recent controversies in the county government. In January, county commissioners became intimately involved in the ouster of former Health Department Director Tisha Dowe, an arena in which they are supposed to remain hands-off. In addition, commissioners appointed a Board of Health whose membership lacks, for the first time in history, a medical doctor.
Guman also cites the fact that Terry Harris is serving a dual role as both the county's administrator and its chief financial officer, overseeing county finances.
Guman is critical of the county's recent purchase of a $3-million building to house its information technology department, only to deem the building unsuitable for their needs.
In addition, he is critical of the county's recent practice of awarding contracts, most recently a $250,000 contract that was awarded to a company without sending it out for competitive bids.
No one, Guman said, has been held accountable for the improprieties, and indeed, county officials continue to maintain no wrongdoing has occurred.
"Their mode of operation seems to be, it's not whether it's right or if it's wrong, it's what they can get away with, and I wasn't raised in that environment," Guman said.
"The years I spent on a council run by [former mayor] Bob Isaac was probably the best thing that ever happened to me. It was no nonsense; there was a clear distinction of what was right and what was wrong."
As a councilman, Guman was himself the catalyst for the adoption of a city code of ethics. As a landscape architect, Guman's business continued to bid for city contracts amid charges of having a conflict of interest. The ethics code prohibited him from bidding on such contracts. Now, Guman supports enacting a similar ethics code to guide county commissioners.
"The good-old-boy network can be fixed, but someone who won't just go along to get along needs to be elected," Guman said. "I am a Republican and I will be a Republican commissioner, but I will not place partisan politics ahead of representing my constituents, and that is what's happening now."
Respect for voters
Williams, on the other hand, offers up little criticism of the current workings of county government.
Asked to identify one county commission decision in the past year with which he has disagreed, Williams cited last November's ballot issue asking for a TABOR exemption.
Putting it on the ballot without adequately explaining the rationale to the voters, he believes, was not "appropriate."
Earlier this year, Williams, an attorney who was the local Republican Party Chairman from 1997 to 1999, planned to run for the State House of Representatives for the seat being vacated by term-limited Doug Dean. But after Colorado's redistricting went into effect, Williams' home fell outside the new district and he opted to run for commissioner instead.
Given that he has been endorsed by all five sitting county commissioners, including those he will serve alongside if elected, Williams was recently asked to name his favorite. He jokingly deferred, "I love them all so much."
Unlike all of the other developer/business special interestendorsed candidates in local primary races, Williams, who is running for his first political office, has been readily accessible to the press and willing to appear at public forums.
"If you're going to be in public office, part of the responsibility is to go to the public and explain why you want to hold that office," Williams said. "I have a lot of respect for the voters."
A rat and a mouse
During a recent candidates forum sponsored by Citizens Project and several other groups, Williams criticized Guman for accepting the bulk of his campaign contributions from outside the district he wants to represent.
Guman, in turn, underscored Williams' lack of hands-on expertise in dealing with water issues in a district where supplies are fast dwindling.
In another, more exclusive forum designed to highlight the business community's endorsed candidates, Williams was asked to describe his plans for environmental protections.
"The most important thing we can do is re-elect Wayne Allard to the U.S. Senate and bring intelligence to the decision-making process," he said of Colorado's junior member of the Senate. (Last year, the pro-environment League of Conservation Voters gave Allard a 13 percent approval rating.)
"We need to make it so a rat or a mouse doesn't control decisions locally," he said in reference to the endangered Preble's jumping mouse that has hampered several local development projects.
Most environmental mandates, Williams said, are made at the federal level, though he offered criticism of the Colorado Springs City Council's recent approval of a streamside ordinance that regulates development along waterways.
In the end, both candidates know this race is going to come down to how many -- and which -- voters turn out to vote.
There are currently 38,000 registered Republicans and even more unaffiliated voters in the district -- who can technically register as Republicans and vote in next Tuesday's primary.
Four years ago, 7,000 people turned out to cast their vote.
-- Cara DeGette
Two Right Feet
Bensberg, Tebedo in for County Commissioner District 5
Republican MaryAnne Tebedo describes County Commissioner District 5 -- the only district that lies wholly within the Colorado Springs city limits -- as a diverse constituency, representing every walk of life.
"This is a district of wonderful, hard-working people," she said.
Tebedo, who served seven years in Colorado's state House of Representatives and 12 more as a state Senator, is running against political newcomer Jim Bensberg in the district that crosses much of central Colorado Springs. Whoever wins will face Democrat Dean Tollefsen in November.
In the legislature, Tebedo headed 10 legislative committees, and was vice chair of 13 more. She was relentless, though unsuccessful, in pursuit of legislation to relax concealed weapons permitting statewide.
