A million dollars spent to influence a state Senate race? Outside groups don’t flinch

Rep. Daniel Kagan, left; Arapahoe County Commissioner Nancy Doty, right

The battle to replace Democratic state Sen. Linda Newell of Littleton is being waged not only by the two major party candidates, but by outside groups that have spent at least a million dollars, mostly on ads and mailers critical of the other side’s candidates.

Control of the state Senate, which Republicans hold by one seat, has led many to focus on the race in Arvada between Republican incumbent Laura Woods of Westminster and Democrat and former state Sen. Rachel Zenzinger of Arvada. That’s the extra seat Democrats need to gain control of the Senate.

But flipping the Senate also requires that Democrats hang on to two other hotly contested seats being vacated by term-limited Democrats, including Newell’s District 26 seat.

That contest, between Democratic Rep. Daniel Kagan of Greenwood Village and Republican Arapahoe County Commissioner Nancy Doty is one of the biggest money statehouse contests this year, more due to spending by outside groups than fundraising by the candidates.

Kagan has so far raised $233,442 to Doty’s $169,511. But it’s the outside money that’s making the difference.

Among the players: Colorado Citizens for Accountable Government, which runs mailers and TV ads that oppose Democrats. Since the first of September, the group has spent at least $250,000 on advertising targeting Kagan, in particular for his support of the hospital provider fee.

On the other side, the Democratic-aligned Colorado Citizens’ Alliance independent expenditure committee has spent at least $734,000 on mailers and other advertising criticizing Doty for her views on guns, abortion and for taking special interest money.

Doty has taken contributions from big-name Republicans such as former U.S. Sen. William Armstrong, former Gov. Bill Owens (she was his chief financial officer from 2000 to 2004) and U.S. Senate candidate Jack Graham. Other noteworthy Republicans, including Pete Coors, Larry Mizel and Jake Jabs, also have funded her campaign, and she personally has pumped in $6,500 of her own money.

Kagan has taken contributions from millionaire Rutt Bridges, his former wife Barbara Bridges, and son Jeff Bridges, who is running to succeed Kagan in House District 3. Kagan also has received donations from four political action committees set up by current Democratic members of the General Assembly, as well as $7,500 from the state Democratic Party – one of six similar donations made to Democrats running for the state Senate.

Both candidates are experienced politicians. Kagan is finishing up his eight years in the state House. Doty has spent four years as an Arapahoe County Commissioner and, before that, nine years as Arapahoe County’s clerk and recorder.

Doty, 70, came into elected office via an untraditional route. She was first elected through a recall of her predecessor, Republican Tracy Baker, who was accused of sexual misconduct and financial mismanagement in 2003. Doty was elected to finish out the remaining time left for Baker’s term and then ran and won the seat for two terms after that.

Kagan, 63, is an English native who also started his political career in a different way: fulfilling a vacancy left by then-Rep. Anne McGihon of Englewood, who resigned two months into her third term in office in March 2009 to take on a new job. Kagan had been McGihon’s aide.

Kagan has been a U.S. citizen since 1984. He’s known for his English accent and his ever-present cigarette, although it’s now an e-cigarette.

He has a diverse business background, having worked as a Teamster, lawyer, and business owner. He’s taught flying and managed his family’s textile business in England.

Kagan is currently the chair of legislature’s House Judiciary Committee. He holds a law degree from Yale and once had a law firm with his wife, Faye, in Washington DC, but has never practiced law in Colorado, choosing instead to go into politics after moving to the state in 2007. Off-session, he is retired.

Kagan toyed with retiring from legislative service at the end of this year. But the current political climate convinced him to continue. “I was always raised to participate in politics in whatever way one can. That’s an obligation, one I’m trying to fulfill at the end of my working life,” he said.

“The dysfunction we see in our national politics has not overwhelmed Colorado. But with the way things are going, I’m afraid it might,” he continued. National politicians have lost their way and forgotten why they were elected in the first place, and “I’m seeing that begin to happen in Colorado. That is another motivation to not retire at this time. I want to be part of the stand against the degradation of our politics.”

Doty and Kagan both spoke with The Colorado Independent in August about some of the hot-button issues facing Colorado, as well as topics important to their district.

The hospital provider fee has been the subject of much controversy between the House and Senate and between Democrats and Republicans for the past two sessions. The fee is levied on hospital overnight patient stays as well as outpatient visits. That money is then matched with federal dollars and redistributed to hospitals to cover uninsured patients and to expand Medicaid. Democrats and a handful of Republicans want to see the fee removed from the state’s revenue limits, as established under the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights. The fee would then be reclassified to be exempt from TABOR restrictions and revenues would be spent on uninsured patients and Medicaid expansion.

Kagan sees the hospital provider fee as a chance for the state to reverse course for funding public education and infrastructure such as roads and bridges. “We’ve watched our infrastructure deteriorate” and the business climate along with it, he said. The underfunding trend can be reversed without an increase in taxes if lawmakers “recategorize the hospital provider fee and allow those funds to be used where they’re very much needed,” he said.

In response to Republican claims that making the fee an “enterprise” would be a backdoor way around TABOR, Kagan pointed out that the enterprise structure was set up when TABOR was originally approved by voters in 1992. And “it wasn’t a flaming liberal who set that up,” Kagan noted. “It was [Republican and convicted tax cheat] Doug Bruce and the architects of TABOR. They acknowledged when TABOR was passed that when the government provides a service, those funds should not be counted as TABOR revenue…[enterprise status is] actually what the architects of TABOR intended.”

