EAGLE — Anyone paying attention to the Senate District 8 legislative race in Colorado’s High Country can’t miss the enormous amounts of outside money being spent and negative advertising being utilized in the battle for control of the Colorado Senate.
The race for SD-8 has Republican Matt Solomon in a highly competitive fight against Democrat Dylan Roberts, who currently holds a House seat. Solomon also finds himself battling hundreds of thousands of dollars being spent on an increasingly ugly disinformation campaign to muddy his name and reputation.
The geographically huge district encompasses Grand, Summit, Routt, Jackson, Moffat, Eagle, Clear Creek, Gilpin, and Rio Blanco counties, as well as a portion of Garfield County.
Soft money rolls in
As of the most recent reporting period, which ended on Oct 12, Solomon’s campaign ($114,714 raised, plus $25,000 in personal loans) has been outraised by nearly 3-to-1 by Roberts’ campaign ($303,000).
But the hard money raised by candidates pales in comparison to the outside soft cash flowing into the race, which so far exceeds $2 million.
“Soft” money refers to spending by groups known as Independent Expenditure Committees (IECs) which act on behalf of or against candidates for public office, but that are not supposed to coordinate their efforts with any candidate.
Republican support has put about $1.2 million in the race, with the Senate Majority Fund leading the way with slightly more than $1 million. Democrat support has spent about $970,000, with All Together Colorado leading the way at just more than $850,000.
What the Democrat money is being spent on, however, frustrates Solomon the most.
Rather than spending his campaign talking to people about what he hopes to do if elected, he is continually battling misinformation.
Solomon said he ran because he wants his district to have good representation and that Democrats are scared he is going to win.
“This is about our district and the State of Colorado,” Solomon said, “and not party-line extremist viewpoints passing poor policy. When we flip the senate, there is a back stop now at the state level that prevents bad policy.”
Currently, Democrats hold a 22-13 majority in the Senate. With 17 seats up for grabs, there are five safe incumbent Democrats and four safe incumbent Republicans, leaving eight seats up for grabs. If everything else remains the same, Republicans would need to pick up five of the eight open seats for them to be successful.
Following the 2021 redistricting, SD-8 is now one of the more competitive districts in the state, so this seat could very well be a deciding factor in whether Republicans take back the Senate.
“This district is diverse in revenues and diverse in opinions and social issues,” Solomon said. “I am a moderate candidate. I think the Democrats see that and their agenda is threatened.”
Solomon said there has been so much misinformation, it’s almost too much to keep up with, but he pointed to several things being pushed by soft money advertising that he said are just absolute lies.
First, the claims that he missed one-in-five meetings while he was on the Eagle Town Council and then abandoned his office were miscalculated and misrepresented. Solomon says they didn’t include all the meetings and they didn’t make clear that the times he missed were excused for contract work he has with the US military.
“I still read every packet and sent a summary of comments to the council at the meeting,” he said. “So, I still served my role for the community.”
Then due to the Eagle becoming a home rule municipality in 2021, his term changed. Originally his term should have ended in April 2022. But the new home rule charter changed the election cycle from April to November and added a year and a half to his term, adding up to a five and half year term rather than the four years he was originally elected to serve.
For many reasons he was unable to continue that new term. So, when he decided to step down from office, he worked with town staff so that his seat would not be another appointment.
Under the new charter, had Solomon stepped down in April 22 when the term was supposed to originally end, someone would have been appointed to fill that seat until the new election in November 2023. If he stepped down within 90 days of the 2021 election, his replacement could be could properly elected for the remainder of the two years of his new term.
Solomon did not believe that it was fair to continue having representation not elected by the voters — the council already had four of its seven seats filled with appointments. So, he timed his departure to force an election for his seat.
“If my seat could have only been filled by appointment, I would not have stepped down,” Solomon said. “But I remained available and worked with our council during the 90 days up until the election, and I helped transition the new council member for two months after the election.”
‘Simply not true’
Another piece of the misinformation about Solomon is the claim that as a federal firearms licensee he refused to do background checks.
Solomon said this is simply not true. When regulations were put in place by the state that required background checks for gun transfers, there was no way that a private party transfer could happen, he said. Private parties do not have access to the databases needed for such a check, so they had to go to a licensed dealer to run the check.
But according to Solomon, that left him with a huge liability issue.
“But licensed dealers only have access to the system for the purpose of selling a firearm or transferring one,” he said. “If someone comes in and says, ‘hey, I need you to run my background check,’ I can’t just legally run it for them without knowing a gun transaction is taking place, and if there is any mistake on that paperwork, you could lose your license and your business.”
The other issue, Solomon said, was the cost of doing business was too high for the $10 he was limited to charge for the service.
“I am not an agent of the state,” he said. “I have an option to do business and what risk I take. They called that a refusal to do background checks. In all the time I was open, not a single crime was committed by a person or a gun that I sold. I was compliant in all my inspections, and everything was compliant when I sold the business.”
Other issues Roberts’ supporters have exaggerated are calling Solomon a drug dealer for having sold marijuana to a college friend, something he’s been open about since the beginning.
Another is an incident he talks about from 1998 when a colleague slipped a union forklift driver $100 at a ski show in Las Vegas to move the trade show booths a bit faster, it was used to portray him on one mailer as a “hustler,” taking Solomon’s words from a book he wrote—Fortunate Accidents– out of context and spinning the meaning of others.
“In the book I said, in that moment, I learned the art of bribery,” Solomon said. “I say I am a hustler. And I absolutely am a hustler. I work hard. And that’s what that word means in the context it was used. But they are trying to portray it as a dirty word.”
But Solomon continues to battle and is cautiously optimistic he will win the race.
“It’s disgusting,” Solomon said about the mailer and television ads that have attacked his character for months. “It’s not policy based. It’s offensive. It’s out of context. It’s lies.”
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