Tebedo's most memorable moments, however, were her widely quoted misstatements and sometimes-offensive claims.
In 1993, Tebedo enraged minorities when she appeared on television and asserted that teenaged black females were sexually promiscuous because of their culture. Amid public outrage, Tebedo refused to recant the statement. She has also said that it's a proven fact that the incidence of "teenage pregnancy drops off dramatically after age 25" -- a comment, she now claims, was taken out of context.
But even after the media -- including this newspaper -- has raked her over the coals for those gaffes, Tebedo is resolute in her belief that holding public office requires she be accessible to the public she serves.
"I'm always willing to, and look forward to, talking with constituents and the press," Tebedo said. "I have an internal mechanism to be open and accessible."
Not very smart
It is thus puzzling that Tebedo's opponent, Jim Bensberg, has during this race shunned the media and declined to attend a candidates forum hosted by Citizens Project and a handful of other organizations.
Two weeks ago, at the Chamber of Commerce's $25-per-plate luncheon and mayoral State of the City address, Bensberg refused to talk about his candidacy, his platform and vision, or even whether he will, if elected, speak to reporters.
"I have no comment for the Independent," Bensberg insisted.
While avoiding he press, the never-elected Bensberg has secured endorsements over the more seasoned Tebedo from the three most prominent lobbying groups in town, including the developers' political action committee, the Realtors PAC and the Chamber of Commerce PAC.
Local GOP activist Sarah Jack, who is working on behalf of developers to get their chosen candidates -- including Bensberg -- elected, offered the following when asked about his closed-door policy: "I'm not running his campaign, but I would say I don't think that's very smart."
In his campaign brochures and on his Web site, Bensberg says he graduated from Fountain Valley School in 1973.
From 1987 to 1995, his site says, Bensberg worked as a lobbyist for the motorcycle industry in Washington, D.C. He returned to Colorado Springs in 1995 and currently works in the local office of U.S. Sen. Wayne Allard.
My good friends
At a recent, exclusive breakfast sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce, Bensberg repeatedly name-dropped his high-powered pals, dating all the way back to his Little League days with Steve Durham (now one of the most powerful lobbyists in the state).
He also referred to his "good friend" Laura Holland (the prominent owner of the Muir Agency advertising company) and Convention and Visitors Bureau president Terry Sullivan.
Bensberg told the group that he is a "huge proponent of downtown development," including developer Jeff Smith's plan to build a convention center and baseball stadium. He also cited his expertise as a former Washington lobbyist, and said the experience positioned him to be able to secure federal dollars to help build roads and highways.
As for the environment, Bensberg said El Paso County needs to preserve "what we see as special... But we need to realize that man is part of the environment as well."
Tebedo, meanwhile, has emphasized her experience serving in public office. If elected, she said, her top priorities are to incorporate fair water, transportation and growth planning that places costs on new development, "not on tax increases to the current taxpayers."
-- Cara DeGette
The Candidate Who Wasnt There
Ed Jones runs for cover as Tim Pleasant rages on Senate District 11
Ed Jones is a seasoned county commissioner with eight years under his belt as a public official. He is used to being in the spotlight.
Yet during his primary campaign against Republican Tim Pleasant, Jones' handlers have kept him in a virtual box, refusing to let him appear in Republican forums opposite Pleasant. They won't even let their candidate, who is currently a public official, talk with the press.
"We have an agreement he doesn't talk directly to reporters; that's nothing but good campaign practice," said Jones' campaign chairman, Bob Gardner. Instead, Gardner says, Jones has, like other candidates, been walking door to door soliciting support and distributing fliers.
Clearly, they don't want to place their candidate in close proximity with Pleasant, who burst on the scene two years ago and, with pennies in his pocket and a razor sharp tongue, nearly unseated Judy Noyes from her City Council seat.
Of his reputation for often coming off as an antonym of his own name, Pleasant is unrepentant: "I speak out for what I believe is right and speak out against what I believe is wrong -- that means that I have developed a reputation for telling the truth," he said.
"And if some people are uncomfortable with the truth, then that is unfortunate, but isn't telling the truth a good reputation to have?"
A criminal-defense attorney whose close allies include city councilwomen Sallie Clark and Margaret Radford, Pleasant says he was motivated to run because he believes the more moderate Jones can't beat moderate Marino in November.
In his campaign literature, Pleasant, a Marine Corps veteran, cites his accomplishments as a law professor at the University of Phoenix and Concord University.
Off the radar
Should Jones win the primary, it is unclear whether his political handlers and consultants will continue their low-profile approach.
