Bob Beauprez’s last eight years: Conservatism at its extremes
BOB Beauprez ran for governor in 2006 on an image as mainstream Republican as mainstream Republicanism gets. He was third-generation Coloradan, a rancher, banker, former state GOP chairman and sitting congressman representing one of the nation’s most moderate districts.
Now he’s back, running again for the same office with the same folksy image — labeled by the media establishment as “mainstream” and “moderate.”
But in the eight years since his last bid to govern the state, Beauprez wandered away from the mainstream. Far away. He spent much of his time in private life pushing ultra-conservative causes. He wrote a book calling for a revolution to shift the Republican Party far to the right. And in several interviews over several years, he espoused extremist conspiracy theories, including one that Americans – whom he likened to sheep – eagerly would let the government implant microchips in their bodies.
In a 2010 interview Beauprez asserted that we’re living under a “one world order.” (His comment is at 2:49 minutes.)
“When they can start tracking us with a little microchip, and the technology certainly exists, and you watch the people who would line up voluntarily so that gee if you forgot your driver’s license, no problem, you’ve got the RFID implanted in you. If you’ve got to get through the airport, no problem, you’ve got RFID. ‘Well, sure, I want one of those, I want one of those.’ And you watch like sheep how they would line up behind some kind of a dopey system like that without ever realizing how much freedom they just forfeited,” he said.
Later in that interview with online radio host Clayton Douglas — a militia proponent known for his anti-Semitic views — Beauprez said Americans are blindly succumbing to totalitarianism.
“We’re living through what was a while ago was fantasy, Orwell’s ‘1984.’ And it is among us,” he said. “You know a lot of people think that we’re kind of out there along the fringe for even talking like this.”
Years in the Conservative Closet
The fringe is far from where Beauprez spent the 57 years leading to his first run for governor. His biography is a long string of traditional success stories – a Horatio Alger-type narrative of a guy who worked hard, pulled himself up from a muddy farm and prospered.
He excelled as an all-conference player Boulder’s Fairview High football team, married his high school girlfriend, won prizes for the Holstein cattle he raised on his family’s land, profited handsomely by harvesting the embryos of his winning livestock, profited again by developing the family ranch into a housing tract and then again by turning a failing bank in Lafayette into the 13-branch Heritage Bank, whose shares he sold for $16.5 million. Meantime, he was anointed state Republican chairman by Sen. Wayne Allard in 1997 and in 2002 narrowly edged his way into Congress by 121 votes – the closest congressional election in the country.
Then his winning streak ended.
After a wounding and expensive primary fight against political dilettante Mark Holtzman and a campaign that ultimately cost $3.7 million, Beauprez – at that point Colorado GOP’s shiniest star – was trounced in the 2006 governor’s race. He lost to Bill Ritter, a lackluster campaigner, by 17 percent of the vote.
Out of Congress and the limelight, Beauprez played a lot of golf and bought a bison ranch near North Park. His son, Jim, raises organic bison on the land where Beauprez says he goes to think.
For a year or two after his defeat, he stayed involved in the party he once chaired in Colorado. After briefly mulling a run to replace retiring U.S. Senator Wayne Allard, he instead backed Bob Schaffer for the seat. He supported Mitt Romney early in his presidential bid and spent much of 2007 and 2008 as a surrogate for Romney at political events. Beauprez was a fitting choice. He and Romney are both successful businessman and former high-level political office holders. Both like to echo Ronald Reagan on the campaign trail, calling for a new golden age of Reaganesque Republicanism.
Beauprez told The Rocky Mountain News in July 2007 that he had turned down a long list of proposals for political and business ventures. He was searching, it seemed, for something important to do.
“Then,” the paper heralded, “he found the right fit.”
That fit was heading his new nonprofit, the Rocky Mountain Community Foundation. His aim, he told The Rocky, was to create “a predominant community foundation in the West” “to help donors get their philanthropy done.” IRS records show RMCF launched in 2007 with $666,000 in contributions from an unspecified donor or donors. Contributions fell to $69,310 in 2008.
During the two years records show the foundation was active, it gave grants to two Catholic churches, including the Beauprez family’s parish in Louisville, and to Wyoming Catholic College, Pepperdine University’s public policy program and the National Right to Life Educational Fund. It also endowed the National Association of Street Schools — a Denver-based group that backs faith-based alternative high schools. Beauprez’s foundation also supported the Alliance for Choice in Education, a group that helps low-income kids attend private schools. ACE was founded by Beauprez’s friend, Denver businessman Alex Cranberg, who was one of the officers listed on Rocky Mountain Community Foundation’s tax forms.
