One of the biggest stories in Colorado politics this year should really be introduced with a question: even without the plagiarism scandal that finally struck him down, is there any way that Scott McInnis could have been elected governor?
No one event can fully inform the answer to this question. It’s possible that prior to Gov. Bill Ritter’s decision to not seek re-election in January, McInnis’ chances were better; but John Hickenlooper was thought from the outset, and proved to be, stronger than Ritter would have been. McInnis’ odds took a plunge the moment Hickenlooper replaced Ritter on the ballot.
Prior to that, McInnis had arguably been a stronger candidate, but even then there were many signs of trouble on the horizon. McInnis had a disastrous series of media relations gaffes in 2009. In the summer, McInnis suffered an embarrassing on-air meltdown in the presence of two relatively friendly talk radio hosts over well-known questions–meaning questions McInnis should have been ready for–from a liberal group about promises McInnis made to found a charity with his leftover campaign contributions. Later, McInnis was introduced by FOX News‘ Neil Cavuto as “the nation’s biggest Tea Party candidate,” which came as a rude shock to the, um, actual Tea Party. In a desire to shore up support in El Paso County against erstwhile challenger Josh Penry, McInnis had also embraced the highly unpopular Pinon Canyon training site expansion.
In the spring of this year, McInnis faced more scrutiny over his refusal to hand over tax returns and other routine financial disclosures requested of him. It also seems likely that the act of shaving his moustache generated more press for McInnis than was helpful. Not long after that, McInnis’ attempts to distance himself from his prior enthusiastic membership in the Republicans for Choice, including his advisory board position in the organization, were blown out of the water by documents that clearly showed McInnis was not being truthful.
And then, on a Monday evening in mid-July, all of this stuff became irrelevant.
The story that McInnis’ series of water essays for the Hasan Foundation, for which he was paid in the mid-six figures, had extensively plagiarized an article written by Colorado Supreme Court Justice Gregory Hobbs, moved very quickly as a result of competition between the Denver newspaper, a Denver television station, and this blog–some of our readers had zeroed in on these essays months before, and the money McInnis was paid to produce them, as a potentially big problem. At a moment presumably timed to coincide with 7NEWS and the Denver newspaper breaking the story, we were pointed by sources to an article written by Hobbs in 1984, available online from the CSU library. Once compared with McInnis’ “Green Mountain Saga” essay for the Hasan Foundation, the extensive and obviously intentional plagiarism was easy to find.
Never, ever plagiarize the blow-up quotes.
The facts of the plagiarism were bad enough to sink McInnis, but most agree in hindsight it was McInnis’ horrifying response that was most lethal–first characterizing it as a ‘non-issue,’ then attempting to lay the blame on the 82 year old researcher who McInnis claimed had “handled” the plagiarized material. The latter explanation didn’t satisfy the Hasan Foundation even if true; they insisted McInnis had never disclosed to them that there was anyone ‘helping’ him write these essays to begin with. And when the assistant, Rolly Fischer, appeared on 7NEWS to denounce McInnis as a liar, the career-ending import of what was happening could no longer be denied.
The rest is history–McInnis displayed the same hubris after this scandal that he showed before, and refused to abandon the race even as virtually every influential Republican and editorial board in the state demanded he do so. Democrats eagerly pounced on McInnis with a blistering attack ad. McInnis’ fundraising halted like flipping a switch. And in an outcome that seemed unthinkable only a month before, the totally unqualified Dan Maes narrowly won the August 10th GOP primary.
As an epilogue to this story, McInnis recently came out of hiding to give an interview with a columnist for the Denver newspaper’s business section–pointedly avoiding the newsroom that he erroneously blames for his destruction. In that interview, McInnis vows to “clear his name.” Like we said then, that seems to be an impossibility given the facts of the story–clearing himself of the plagiarism using an assistant only confirms that McInnis defrauded the Hasans. But as unwilling as McInnis has proven to accept the consequences of his actions so far, of course he’s going to try.
The moral disability McInnis displayed on the campaign trail, of which the scandal that doomed him is just one example, is what makes us think if plagiarism had not destroyed McInnis, something else–something the public knows about from the list above, or maybe that they don’t, tidbits of which we heard about after disclosure no longer served any purpose–likely would have.