( – promoted by Colorado Pols)
Over the last several weeks, both the local and national media have been aflutter over the tough re-election race faced by Betsy Markey in Colorado’s Fourth Congressional District. For local pundits and political insiders, however, that comes as little surprise because most casual observes knew that even before Markey began her first-term, the Fort Collins Democrat was controlling a seat that had been under Republican hands for well over thirty years.
Indeed, even before she was sworn into office, Berthoud Republican, Tom Lucero, who is finishing his second term on the CU Board of Regents, declared his intention to challenge Ms. Markey. Since declaring his candidacy, however, his campaign has been plagued by problems, including staff shakeups and poor name recognition, weak fundraising numbers, as well as a strong primary challenge from Yuma Republican, Cory Gardner, whose campaign appears to be an unstoppable freight train.
I sat down with Lucero last week to discuss his campaign, his vision for CD-4, and why he believes he is a better candidate than Cory Gardner to face-off against Markey in the fall.
In the race between him and Gardner, Lucero’s central message is that Cory Gardner is a career politician, while he is a small-business owner and political outsider. The implication, of course, is that Lucero is the defender of the average man, while Gardner is merely looking to satiate his own personal ambition and add another line to his resume.
“[I am] a small business owner first and foremost. I’m someone who has actually created jobs and has not had anything handed to them in their life. I know what its going to take to get this economy back on track because I’ve lived it…I can talk about the unintended consequences of government intervention into the market place. ”
A staunch critic of ethanol subsidies, Lucero continued, “I was in the restaurant industry when the government made its push toward ethanol, and the cost of doing business went way up…the cost of making pizza went up 38%.”
Lucero is particularly frustrated by Gardner’s complicated relationship with ethanol. At the candidate forum in March, Gardner said that “we have to wean ourselves off subsidies with not just ethanol, but we have to wean ourselves off subsidies throughout government.” But during his career in the state legislature, Gardner has supported the development of ethanol, including sponsoring a bill in 2006-S.B. 06-138, The Ethanol Requirement Act-that required 75% of all gasoline in the state contain at least 10% ethanol between certain months of the year.
The bill also sought to bolster the state’s E85 program, which requires flexible fuel vehicles, by incentivizing E85 fuel. Ultimately, Governor Owens vetoed the bill. In a statement, Owens said, “free-market principles, which are the same principles that have established ethanol as an alternative to fossil fuels, are overlooked by this bill.”
Like Gardner, Congresswoman Markey has been a supporter of ethanol. According to an article published by the Colorado Independent last June, Markey co-sponsored two key ethanol bills. The first was an amendment to the Clean Air Act that would limit the way ethanol’s CO2 emissions are measured. The second was legislation she co-sponsored to provide incentives through tax breaks to increase ethanol fueling-station infrastructure.
According to Lucero, however, who is closely affiliated with the libertarian Independence Institute, “if the government has to subsidize something, it doesn’t work…The free-market works. If ethanol can survive, it has to compete on the open market with everything else.”
In part because of Lucero’s twelve-year tenure on the Board of Regents, he has made education reform-at the K-12 and university level-a central pillar of his campaign. The issue we discussed was teacher tenure. When asked whether he would support reforming tenure and, in exchange for more accountability, teachers would get substantial increases in pay based on performance, he flatly said, “Yes.” In fact, he continued, “one of the the good things to come out of Ward Churchill is that CU became one of the first public universities to do a thorough analysis of tenure.”
Ultimately, Lucero would like to replace tenure entirely at both the University level and in K-12 with short-term contracts:
“What I would much prefer to see are five year contracts. You are locked in for five years with evaluation periods along the way. Once that five year contract is up, the next five year contract comes with additional financial perks….[That said,] you also have to build into that an evaluative process that is fair to all involved. Everyone needs to know the ground rules going in.”
Lucero’s focus on education has gotten him in trouble with the Republican base over Referendum C. Last month, at the GOP candidate forum at Mountain View High School, Dean Madere attacked Lucero’s 2005 support for Referendum C, which Lucero believed was necessary to keep tuition at CU from spiraling out of control, while Cory Gardner attacked the measure by saying, “It wasn’t a TABOR timeout; it was a TABOR blowout.” Even Diggs Brown, who originally supported the measure, said that he regretted the vote in hindsight.
Referendum C still chafes at Colorado Republicans across the state, and Lucero received a great deal of criticism for his defense of the measure at the candidate forum. “I’ve got an 11-year record on the Board of Regents fighting for fiscal responsibility, and constraining the budget. I’ve actually been in that battlefield fighting those battles,” Lucero said. “That was one vote in 11 years.”
When I asked him about his defense of the measure, however, Lucero backed away from his statements. “When you have only a minute to answer a question it makes it difficult,” he told me. “I wasn’t defending Ref C. I was explaining why I supported it originally.”
Noting that Ref C was intended to fortify the state’s finances in education, transportation, and corrections, Lucero bluntly stated, “the Legislature and the Governor had an obligation to take care of those three key areas and have them set up to weather the next recession. They didn’t do it, and they lied…Ultimately what happened with the Ref C dollars…[was] the politicians and guys in Denver misspent and ultimately went against the will of the voters.”
“Cory Gardner is a perfect example of this because of his support of the Governor’s new Energy Authority,” Lucero added in reference to Gardner’s 2008 vote on H.B. 1025. “There was 65 million dollars in earmarks right there for wind and solar,” he stated passionately. “You have a hundred guys down in Denver wanting to bring something home to their district, and all of a sudden, all of that good will and all of those dollars from the citizens of Colorado went away. ”
“Knowing what we know today, I wouldn’t have voted for it,” he concluded.
For the rest of the interview, go to www.ryanpolitics.blogspot.com