The short-lived candidacy of Ben “The Bachelor” Higgins made for an interesting story last week, but it was not the kind of news that we thought we’d still be talking about today. Yet while Higgins’ official candidacy is finished after he withdrew from HD-4 last week, the conspiracy theories continue to grow. The GOP is working hard to make Higgins look like a martyr whose only crime was being a Republican, but as it turns out, the facts tell a much different story.
Ben Higgins is not a Republican martyr. Higgins is barely a Republican at all.
Late Sunday, the conservative website The Blaze published an “exclusive” story essentially accusing the television network ABC of forcing Higgins out of the race in HD-4 because he is a Republican (yes, really, because he is a Republican). Joey Bunch of the Denver Post then published his own follow-up story, which includes a particularly strange quote from an official with the Colorado Secretary of State’s office (more on that in a moment). The story that Republicans are peddling now is that of a poor reality-show martyr who was denied a chance to be the frontrunner in a State House race purely because of his political affiliation.
Now, there is a much different version of this story, including an important fact that hasn’t yet been mentioned: Ben Higgins may not have been legally able to run as a Republican in HD-4 because he had been a registered LIBERTARIAN as recently as April 18, 2016.
First, let’s back up. In case you missed the news last week because you got norovirus at the RNC and haven’t been reading anything that wasn’t conveniently near a toilet, here’s the short and sweet of our story:
Ben Higgins is a former star of the ABC TV show “The Bachelor,” a show he headlined in Season 20 after losing out to another guy in a previous ABC TV show called “The Bachelorette.” Higgins ended his “Bachelor” run by proposing to Lauren Bushnell, and sometime afterward, they apparently moved to North Denver. The final episode of the 20th season of “The Bachelor” began in January and ended in mid-March, 2016.
Rumors had been circling for a few weeks that Higgins was contemplating making a run in HD-4. It was reported on Friday, July 15, that Higgins had officially signed paperwork to run as a Republican candidate in HD-4 against incumbent Democratic Rep. Dan Pabon. We thought this was odd for a number of reasons, primarily the fact that HD-4 is the single best Democratic-performing district in Colorado. Pabon won re-election in 2014 with 80% of the vote, for crying out loud; you could resurrect Ronald Reagan and he’d still lose to a Democrat in HD-4.
Less than a week later, on Friday July 22, it was announced that Higgins would be withdrawing from the race because of some legal and contractual issues associated with his upcoming reality TV show: “Ben and Lauren: Happily Ever After.” There were two announcements sent to the media, actually: One from Disney – the parent company of ABC – and the second from Higgins’ own campaign.
And that, dear readers, seemed to be that. But now Republicans are attacking ABC and something called the “Freeform” channel (formerly ABC Family, and the network that will carry Higgins’ new reality-TV show). In a statement issued by the Colorado Republican Party on Sunday, Chairman Steve House puts on the tin-foil hat for a long rant about how The Man is keeping Republicans down:
“Disney and ABC’s decision to reportedly threaten Ben Higgins’ future with the network and even his wedding if he did not drop out of the (House District) 4 race is downright despicable…Their stunning about-face the week of our national convention after months of being aware of Ben’s political pursuits is incredibly suspect…
“The reality is Ben would have entered this race as the front-runner. ABC’s thuggish tactics send a message they care far more about suppressing the voice of conservatives and protecting a left-wing politician who displayed grossly unethical behavior during a recent DUI arrest than Ben’s selfless interest in serving his community…
…It is hard to imagine ABC would have delivered a similar ultimatum to Ben if he were a Democrat, and that is shameful.”
The ultimatum that Disney/ABC/Freeform delivered to Higgins isn’t as nefarious as House makes it sound. The network had grown uncomfortable with the potential legal ramifications of promoting a reality TV star who is running for public office, and they told Higgins that they did not want him to be a candidate at the same time they were filming “Ben and Lauren.” Higgins obviously decided that making tons of money for a reality show was sufficiently more important to he and his fiancé than running for the state legislature, and we can’t say we blame him there. The decision may have also helped him avoid some inevitable legal problems with his voter registration…
As for the assertions that Freeform/ABC have some sort of bias toward Republican candidates for office, here’s what the “Freeform” channel said in a statement released on Monday afternoon:
“These assertions are categorically and patently untrue. Freeform simply shared with Mr. Higgins its concern that broadcasting and promoting a show featuring a campaign for Colorado state office could raise significant compliance issues under Colorado election laws.”
There is apparently some dispute between ABC/Freeform, Higgins’ campaign, and the Secretary of State’s office about what exactly constitutes improper electioneering. As Joey Bunch writes in the Denver Post:
The Colorado Secretary of State’s Office, which oversees elections, said the statute makes an exemption for media that would likely have allowed a reality show.
“Disney should stick to princesses and finding lost fish,” said Suzanne Staiert, Colorado’s deputy secretary of state.
Freeform countered, “There is a media exemption in Colorado law, but it is far from clear whether a court would consider it to apply to an entertainment program featuring a political campaign.”
Side note: What in the hell is Suzanne Staiert doing? She is a “cough, cough” nonpartisan, non-elected deputy secretary of state in Colorado, yet here she is indicating in the Denver Post that she had already made a decision on a potential electioneering complaint that never actually emerged.
