Democratic Candidates Linked To Republican 'Business Group'
Loveland - March 31, 2010
Northern Colorado’s political entrepreneur lobby won 1 and lost 1 on Saturday; as the Larimer County Democrats held their Assembly to select nominees in local and state races. Snubbed by the Republican party in recent years, these self described “moderate” businessmen Bill Kaufman and Don Marostica have attempted to gain influence within the Democratic Party by encouraging certain Republicrat type candidates who they apparently believe are more electable in general elections from either party. Last Saturday the Larimer County Democrat assembly rejected at least one Republicrat candidate and barely selected another who, like his sponsors, appears to be campaigning on the "its who you know" ticket while avoiding taking a public stand on any substantive local issues.
This style of campaigning that puts political philosophy and issues second while emphasizing only party affiliation and elect-ability is not new to Northern Colorado. It is a tactic often employed by the political entrepreneur self described "business" lobby to gain influence in the public decision making process.
Ft. Collins based Boucher Strategies' “The Enterprise Group” was created in 2005 by the same people; former Republican State House Representative Bill Kaufman with help from another controversial local politician, Don Marostica, and then- McWhinney President Rocky Scott. Their aim was to elect "centrists" into Republican primaries while building a powerful base of like-minded political entrepreneurs . According to Kaufman he intended to ”return the Republican Party to its natural constituency – the business community," as reported in the Loveland Reporter-Herald.
It appears that members of the now largely defunct 'The Enterprise Group' are now trying to use the Larimer County Democratic Party to meet their business objectives given the rising influence Democrats have had in Larimer County since the 2008 elections. However, their tactics met with mixed results as those assembled didn't feel party affiliation and elect-ability were necessarily the only two criteria qualifying a person to run for public office.
In the race to become the Party’s nominee for Larimer County Commissioner, former Loveland Mayor Kathy Gilliland failed to garner even 30% of the delegates’ votes, as Larimer County Democratic Party Chairman Adam Bowen handily won, taking 441 of the 601 delegate votes, or more than 73%. This resounding defeat means she can now only be a candidate for the office if she gathers enough signatures to demonstrate she is a serious candidate with support from qualified voters. Gilliland, a Marostica protégé , received funding and encouragement from her former Loveland council colleague during her failed 2002 attempt to gain a seat in Colorado's State Senate using money donated to her campaign from Loveland Commercial, a local leasing and development company founded by Marostica and another partner. Now Gillaland is looking to serve on the Larimer County Board of Commissioners alongside the Republican who beat her in 2002 to represent Senate District 15 (SD-15), Steve Johnson. Johnson left the State Senate during his last term allowable under state term-limits and was elected to the Larimer County Board of Commissioners. (see Primary political advertisement from 2005 about Marostica providing funds to Gilliland)
Gilliland was recruited in 2008 by the Northern Colorado Economic Development Council (NCEDC) to recommend the “partners” for the Northern Colorado Workforce Initiative. Gilliland was a strong backer of Loveland’s taxpayer subsidies to the NCEDC, a private group which has long lobbied Loveland City Council to fund subsidies to board members of the same group. Centerra developer McWhinney, for example, has been a longtime board participant in the NCEDC responsible for championing city backed subsidies for local companies if they move to McWhinney's Centerra development. NCEDC even claims responsibility for crafting the nearly $1 Million subsidy package to Colorado V-Net, whose owner later sold the assets he acquired with the subsidies to another company and is now claiming only the remaining shell company has an obligation to the city. (see V-NET stories).
Ball Backed By Key 'Enterprise Group' donors
In the current SD-15 race, Loveland attorney Richard Ball, already crowned the front runner by local media , barely out-polled opponent Torsten Eckstein, 169 votes to 125, to win the party’s top spot to challenge incumbent Republican State Senator Kevin Lundberg. Richard Ball, heir not only to his father Conrad Ball’s financial fortune but political legacy as well, is said to owe his candidacy to former Republican State House representative Bill Kaufman (The Enterprise Group founder) who brags openly about recruiting Ball to run for the seat. Even Ball’s press announcement announcing his candidacy in Oct. 2009 stated, “Ball said former state Rep. Bill Kaufman, a Republican, …..encouraged him to run.”