After all, whichever candidate wins -- Jones or Pleasant -- will immediately find himself in one of the most high-profile state Senate races in Colorado, facing the well-funded Democrat Tony Marino in what could be one of the deciding races determining which political party will control the Senate in November. District 11, a newly redrawn Senate district encompassing much of the city's downtown, West Side and North End is approximately evenly split between Republicans, Democrats and unaffiliated voters. It is one of a handful of targeted seats, and one into which both Democrats and the GOP will pour money and resources.
Ironically, Jones' campaign literature states in big bold lettering, "Ed's on the record." The claim is not designed to apply to his recent refusal to make public appearances, Gardner says, but his votes while serving as a county commissioner.
While in office, Jones voted in favor of zoning eastern El Paso County, a move that inflamed many rural residents. He was highly critical of former commissioner Betty Beedy's refusal to commemorate Martin Luther King Jr. by naming a highway bypass after the slain civil-rights leader. Jones also supported eliminating the county's business personal-property tax.
Supported by local developers and powerful business special-interest groups, Jones has responded favorably to most new development projects coming before him, including the recent, controversial Forest Lakes residential subdivision near Palmer Lake.
Jones also favored the controversial purchase of a $3-million building for the county's information technology department, which was subsequently determined to be unsuitable for their needs and has sat empty since.
He was instrumental in approving a nonmedical doctor to serve on the county Board of Health for the first time in its history, a move that enraged the local medical society.
And Jones supported a ban on firearms in the county's parks, a vote that raises the hackles of his more conservative opponent Pleasant.
Make the tough decisions
While Jones' literature details his past record, he does not specify what, if he's elected, he wants to champion in the state Senate. Nor does he highlight any issues that he has identified as pressing, such as transportation, growth or education.
At a rare appearance during a Chamber of Commerce breakfast to which his opponent was not invited, Jones was asked whether he would, in the wake of the multiple corporate scandals rocking the country, support enacting stricter regulations on corporate malfeasance.
"I've been campaigning a lot, so I haven't had the chance to read much about it," he told the group. "I'm working hard to get there so I can make the tough decisions."
Meanwhile, early in the race, Pleasant outlined his three top priorities: growth, economic progress and energy. He supports, for example, encouraging people to install solar panels on their homes to conserve energy.
"I support common-sense ideas," he said. "The 'it's for the children' line has never fared very well for me."
-- Cara DeGette
The Bill and Bill Show
Republican primary in House District 16 dominated by accusations, name-calling
They're both Republicans, they're both Air Force retirees, and they're both named Bill.
But although they have much in common, there's no love lost between the two men seeking the GOP nomination to run for House District 16 -- incumbent Rep. Bill Sinclair and challenger Bill Jambura.
Sinclair calls Jambura "crazy" and a "sociopath."
Jambura, meanwhile, said efforts to smear his candidacy, allegedly orchestrated by Sinclair and the Republican Party establishment, are an "embarrassment."
Supping at the table
Sinclair, who has worked for several area nonprofit organizations, was first elected to the state Legislature in 1996.
Jambura, an investor, ran unsuccessfully for election to the District 11 school board in 1999 and serves on the executive committee of the El Paso County Republican Party.
Four years ago, Jambura volunteered for Sinclair's campaign, and the two became friends. "We socialized," Sinclair recalled. "We supped at my table."
But then, last year, Jambura horrified Sinclair and the rest of the local GOP establishment by deciding to challenge his friend.
Sinclair claims Jambura announced his intentions without even discussing it with him.
Jambura, meanwhile, says the two did indeed talk about his potential challenge. He says a growing dissatisfaction with Sinclair's votes on fiscal matters is what prompted him to run, knowing full well that it would upset the party establishment.
"My higher allegiance is to the taxpayers, rather than any party boss," Jambura said.
The House sponsor
Jambura criticizes Sinclair for supporting a bill during the last legislative session that would have "raided" the state's workers' compensation fund in order to make up for budget shortfalls. He also notes that Sinclair voted for a state budget that increased spending despite falling revenues. And, Sinclair backed a bill to increase the salaries of county commissioners by as much as 20 percent.
Sinclair, meanwhile, says Jambura is distorting his record. He says he supported a bill to privatize the workers' compensation fund only as a tactic to pressure fund administrators, who had refused to share the fund's records with legislators. When the administrators gave in, the bill was dropped, Sinclair says.
Sinclair denied supporting last session's bill to hike county commissioners' salaries, even though he was listed as the bill's House sponsor and spoke in favor of the measure during an interview with the Independent in January ["Other People's Money," Jan. 24, 2002].
