Now that 2010 is here (and most of you are back to work after the holidays), it’s time to take our look back on the decade that was.
We asked your opinions on what the Oughts Brought, and now it’s time to start revealing the winners. We’ll be here with this all week, folks, so check back for more categories every day.
Best/Worst Politician and Best/Worst Campaign awards after the jump.
Ken Salazar (D)
This might be the easiest choice on the entire list (well, after “Worst Campaign,” that is). At the beginning of the decade Ken Salazar was Colorado’s Attorney General, preparing for a re-election run in 2002. Now? He’s eighth in line to succeed the President of the United States.
Salazar’s U.S. Senate victory in 2004 was the first major success by Democrats in Colorado in a decade, and during the 2008 Presidential election his name was floated as a potential choice for Vice President; had Hillary Clinton won the Democratic nomination for President, Salazar very well could have been the V.P.
Had Salazar run for re-election to the Senate this year, he would have been a virtual lock to win a second term. But in 2009 he was confirmed as United States Secretary of the Interior, where he has overseen major overhauls of land policy already. Salazar is becoming a major player in national politics, and he has so much juice in Colorado that he could pretty much win whatever race he wanted. But don’t expect him back anytime soon–it’s no stretch to think that Salazar could be a top contender for President in 2016.
RUNNER UP: Former Republican Gov. Bill Owens, the last true star for Colorado Republicans. Not coincidentally, Owens did not believe in the “drown government in a bathtub” philosophy that exists among many current Republicans and actually sought to govern in what he thought was in the state’s best interests. He wasn’t always right, but at least his answer to every question wasn’t the robotic “cut taxes, cut spending” mantra of today’s GOP–and that’s why he left office in 2007 with pretty strong approval ratings.
HONORABLE MENTION: State Treasurer Cary Kennedy, who created Amendment 23 (love it or hate it, the measure has been important) and ran a seamless campaign in 2006, is in a great position to be Colorado’s first female governor in 2014.
Marilyn Musgrave (R)
The very definition of being a bad politician is losing a safe seat because of your own dumbass mistakes, and former CD-4 Rep. Marilyn Musgrave fits this description perfectly. Musgrave was embarrassingly ungracious in defeat when she lost in 2008 to Democrat Betsy Markey, though she was the only person surprised that she lost despite the 57-43 blowout margin. The fact that she was apparently shocked to have lost in 2008 shows just how out of touch she really was, since polls had indicated for weeks that Musgrave was dead.
As a two-term incumbent in a district with a heavy Republican voter-registration advantage, Musgrave should never have lost this seat. But she was completely tone-deaf to the issues that actually mattered to people, never morseo than when she publicly declared that “Gay Marriage” was the most important issue facing America today. Gay marriage may have been important to some of her constituents–although those people were always going to vote for her anyway–but Musgrave never seemed to understand that social issues were most assuredly not the main problems people were facing in their lives. Markey ran a strong campaign in winning this seat, but Musgrave lost her job over a period of a few years by not paying attention to the real interests of her district.
RUNNER UP:Former Republican state Sen. John Andrews, whose ultra right-wing nonsense has doomed every GOP politician who ever listened to what he had to say. If you were going to blame just one person for the Republican’s troubles in the last decade–though many people contributed to their fall–you could definitely pin the tail on Andrews. It was Andrews who drove the GOP off of a cliff with his leadership of the state Senate at the beginning of the decade; his obsession with social issues and his expressed belief that government sucks (including his desire to abolish public education altogether) didn’t sit well with a voting populace that kind of wanted their government to, you know, fix actual problems.
DIS-HONORABLE MENTION:Republican Bob Schaffer, who started the decade in Congress but ended it by failing to win two different U.S. Senate races, including a blowout loss in 2008 to Democrat Mark Udall. Schaffer is the embodiment of the problems with the Colorado Republican Party, from an obsession with social issues to massive self-inflicted wounds.
John Hickenlooper, Denver Mayor, 2003
In 2002, nobody outside of a small circle of folks in Denver had any idea what a Hickenlooper was; by late 2005, Hickenlooper was so popular that his approval rating–and this is completely absurd–was in the 80s across the Front Range. Hickenlooper and his staff did it by turning him into an incredibly likable and approachable character, but also by paying attention to small issues.