Also among CMCF’s grant recipients was Legatus, a group of Catholic CEOs, corporate presidents and big business owners dedicated to “study, live and spread the Catholic faith in our business, professional and personal lives.”
Of the $580,377 the foundation granted in 2007 and 2008, more than 85 percent went to The Charitable Fund, also doing business as the National Christian Foundation – Colorado. Its mission, according to its national website, is “To enable followers of Christ to give wisely to advance His Kingdom and to mobilize an unprecedented abundance of Kingdom resources to accomplish every good work.” A 2005 investigation by Mother Jones reported that the obscure NCF was then “the sixth-largest donor-advised fund in the nation.” The magazine wrote that the foundation “serves as a conduit through which benefactors can funnel cash, real estate, stocks, and other valuables to the charities of their choice — and earn a bigger tax break than by giving directly to a private foundation.”
Beauprez’s Rocky Mountain Community Foundation didn’t succeed, as planned, as a major force in Western philanthropy. But, through it, he channeled his experience and activism into his religion — a deeply rooted part of his life he never hid, but had kept fairly quiet in his political years.
“Bob is a man of faith. But his faith was never used as a talking point,” said John Marshall, who has worked as an administrator and political science instructor at Colorado Mesa University since managing Beauprez’s 2006 bid for governor.
Also deeply, but quietly rooted was Beauprez’s conservatism – views molded largely by two experiences in his youth. When he was about 12, the IRS slapped a steep inheritance tax on his family’s farm after this grandfather’s death. Beauprez has spoken bitterly about what a blow it came and how much his folks struggled for their livelihood. His politics also formed as a student at CU Boulder. He was disgusted, he has said, by war protests, sexual promiscuity and drug use on campus. He scorned what he saw as a culture of questioning authority and challenging tradition. After graduation, he returned to the farm, his bedrock, to build a life much more like his parents’ than his peers’.
Beauprez long has spoken about his traditional values in broad brushes. It’s part of his hard-working-nice-guy image.
But raw politics led him to keep the depth and specifics of his conservative views muted since he first ran for office in Colorado’s brand new 7th congressional district. At the time, 2002, voters there were a third Republican, a third Democratic and a third independent. He had rightly calculated that campaigning as a right-winger would be less effective than running on his professional successes and family history. Far more than any of Beauprez’s policy stances, voters heard about his love of his wife, Claudia, the memory of his farmer father and the former family ranch he calls his “home place.” Those themes – family, roots and hard work — came up again and again in his speeches and ads. Once in D.C., he quietly voted as a hard-line conservative, without much specific policy talk while back home among voters. He made up for being further right than his constituency by snagging big earmarks for his district. And he glided into his 2004 re-election with big money he raised as a loyal booster of the Bush agenda in the Republican Congress.
Beauprez recently told the Associated Press that one reason he lost in 2006 was that it “proved to be enormously difficult” running for governor while serving in Congress. Indeed, that campaign marked the first time his conservative views – and voting record – were scrutinized in contrast with his moderate image. He was nicknamed “Both Ways Bob” for wavering between his core conservative beliefs and pressures by the moderate GOP establishment to say what it figured voters in a purple state wanted to hear.
Talking about a Revolution
The rules – and the political landscape – shifted after Beauprez’s 2006 defeat.
The national Tea Party movement emerged in full force in 2007. And Barack Obama’s election the next year fueled a rash of conspiracy theories and distrust of a government led by the nation’s first black president.
At the same time he was campaigning for Romney with moderate GOP messaging, Beauprez also started boring deep into organized conservatism, voicing views in other arenas that he had muffled for years.
He launched “A Line of Sight,” a nationally known website marketed as “Food for the Conservative Soul.” And he became active in several conservative groups. He has served as an advisor to the right-wing Steamboat Institute, whose recent annual conference featured a session called “Leaving the Left Behind: The Right Strategies for Bypassing Liberal Media & Winning Policy Battles Online.” He’s on the board of The American Conservative Union, which describes itself as “the leading entity in providing conservative positions on issues to Congress, the executive branch, state legislatures, the media, political candidates, and the public.” And he’s an advisory board member of I Am Created Equal, a Colorado Springs group whose homepage recently asked donors “to support our efforts to expose (Democratic U.S. Sen.) Mark Udall’s lies and leadership failures.” I Am Created Equal’s founder, Laura Carno, helped lead last year’s efforts to recall Democratic state senators John Morse and Angela Giron.
