Ethically challenged John Hickenlooper must be a big disappointment and a source of rising concern to the Washington power brokers who dragged him into the Senate race against U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner.
Following Hickenlooper’s failed, almost invisible presidential campaign (if a candidate runs for president and no one noticed or cared did it really happen?), Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) in Washington, D.C. flicked aside several respected Colorado Democrats and crowned him as the presumptive Democratic nominee.
Former House Majority Leader Alice Madden, State Sen. Angela Williams, former U.S Attorney John Walsh, former Ambassador Dan Baer, and former State Sen. Mike Johnson had been in the race for months and had demonstrated they actually wanted to be a senator while Hickenlooper was running around Iowa and New Hampshire. But they were all pushed out of the race by the New York-Washington axis of Democratic power.
Former House Speaker Andrew Romanoff, University of Colorado at Colorado Springs professor Stephanie Rose Spaulding, climate activist Diana Bray, immigration activist Michelle Ferrigno Warren, and biomedical scientist Trish Zornio stubbornly remain in the Democratic primary race. Don’t they understand the high masters of the national Democratic Party have deemed them unworthy?
The fact that Romanoff and Madden engineered a hard-fought Democratic majority in the Colorado House of Representatives for the first time in thirty years in 2004 apparently is insignificant.
Hickenlooper famously declared during his vanity run for president that he was not cut out to be a senator because senators really don’t do anything. Disparaging an office where so many prominent and respected Coloradans of both parties have previously served–such as Gary Hart, Bill Armstrong, Tim Wirth, Hank Brown, Ben Campbell, Wayne Allard, Mark Udall and Ken Salazar–is insulting to their service and their records of accomplishment for Colorado and the nation.
Meanwhile, Hickenlooper has been mired in an ethics investigation that the national Democratic Party did not anticipate. Being investigated for violating Colorado’s ethics laws is one thing, but the way Hickenlooper is handling the controversy must be terribly embarrassing to Schumer and the DSCC.
The charges against Hickenlooper are substantive. He blew off ethics disclosure requirements and failed to accurately report travel expenses paid for by what he calls “friends” but that are really “special interest parties” while he was governor. In one case, he issued an executive order that directly benefited a wealthy supporter after being treated to a private flight to the wedding of the brother of that wealthy donor. Adding some special color to this episode is that Hickenlooper officiated at the wedding.
After these ethical lapses were exposed, the governor is entitled to state legal representation to answer the charges. But rather than using an assistant state attorney general costing the state $112 per hour, he insisted on the state paying one of Colorado’s most prominent and partisan private election law attorneys at $525 an hour.
The money to pay Hickenlooper’s legal expenses comes from a special fund of $146 million set up in 2003 by the federal government to help states in the aftermath of the 9/11 tragedy and the 2001 recession to cover essential government services or to cover the costs of certain unfunded federal mandates. Hickenlooper’s legal fees are “essential government services”?
Republican legislators called on the Legislative Audit Committee to investigate the possible abuse of this fund but Democrats unanimously killed the idea. The daughter of one of the Democratic members of the committee worked on the Hickenlooper presidential campaign and is now on the Senate campaign staff. Conflict of interest anyone?
But the most revealing moment of this ethics scandal came during an interview with a Denver television reporter who pressed Hickenlooper on the issue. A flustered Hickenlooper told the reporter that journalists should be defending him. “You guys should be protecting me from this stuff,” he said.
Indeed, Hickenlooper led a charmed life as a Denver mayor and Colorado governor over sixteen years, and he apparently expects the same kid-glove treatment in this Senate race. But he is quickly finding out the rules do apply to him and real scrutiny of his candidacy will happen.
This Senate seat is nothing more than a consolation prize he feels entitled to after his futile run for president.
Andrew Romanoff was right when he said this week that Democratic power brokers “recruited into this race a fellow who said he didn’t want the job and wouldn’t be good at it, and they’ve done everything they possibly can to stifle this primary, to anoint the winner, to turn what ought to be a contest into a coronation.”
Perhaps the all-powerful and all-knowing Senate minority leader and the DSCC are starting to regret their decision.
Dick Wadhams is a GOP campaign consultant and former Colorado state party chairman.