If you’ve got an “R” behind your name, expect a glowing endorsement from the largest business-friendly political action committee in the Pikes Peak region.
At least that’s what the past reputation has been for the Colorado Springs Chamber of Commerce. But this year, simply being a Republican isn’t good enough to get you into the club. After all, this is the same group that last year supported Referenda C and D, while El Paso County’s entire 13-member legislative delegation – save for its one Democrat – opposed the measures as potently pro-tax, and apparently thus, wicked and immoral.In addition to refusing an endorsement to State Rep. Dave Schultheis, who is gunning for a state senate seat, this year the Chamber has also declined to endorse Republicans in two other Colorado Springs House seats. Those include Kent Lambert, Schultheis’ former aide who is running to replace his former boss in House District 14, and Kyle Fisk, the New Life Church-affiliate evangelical pastor who is challenging incumbent Michael Merrifield in House District 18.
The organization’s vice president of government affairs, Stephannie Finley, deflected any specific criticisms of the candidates they did not support, merely insisting the group adheres to its “core values” when deciding who to endorse.
Of the Republican candidates the Chamber opted not to support this year, Finley said, “I don’t think we share a common vision.”
Last week, Colorado Confidential reported that in his candidate survey, Schultheis indicated to the Chamber that “I do not necessarily acknowledge intolerance as a bad trait in and of itself. Each of us is tolerant and intolerant of many issues that come before us each day.”
Schultheis posted his answers on his website, but it is unclear how other candidates answered the survey, as the results are not publicly released, Finley said. The Chamber has 1,700 members with a reach to 70,000 employees in the region, making an endorsement from the group highly coveted.
Rep. Merrifield, a Manitou Springs Democrat, reports being “pleasantly surprised” by the endorsement process this year – even though neither he nor his opponent received an endorsement.
“I’m a strong supporter of collective bargaining, unions, and I oppose Right to Work, and I don’t think they were comfortable with that, but they were very happy to have my support for Referendum C and [a local] Regional Transportation Authority, as the only legislator in the delegation to do so,” Merrifield says.
“I was assured it was going to be a fair proceeding, unlike in the past when it was a done deal.”
In the legislative races in which they they did offer endorsements, the Chamber again picked an all-Republican line-up, including the Senate District 11 race between incumbent Sen. Ed Jones, an African-American conservative who opposes affirmative action, and John Morse, a former police chief.
So far the Chamber has not yet issued endorsements for any of Colorado’s statewide races, including governor, or in the 5th Congressional District general showdown (their pick in the primary, Jeff Crank, lost a bitterly-contested race against Doug Lamborn).
But in the wake of the battle over Referenda C and D, and other upcoming measures near and dear to the pro-business group, it’s clear that what Finley refers to as “core values” will be a stress test when it comes to supporting candidates. For example, this year the group is adamantly opposed to Amendment 38, a measure being pushed by anti-tax zealot Douglas Bruce, which would make it easier to place citizen initiatives on the ballot – and which opponents would warn would decimate representative government in Colorado. Several prominent Republicans support Amendment 38, including the afore-mentioned Lamborn. Republican gubernatorial candidate Bob Beauprez also initially supported the measure, but did an about-face on it earlier this year.
“People already have the right to petition; to create chaos in representative government is not something we support,” Finley says.
The only Democrat the Chamber of Commerce has endorsed in recent memory is former Colorado Springs Councilman Richard Skorman – and, it should be noted, the city council is a nonpartisan govering body.