In 2009, Beauprez published “A Return to Values,” a treatise urging the Republican Party to shift heavily to the right. His writing was a leap from his muted tones as a politician, and a sharp indictment of what he called government “intrusion, limitation, and infringement upon our lives and our choices.”
“It is time for a revolution, and Republican principles must lead it,” he wrote.
In a section on environmental policy, Beauprez derided “the hysteria surrounding the question of global warming.” The topic, he wrote, “is at best a grossly overhyped issue and at worst a complete hoax foisted on most of the world…” Five years after the book’s publication, climate change polls as a major concern among voters in the state its author again seeks to govern.
Beauprez’s 2010 microchip comments weren’t a blip or a blooper. They’re consistent with extremist views he repeatedly expressed in the four years since.
In a talk radio interview later in 2010, he called for an “extremely conservative reform agenda.” “People are ready for it,” he said with Keith & Jonathan MichaelZ. (The comment is at 4:37 minutes.)
Shortly after, he went a whole century retro. In an interview with southern talk radio host John “Spud” McConnell, he lamented the 1913 passage of the constitutional amendment assuring that members of the U.S. Senate are elected by a popular vote.
The topic was one of the issues du jour among Tea Party devotees. “Spud” raised it on-air, saying the U.S. should return to a system in which state lawmakers, not voters, picked U.S. senators. “And then that way, the state legislature, if there was some stuff going on in Washington they don’t like, they could actually withdraw their senators, bring them back like an ambassador is brought back for consultation and keep them out of any elections, or any votes that are going on up there. So that, I think, would give the states considerably more power inside the beltway,” “Spud” said. “What do you think about that?”
“I couldn’t agree more,” Beauprez answered. “I think states lost an enormous amount of their leverage, their accountability when the 17th Amendment…was passed.” (You can listen to the full show, where the clip below begins around 9 minutes, here.)
During a 2012 interview on a Christian talk show, Beauprez was discussing his concerns about certain United Nations treaties when he entertained the notion of a revolutionary uprising against Barack Obama.
“I hope and pray that, that we don’t see another revolution in this country. I hope and pray we don’t see another civil war. But this administration is pushing the boundaries like none I think we’ve ever, ever seen,” he said in a video obtained this year by 9News.
That civil war comment landed Beauprez on Hatewatch, the Southern Poverty Law Center’s national alert about anti-government and extremist propaganda.
In July 2013, he was quoted in support of impeaching Obama:
And last September, the man who’s now vying to govern Colorado as a whole voiced solidarity for the small movement in the north to secede from the state.
“If we are going to continue to have these ideological battles that end up maybe not moving in a very positive direction and ending in good government, just different government, maybe we ought to just go our separate ways. Why don’t you run your state and we’ll run ours,” he told Voice of America in an article about secession.
Beauprez kept up his extremist commentary even after March of this year, when he jumped late into the Republican primary race to unseat Gov. John Hickenlooper.
Weeks after announcing his candidacy, he told a room of Weld County Republicans about his concern that Sharia is becoming the law of the land. “It is creeping in. It’s creeping in not only in Colorado, but all across America,” he said in an audio clip posted by Coloradopols.com.
Reckoning with his “Years in the Wilderness”
Despite his late entry into the governor’s race, Beauprez snagged the Republican nomination largely because the GOP establishment felt that former U.S. Rep. Tom Tancredo, the presumed frontrunner, was considered too conservative to unseat Hickenlooper, a moderate Democrat.
Beauprez had served with Tancredo in Congress, where of the two Tancredo was far more of a firebrand, especially when it came to immigration – the issue on which he made himself a household name. Stylistically, the two men are worlds apart. Still, their voting records show they’re almost indistinguishable in their conservative policy positions.
Ellen Dumm, a political communications consultant, notes that even on immigration, Beauprez recently stepped further out of the mainstream than Tancredo. She cited Beauprez’s recent comment to radio host Peter Boyles that, if asked by Texas Gov. Rick Perry, he’d send Colorado’s National Guard to protect the border.
“Tancredo said things as a congressman that got quoted more often than Bob Beauprez. But, to his credit, Tancredo never said anything about sending the militia to the border or, for that matter, anything about the government implanting microchips,” said Dumm, who worked as a policy and communications official in Gov. Bill Ritter’s administration.