Hickenlooper’s campaign was brilliant in its simplicity-a simplicity that too many Colorado politicians have yet failed to emulate. Hickenlooper eschewed the traditional and tired campaign ads of speaking into a camera and talking about Denver for a more playful approach that helped him stick out in a qualified, but boring, field of candidates.
But the real genius was his focus on everyday issues in which every voter could relate: Parking meters. People were angry about an increase in the rate for parking meters in Denver, so Hickenlooper pledged to reduce them and told voters about it in a classic ad where he walked around town placing coins in expired meters. “Vote for me, and I’ll make parking meters cheaper,” wasn’t exactly John Kennedy-esque, but to the average voter it made a lot of sense. Or cents. Sure, there were bigger issues in Denver, but Hickenlooper’s campaign never forgot that the vast majority of voters don’t pay that much attention to politics–and that everybody uses parking meters.
RUNNER UP: Ed Perlmutter (D), CD-7, 2006. In 2004, Republican Bob Beauprez was re-elected in CD-7 with 55% of the vote. Two years later, Perlmutter’s well-oiled campaign crushed Republican candidate Rick O’Donnell 54-42–despite the fact that Perlmutter first had to win a tough and expensive primary challenge–to make him the first Democrat to hold the seat. Perlmutter’s 2006 campaign and subsequent strong fundraising were so impressive that Republicans didn’t even bother mounting a serious challenge in 2008, despite the fact that CD-7 is a relatively competitive district by voter registration.
HONORABLE MENTION: Wayne Allard, U.S. Senate (2002). “Lawyer, lobbyist,” the oft-chanted slogan used by Allard’s campaign to describe Democrat Tom Strickland in 1996 (borrowed from Strickland’s Democratic challenger Gene Nichols) and again in 2002, became one of the most effective memorable slogans in Colorado political history. Allard didn’t win this race because of his charisma; indeed, he was so dull and ineffective in the U.S. Senate that TIME magazine later dubbed him “The Invisible Man” and one of the country’s five worst Senators. But what Allard’s campaign did do was relentlessly brand Strickland as a “lawyer lobbyist” while keeping a laser focus on a strong voter turnout effort. Strickland was much more charismatic and was a relentless fundraiser, but Allard’s campaign was a machine.
Bob Beauprez (R), Governor, 2006
This one is an absolute no-brainer. Nevermind the decade–Beauprez’s 2006 campaign for governor might be the worst statewide campaign ever in Colorado.
Beauprez was actually considered to be a very tough opponent when he first started running in 2005, and early polls had him ahead of everyone not named John Hickenlooper. After two terms in Congress, including being named to the influential Ways & Means Committee, Beauprez was thought to be a formidable statewide candidate. But it turns out that running your own statewide campaign is different than having big brains from D.C. run your races for Congress.
“Both Ways Bob” (has there ever been a more fitting nickname?) couldn’t make up his mind on anything. And when he did make a decision, he usually made sure to stick his foot in his mouth. Beauprez’s campaign was so terrible that a race that should have been competitive was pretty much over before September. And to make matters worse for Republicans, what likely would have been a safe congressional seat in CD-7 had Beauprez not left ended up going to Democrat Ed Perlmutter in a landslide. Beauprez singlehandedly cost Republicans two of Colorado’s 10 biggest political seats in 2006, which will be hard for anyone to top.
RUNNER UP: Bob Beauprez (R), Governor, 2006. Beauprez’s run was so bad that it’s just not fair to list a runner up and even place another campaign nearby.
DIS-HONORABLE MENTION: Mark Hillman (R), State Treasurer, 2006. The former Senate Majority and Minority Leader was considered one of the GOP’s brightest stars when he was appointed State Treasurer in 2005 while Mike Coffman served in Iraq. Hillman soon announced plans to run for the job when Coffman was term-limited in 2006, but his bizarre inability to manage campaign funds cost him the election.
Both Hillman and Democrat Cary Kennedy accepted voluntary spending limits, which restricted them to spending about $500,000 in total. By July 2006 Hillman had somehow already spent more than a third of that limit, while Kennedy’s campaign was scrimping and saving every dime for television ads in the fall. Kennedy ultimately won a close election, no doubt pushed over the edge by the fact that she was able to advertise on TV much more regularly than Hillman.
Colorado is probably better off anyway; after all, who wants a Treasurer who can’t handle a budget?