HIGGINS SAID HIS REALITY TV SHOW WILL HELP HIS CANDIDACY
Freeform/ABC was understandably nervous about a potential electioneering complaint being presented to the “Ben and Lauren” show. An election lawyer in Colorado could have advised Freeform/ABC that this would not fall under the category of media exemptions, but the network obviously wasn’t interested in taking that chance. Higgins had already given Freeform/ABC plenty of reason to be nervous; as the Colorado Statesman reported on June 22, Higgins was already planning to use his new reality show to boost his House campaign (all emphasis is per Colorado Pols):
“In fact, this new TV program would provide the chance for me to talk directly to an expanded number of HD4 residents, rather than face the same obstacle experienced by most candidates — having their message ignored by the news media,” Higgins wrote.
…“It will also enable us to win new recruits to the cause we’re fighting for, both here and across our state.…
…I want to make the most of this unique chance to expand our base and make a positive impact in Colorado. Most people have to balance the possibility of running for office with their day job. For some, that might be running a small business or a law firm, but for me, I’m blessed to have the opportunity to appear on television. My expectation is that this opportunity will give us one more way to promote empowering people through personal freedom.”
Yeah, there’s not much wiggle-room there. Republicans are trying to counter that the network was well aware of Higgins’ political aspirations when the show was being discussed last Spring…and they shouldn’t be changing their minds, or something. From The Blaze:
ABC was well aware of Higgins’ political aspirations before the announcement of the show, according to a press release from the network last month. Sources said that while the network knew about Higgins’ race as early as April, the uncertainty about it came about around the same time as the GOP Convention last week. [Pols emphasis]
HIGGINS WAS A REGISTERED LIBERTARIAN AS OF APRIL 2016
Now, here’s where the timing of all of this gets very interesting. Take a look at this voter “Affidavit for Correction of Party Affiliation” (PDF: Ben Higgins Voter Info) dated April 18, 2016, in which Higgins requests that his Party affiliation – at the time with the Libertarian Party – be corrected to Republican in his voter registration file and retroactively changed to October 31, 2014.
Why would Higgins need to retroactively change his Party registration? “Bachelor Ben” could have changed his Party registration in April and still voted in the June 28th GOP Primary…but he could not have been a Republican candidate for State House because he wasn’t listed as a registered Republican candidate well before the February deadline to participate as a Republican in the GOP caucuses. Republican Party bylaws, like those of the Democratic Party, do not allow candidates to make last-minute registration changes and then run for office, for obvious reasons; neither Party wants to end up having to support a candidate who, just days earlier, had been registered with a different political Party.
Had Higgins remained an official candidate in HD-4, it is quite likely that there would have been a legal challenge arguing that he was ineligible to run as a Republican candidate in HD-4 (we are also well past the deadline to register to run as an Independent in Colorado). Higgins would have to explain, for example, why he registered as a Libertarian on Oct. 31, 2014, yet failed to vote in the November election days later. Higgins may have noticed sooner than April 18, 2016 that he had been listed as a registered Libertarian because it would have been indicated on his ballot; alas, the first time Higgins cast a vote at all since first registering to vote in 2014 was in the June 28,, 2016 Republican Primary. Prior to the June 28 Primary, Higgins was listed as an “inactive voter” because he had yet to vote since registering in Colorado.
The obvious question here is when Higgins realized that he was a registered Libertarian – or who realized it for him. Did he figure out the retroactive change requirement on his own, or was he was advised by someone like Republican political consultant Dustin Olson? We didn’t even know there was such a thing as an “Affidavit for Correction of Party Affiliation.”
WRONG PARTY, WRONG STRATEGY, WRONG DISTRICT
In a statement issued by Higgins’ campaign – which The Blaze attributes to Dustin Olson – the campaign lays out some of the strategy it would have used had Higgins remained in the race:
“Ben had worked to develop a strong message and solutions to make a big difference to people in his community, including solutions for affordable housing, protecting the Taxpayer Bill of Rights (sic), defending small businesses, and expanding personal liberty and freedom.”
This is the campaign of a Republican candidate discussing running in the most heavily-Democratic House District in the state, explaining that they were going to base the campaign – at least in part – on a platform of protecting the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, more commonly known as TABOR. In the most heavily-Democratic House district in Colorado, they were going to run on a message that is about as popular among Democrats as Donald Trump.
If Ben “The Bachelor” Higgins somehow becomes a political martyr, it will have virtually nothing to do with truth or facts. Higgins is out of the race in HD-4 because his employer basically didn’t think running for office would be compatible with his day job as a reality TV person. Higgins did have a choice here – he could have told ABC to go jump in a dried-up riverbed and decided to run for the State House on his own. Higgins chose to keep his job, in this case, which is what we would imagine 99% of people in a similar situation would also decide.
It’s probably best that Higgins did end up exiting this race, because despite what GOP consultants such as Dustin Olson were whispering in his ear, Higgins was most certainly NOT going to win HD-4 in 2016 with a key message of “Protect Tabor.” He may also have been spared quite a bit of trouble having to try to defend his request to pre-date his Party affiliation while also managing not to perjure himself.
All in all, this probably worked out for the best both for Higgins and ABC/Freeform. The conspiracy theorists should just take a deep breath and move on.