“Tancredo had his craziness centered around one thing – immigration. But Bob has had his craziness spread all across the map,” she continued. “I think it’s clear that Bob Beauprez spent a lot of years in the wilderness, quote unquote.”
Much to the relief of Beauprez’s campaign, Colorado’s media establishment has glossed over his eight years as an outspoken, far-right conservative. A Denver Post headline announcing his primary victory called him a moderate compared to Tancredo and a “mainstream contender.”
Those labels seem questionable even to the man who ran Beauprez’s last campaign.
“I don’t think he ever would have considered himself a moderate. … I think he’s always considered himself a conservative,” Marshall said.
Beauprez’s current campaign has cloistered him from in-depth interviews since an embarrassing four-year-old video surfaced shortly after his primary win. The 2010 video, reported by The Denver Post, showed the man the newspaper has branded as a moderate claiming that “47 percent of all Americans pay no federal income tax.” It was the kind of comment Beauprez made freely during his eight years out of politics. But, in the context of a campaign for governor, it came off as more than a little tone deaf.
As it happened, the “47 percent” video surfaced a week after Beauprez – whose 2006 campaign was riddled by gaffes – had told the Associated Press, “I’m even more experienced than I was eight years ago. I’m certainly a lot wiser.”
His campaign has refused to answer a long list of questions for this article. Beauprez himself wouldn’t discuss his eight years out of politics, telling The Independent, “I’m not in control over my own schedule.”
“Wish I were, but I’m not,” he said.
This year – just as in 2002, 2004 and 2006 – Beauprez again is campaigning mainly on his business successes and family history. In the rare instances his handlers let him speak publicly, he still is talking more about his dairy days and high school sweetie than specific political views. The revolution he urged in his book doesn’t come up. Neither do the government microchips for which he expects the public will line up “like sheep.”
So the question remains: why would a Republican candidate trying to unseat a popular and moderate Democratic governor have spent the years directly before his campaign talking like a conservative wingnut?
Without answers from Beauprez, political observers have thrown out a host of hunches. One theory surmises that, despite several flirtations to run for office since his 2006 trouncing, he wasn’t actually serious until this year’s nomination practically fell in his lap. Another theory is that, by age 60 and after having logged years as a party chief and congressman, he just wanted to say what he felt. Or maybe he figured voters wouldn’t care as much about his political views than the power of his biography. Or maybe he figured, despite easy internet access, that he could speak his mind in out-of-state radio interviews without Coloradans ever hearing.
Whatever his reasons, Jefferson County voter Natalie Sailer says riffs about civil war, Sharia law and microchips raise questions not just about Beauprez’s politics, but also his sanity.
“It’s crazy talk. If he really believes this, it makes me wonder if he’s in his right mind,” said the 35-year-old Arvada Democrat who’s tracking this year’s election especially closely because she’s expecting a second child.
“People want candidates who understand what we’re dealing with – families, jobs, the economy,” she said. “The microchip thing is so far out of touch with reality that it’s outrageous. These aren’t moderate views. They’re completely, completely extreme.”
If there’s a gap between Beauprez’s campaign messaging and the views he expressed in eight years of private life, Marshall says it’s not because the man himself has changed.
“What I do know about Bob is that he’s a fundamentally authentic guy who’s very comfortable in his own skin. And I know that his priorities in life are straight enough that win or lose he knows who he is.
“The fact that he went through what he went through in 2006 and to come back again says he has a lot of fire in the belly.”
Marshall says the candidate he now considers a close friend “tries to find common ground when he speaks because he cares a great deal about relationships and people.” This, Marshall explains, is why Beauprez doesn’t wave his potentially divisive values on the campaign trail.
It’s a simple matter of political practicality in a purple state. In other words, as Marshall put it, it’s “know(ing) who your audience is.”
“There are two ways to run for office. You can charge out there and do all the talking and tell everybody the way things ought to be. That’s the sort of AM talk radio kind of approach. Or you can stop and listen to what’s on voters’ minds,” added Marshall, who describes a campaign for governor as a “year-long interview process.”
Beauprez, more or less, is still learning when to keep his mouth shut.
Said Marshall: “You don’t respond to a question about ‘hey, how are we going to get the economy moving’ by saying ‘hey, let me tell you how pro-life I am’.”
[Photo by Nate Koch, The Colorado Independent]
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