Merrifield: Pastor Ted’s Political Letter is “Sleazy”

Kyle Fisk‘s got Pastor Ted Haggard on his side, but the jury’s still out on who God wants to represent Colorado’s House District 18.

Earlier this month, Haggard, the pastor of the largest church in Colorado, sent out a letter asking for campaign money, support and prayers for his employee, Fisk, who is challenging the only Democrat in El Paso County’s 13-member legislative delegation. Haggard, along with his spokeswoman Carolyn Haggard (niece), and Fisk’s political director Nathan Fisk (brother), all noted he was sending the letter as a private person and a friend – and not as the pastor of New Life Church.

But incumbent state Rep. Michael Merrifield is not exactly shouting Halleluiah. Merrifield says he has not yet seen the letter, but called it “pretty sleazy and bordering on being illegal.” “It’s close to crossing the line, but I doubt that it does – they’re not stupid,” says Merrifield, who is running for a third term representing much of downtown Colorado Springs, the city’s west side and Manitou Springs. “It would be fun to catch them in an outright violation.”

The Internal Revenue Service prohibits church pastors from endorsing political candidates from the pulpit, but that doesn’t restrict them from lending their personal blessing to candidates. And in this case, Haggard’s support for Fisk is hardly surprising. Fisk is an associate pastor at Boulder Street Church, an outreach of the mega-New Life Church in Colorado Springs, and he previously worked for Haggard as executive director of the National Association of Evangelicals, of which Haggard is president.

The Aug. 4 letter, Nathan Fisk indicated, was sent to “a composite list of a couple of personal address books and a list that we bought from a commercial vendor.”

Sent “From the Desk of Pastor Ted Haggard, the letter begins with the disclaimer, “I am not writing you today as the pastor of New Life Church, but as a private citizen who is a friend and employer of Kyle Fisk.”

“I am very proud of Kyle Fisk… He is a competent man who is well informed and conversant in the subtleties of American government and politics. I like this guy a lot.

Kyle’s district encompasses much of downtown, the Westside and Manitou Springs. This is the one area in El Paso County that is not currently well represented. We need to partner with Kyle and invest in his campaign.”

Haggard’s letter goes on to provide details of how to help – with money ($800 per couple max), as a volunteer making phone calls, walking precincts and showing up to events, sending an e-mail to friends to encourage them to get involved, and to pray. 

“This is my first experience of having an employee and friend run for office. It’s a delight encouraging you to help Kyle with this race. Let’s do this together,” Haggard concludes.

Since he was initially elected four years ago, Merrifield – one of only two Democrats elected to partisan office in El Paso County since the early 1990s – has faced heavy opposition in a district that is considered far more moderate than much of the rest of the county. The retired schoolteacher and former business owner was challenged two years ago by Republican Kent Lambert, who lost the race and subsequently moved to the neighboring House District 14, where he won the primary this year in a landslide.

Merrifield says that between now and November, he certainly plans to mention Haggard’s letter during talks and in debates as “proof” that “Kyle Fisk is in line to bring Ted Haggard’s religious right philosophy” to the Capitol.

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