Among his chief accomplishments, Sinclair lists the passage of bills to increase the state income-tax exemptions for retirees and to reorganize the state's veterans affairs programs. He says he's also proud of his efforts to ban so-called "strategic lawsuits against public participation," known as SLAPP suits, which are filed by special-interest groups in an effort to intimidate citizens who testify against their interests before governmental bodies.
Policy differences notwithstanding, the race has been dominated by accusations of campaign improprieties.
Aghast at Jambura's challenge, several prominent local GOP officials endorsed Sinclair early on -- despite party bylaws that prohibit them from choosing sides before the primary election.
In April, Sinclair backers accused Jambura of manipulating the voting results of a precinct caucus -- which he led -- to get himself elected as a delegate to the party's nominating assembly. Party officials stripped him of his delegate status and complained to District Attorney Jeanne Smith, who appointed a special prosecutor to investigate the matter.
Though no criminal wrongdoing was proven, the special prosecutor wrote in a letter to Jambura that "it appears obvious that ... there are certainly some serious irregularities about the manner in which the caucus was held."
Jambura denies the allegations, saying, "the party bosses fabricated this scandal to keep me off the ballot." Last week, he countered by filing a complaint against Smith with the state Attorney General's office. Jambura claims Smith had a conflict of interest in pursuing the investigation, noting that she seconded Sinclair's nomination during the nominating assembly.
Smith says Jambura's accusations are unfounded, pointing out that she appointed a special prosecutor to avoid any appearance of a conflict.
Meanwhile, Sinclair has also accused Jambura of claiming to be endorsed by groups and individuals who have, in fact, not endorsed him.
"He's making a bigger and bigger ass of himself," Sinclair charged. "There's just something terribly wrong with this guy. I frankly think he is sociopathic. ... He's crazy."
Jambura, meanwhile, says the party establishment is seeking to smear him because they're concerned about his "grassroots" appeal.
"You bet the machine is against me," Jambura said. "But I'm for the people."
Follow the Money
Damron, Schinstine vie for the treasurers chest
No matter who ends up holding the purse strings, Ken Kile will be a hard act to follow.
For the past six years as county treasurer, the affable and accessible Kile has restored public trust to an office that oversees the collection, safekeeping and investment of the county's property taxes, which comprise about $200 million annually.
In 1996, Kile was appointed to replace Sharon Shipley, who had resigned amid a scandal involving misuse of the county's retirement fund. This year, Kile opted to retire rather than seek a second term.
The treasurer oversees 17 employees in an office with a budget of about $1 million, and Republicans Sandra Damron and Ken Schinstine are vying for the job.
There are currently no Democrats in the race, meaning that whoever wins next week's primary will likely be El Paso County's next treasurer.
Kile has remained neutral in the race to replace him.
Feet under the desk
Since his retirement after 20 years from the United States Air Force, Schinstine, 70, has served as the business administrator for First United Methodist Church and First Presbyterian Church.
He has been endorsed by the Chamber of Commerce, as well as several Republican activists, including car dealer Will Perkins.
"I like to give back to the community some of the gifts God has given me," Schinstine told the Chamber of Commerce during a recent, exclusive breakfast that featured only those candidates the business PAC has endorsed.
There, Schinstine told the group that, post-Kile, he does not expect to make any immediate changes in the treasurer's operations, though he cited a concern with staff turnover and an antiquated computer system.
"I want to get my feet under that desk, take a look around and then make decisions about changes," he said.
Damron, meanwhile, likes to point out that she is the only certified public accountant in the race; in addition, she has a masters of business administration degree in accounting.
Currently the bookkeeper at First Christian Church, Damron made an unsuccessful run for the City Council in 1999. In this race, she has the support of the Pikes Peak Firearms Coalition, city councilwomen Sallie Clark and Margaret Radford, as well as the Housing and Building Association and the local board of Realtors.
Part of the job
Damron said she has appeared every place she has been invited to speak, but has -- as other Republican candidates this year -- been frustrated by Schinstine's unwillingness to appear at public forums. "We have not appeared in a forum together since January," Damron said.
Does she find this problematic?
"People who are going to those events are interested in listening to what the candidates have to say, but [Schinstine] is not willing to present himself to the public which, of course, is part of his job."
This week, Schinstine explained his absences. His extensive volunteer work, he said, especially his work with the State Alzheimer's Association, has conflicted with at least two scheduled candidates forums.
Schinstine, who also serves on the board of the United Methodist Foundation and the Samaritan Counseling Center, said if he is elected treasurer, "I'll have to make some change in my schedule."
"Accessibility will not be a problem," he said.
-- Cara DeGette