Kagan voted in favor of the 2013 statewide gun control measures that limited the size of ammunition magazines to 15 rounds and required background checks for private transfers of weapons. He calls those measures “modest but important, and it is important that they not be rolled back,” he said. He added the background check law has helped weed out hundreds of dangerous applicants for firearms. As he sees it, Coloradans don’t need massive magazines for hunting or self-defense.

“The only time you need a large magazine is when you want to kill a lot of people in a short period of time,” he said.

House Republicans tried six times in the 2016 session to either restrict or end abortion. Kagan, who is pro-choice, said those bills were an attempt to impose one moral view on women seeking reproductive care.

“I think it is very wrong to try and interpose my judgment or the legislature’s judgment between a woman and her doctor and her conscience when it comes to very personal decisions,” he said.

For their part, Democratic lawmakers tried to push through a package of bills designed to level the playing field on equal pay for equal work. While there is already a federal law requiring equal pay, the bills offered in 2016 would have worked on some of the issues not covered by that law. Kagan said that paying women less than men for doing the same work is “unjust and counterproductive,” and that lawmakers must be all they can to end the inequity.

“No one is suggesting that everyone doing the same job must be paid the same,” Kagan said.

The only exception is if the only difference between two employees is their gender, he said.

Kagan does not support Amendment 69, the ColoradoCare single payer ballot measure that voters will decide in November. “I believe in greater access to health care, but the more I learned about the details of this initiative the more concerned I became and the less I liked it. Not the least of which is the fact that it won’t fully cover women’s reproductive health.”

One of the more important issues in the district, Kagan said, is the underfunding of public schools.

“Our first obligation is to our children and all Colorado children, to make sure they have a decent start in life and that begins with a quality public education,” he said. “We’re not doing what we should be doing.”

Without a change in the hospital provider fee, the only other available education funding option for now is to ask the public if they want a time-out on TABOR refunds, Kagan said. “That won’t involve a tax increase and it’s something the public needs to seriously consider.”

Doty said she decided to run for the Senate because it was “important.” The county is running well, she said, and she decided she could do more at the state level.

Doty has lived in the district off-and-on for more than three decades. Her education includes degrees in medical technology and accounting, and she has worked in public accounting and banking, and did a stint at the Fort restaurant as its finance officer and at the Savio House, an in-home residence for troubled youth.

She lists education among her top priorities.

“We have a lot of good teachers, but I want parents to have an option on how their children are educated. One size doesn’t fit all,” she said, citing the need for charter schools, homeschooling, online education and private schools.

Does that mean she would support taxpayer funding for private schools? Doty pointed out that other states have educational savings accounts – an idea she’d like to see Colorado explore. Such accounts could be used for a disabled child for special education, for example. “It gives parents an option,” she said.

The hospital provider fee isn’t a subject that has come up on the campaign trail, Doty indicated, and although she comes from a strong financial background, she admitted she isn’t quite up to speed on the issue and needs to spend more time looking into it.

“The ironic thing is that we’re talking about money that will solve all the issues once the transfer takes place. I don’t know if that’s the answer,” she said.

UPDATE: since the publication of this story in June, Doty has come out against reclassifying the fee.

Doty said she supports the lawsuit filed by 54 county sheriffs that attempted to overturn the 2013 gun control laws. While that suit was dismissed in May by the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, the court did not rule on the constitutionality issue, and the plaintiffs plan to refile.

“I don’t want to see laws made more difficult. What we have on the books should be adequate,” she said, adding that she’s aware that that the county sheriffs believe the laws – especially on the 15-round limit – is unenforceable.

The background checks for gun transfers don’t make sense to her, she said.

“It’s not realistic in all situations.” Doty said, adding that she believes those transfers would affect people who take in guns for repair or cleaning.

(The law specifically exempts temporary transfers, such as would be the case for repairs.)

Doty is anti-abortion although, based on her family’s history, her views on the topic are nuanced. She told The Independent her mother once faced a difficult pregnancy, and her father was told the doctors could either save his wife or the baby. Her father chose her mother, reasoning that some day they could have more children.

“I understand there can be situations” in which an abortion is considered, Doty said. “There can be exceptions.”

On the issue of equal pay, Doty said she has worked hard and believes pay should be based on ability and “what you’re worth.”

“I wouldn’t expect someone to pay me more just because I’m a woman,” she said.

She noted that some women choose to go into careers, like teaching, in which they work nine months and are off during the summer. “I think people should be aware, when they choose a profession, what they will be paid,” she said.”

She also doesn’t agree with raising the minimum wage. She worries if the rate is raised, a lot of people could lose their jobs. “I don’t want to tell businesses how much to pay their employees,” she said. “These entry level jobs are there for a purpose.”

Doty said the need for affordable housing is pressing in the district and she backs efforts to reform the state’s construction defects law. Developers and builders claim the law makes it too easy for homeowners’ associations to sue over defective units. Legislation to reform the law has failed the last three years in a row.

Doty also pointed out that she doesn’t back Amendment 69 – the universal health care ballot issue this November. “I believe it would hurt Colorado economically, cost jobs and result in higher taxes for people,” she said.

On her presidential preference, Doty said she will support the Republican nominee, although Donald Trump was not her first choice. She initially backed Florida Sen. Marco Rubio.

“A year ago, I would never have believed Trump would be the nominee,” Doty said.

has been a political journalist since 1998. She covered the state capitol for the Silver & Gold Record from 1998 to 2009 and for The Colorado Statesman in 2010-11 and 2013-14. Since 2010 she also has covered the General Assembly for newspapers in northeastern Colorado. She was recognized with awards from the Colorado Press Association for feature writing and informational graphics for her work with the Statesman in 2012.

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