No doubt about it. Conservative firebrand Lauri Clapp is one of the more colorful officials to have frolicked about the Colorado House of Representatives in recent years.
In 2006, the conservative Republican from Littleton raised eyebrows when she proposed legislation to alter current divorce-related laws shortly after filing for her own divorce — drawing complaints that she was getting too personal with her job.
Indeed, during her eight-year tenure she, along with the group of other noisy GOP colleagues, was a passionate opponent of abortion, supported required placement of the Ten Commandments in public schools and restricting marriage to between a man and a woman only. She wanted a law requiring pregnant women to view ultrasound images of their fetuses before being allowed to get an abortion. She sponsored a law barring government agencies from being able to sue gun manufacturers and supported the carrying of concealed guns in schools.
And now, Clapp is back, running for the Colorado District 26 Senate seat that Republican Steve Ward vacated for his ultimately unsuccessful bid to replace Congressman Tom Tancredo.
In one of Colorado’s more closely watched races this year, Clapp’s Democratic opponent is Linda Newell, who is running for public office for the first time in the district south of Denver and includes Englewood and Littleton, and has a voter registration of roughly 40 percent Republican, 29 percent Democrat and 31 percent unaffiliated. In the primary, Clapp creamed her GOP opponent Jerry Call, winning with 68 percent of the vote.
So far, Clapp has raised $23,315, compared with the $14,506 in contributions to Newell’s campaign chest.
“There’s no question that she’s very, very conservative,” says Mark Larson. a fellow Republican served with Clapp in the statehouse for eight years. “She’ll tell you she’s a conservative.”
Sure enough, Clapp takes her share of swipes at the opposition party while talking about her main three issues of this year’s campaign: energy, health care and the economy.
“The Democrats do not understand that we need two separate energy strategies,” Clapp says in an interview with the Colorado Independent. “We need to address the petroleum energy needs for transportation and we need to address the need for more electricity generation to support our communities and our economy.”
And this, when talking about health care:
“The Democrats deliver eloquent speeches about providing health care coverage to everyone and they spin cost savings and the better use of current dollars to achieve their vision of universal health care. But it is all spin. There are only two things that can make the Democrat plan work: unlimited money to pay for the care or rationing the care — and they do not want to talk about either.”
However, neither does Clapp specify what reforms she’s got in mind — if any — to address Colorado’s health care crisis.
For her part, Newell, who like Clapp is a divorced single mother, also cites health care and the economy as top issues, along with education. A former director at StarTek, a company that provides human resource services to various employers, Newell says Coloradans are at risk of losing their quality of life. And, she asserts, this is no time to elect what she calls a conservative extremist to the state Senate.
“Right-wing extreme politics, even left-wing extreme politics, they just don’t belong in Colorado or in the district,” she says.
And while Newell is running as the non-politician who wants to work together to create “commonsense solutions,” Clapp is focusing on her past work, saying that she has “experience that you only get as an elected official and the skill to clearly see not only what needs to be done, but also how to tackle the problems.”
When Clapp was in the House, from 1999 to 2006. she aligned herself with many of the more conservative pro-gun, anti-tax, anti-gay agitators also serving — including Colorado Springs uber-conservatives Rep. Dave Schultheis (now in the state Senate) and Doug Lamborn (now in Congress), and other high-profile agitators like Mark Paschall, Shawn Mitchell, John Andrews and Jim Congrove.
After the national May Day immigration rallies of 2006, Clapp joined eight Republican state lawmakers, including Lamborn and Schultheis, in writing an open letter demanding that President George W. Bush declare a national state of emergency to send national guard troops to the border in light of the “blatant, coordinated and anti-American demonstrations on behalf of illegal aliens.”
Also that year, Clapp was widely criticized for introducing two bills targeting divorce laws — right after going through her own divorce less than a year earlier. One measure would have axed parenting classes that courts usually require divorced parents to attend; the other would have terminated a 90-day waiting period before a court issues a dissolution-of-marriage order.
Numerous divorce lawyers, among others, characterized the legislation as a major step in the wrong direction because they viewed the classes and waiting period as valuable steps in the divorce process. They also accused her of using her personal experience as a reason for trying to mold state statutes. Both proposals were ultimately killed by other lawmakers.
“When it comes to divorce, I think the court system may need to be re-examined so that it focuses on helping the family,” Clapp says now, when asked about her past efforts. “If there are ways it could become more responsive to the needs of the family, then perhaps changes should be implemented. I do not favor the current structure mandating family or parenting counseling.”
In one oft-remembered clash in 2003, Clapp — then serving as the chair of the Health and Welfare Committee — was rebuked by Democratic colleagues when she refused to let fellow committee member Rep. Andrew Romanoff speak during one of the panel’s hearings.
The next year, of course, marked the end of 40 years of Republican majority rule in the legislature and Romanoff, a Denver Democrat, became the Speaker of the House. The following year, Clapp was one of seven lawmakers — four Republicans and three Democrats — who watched all of their bills killed in the legislative process.
Not surprisingly, this year Romanoff has endorsed Newell, as have Gov. Bill Ritter, a handful of other Democratic lawmakers, former Littleton Mayor Susan Thornton and the Colorado Education Association. Clapp, meanwhile, has gotten thumbs up from Schultheis, Andrews, Mitchell and numerous other conservative Republicans, including former House Minority Leader Joe Stengel, Tancredo and the National Rifle Association (NRA).
Cara DeGette contributed to this story.