Both former Republican State House Representatives Bill Kaufman and Donald Marostica were shunned by their own parties after defecting to the Democrats on major legislation while serving in the State Legislature. While they describe themselves as moderate "pro-business" Republicans, their political interventions appear more geared towards establishing a government intervention into the private sector for their own pecuniary interests rather than to promote a laissez-fair approach to economics that is more common among business people drawn to Republican party politics.
Kaufman helped to form the Enterprise Group LLC in 2007 out of dissatisfaction with the Republican Party leadership and his inability to influence the candidates through donations. The Enterprise Group LLC tried to divert business donations away from the Republican Party and re-direct them directly towards certain candidates in primaries favoured by political entrepreneurs like Marostica and McWhinney. Andrew Boucher, the group’s political consultant and organizer, tried for years to leverage the influence of the group’s contributions to candidates to influence the outcome of numerous Republican primaries but was largely ineffective.
Boucher, who is now in the process of moving to South Carolina, apparently failed to achieve the internal rate of return on the political donations some in the group were seeking. Rocky Scott, former McWhinney operative, was also instrumental in supporting the group and trying to use donations to influence local races but his untimely departure from McWhinney (see LovelandPolitics story) put an end to group's most contributions, McWhinney.
Democratic State Senate Candidates - Are They Really In the Same Party?
Both top vote getters for the Democratic Party's SD 15 race, Ball and Eckstein, appear to have similar stands on the economy and education. However, the similarities stop there as both candidates couldn't be further apart on more substantive local and state issues. One party regular described Eckstein as being closer to the party base given his stand on environmental and other key issues. Eckstein has taken unambiguous stands against the proposed uranium mine in Weld County and the proposed Glade Reservoir which would divert more water from the Poudre River for future development.
Ball has avoided taking a clear public position on Glade Reservoir (often called the “NISP” project) but rather states on his website that he “supports Fort Collins' businesses' need to have sufficient river flow through the downtown area”. As he has reportedly told others privately that he believes that NISP is needed by the region, he appears to be attempting to woo anti-Glade activists by sympathetic words in public that do not preclude his future support for Glade. This kind of "fooling the base" was a trick instrumental in Marostica's election to the State House as the Republican base that elected him believed he supported the Taxpayer's Bill of Rights (TABOR) only to see him join his Democratic colleagues in the State House in trying dismantling spending limits mandated by TABOR.
Ball’s campaign materials and website mostly tout his family’s name and the long list of charitable organizations he has served on the board of directors for some period of time. Any public revelation either for or against uranium mining or the proposed Glade Resovoir by Ball could collapse his carefully stacked group of politically incompatible supporters. Even the quotes by Ball regarding why he is running are filled with general quotes that avoid specifically addressing any issue. He is qouted as saying, "in good conscience, I could just not sit on the sidelines and watch any longer...our county needs inclusive, problem-solving, collaborative representation at the Capitol."
What is clear is that Kaufman’s partners in The Enterprise Group favor Glade Reservoir and will work to keep Ball in their camp given the considerable financial investments they are making in his candidacy. As to the proposed Weld uranium mine, Ball’s statements are similarly vague and subject to multiple interpretations. One of Ball's chief supporters, State Rep. Marostica, was an emphatic champion of placing a uranium mine in Weld County. This shocked some Democrats in Loveland who crossed party lines to support Marostica in the belief that he was a "centrist" Republican who supported their views on environmental issues while the Republican base voters saw him as more "electable" than his more conservative opponent Kevan McNaught. In the end, Marostica's lack of loyalty for either side's issues left his former constituency in Loveland, both from the left and right, more cynical about the process. So bitter were some Republicans about Marostica's deception during his campaign that he wasn't allowed to address his fellow Republicans during the vacancy committee process of selecting his replacement in the legislature when he resigned the seat.
As the Republican operative and coordinator of The Enterprise Group, Andrew Boucher, prepares to attend his last Larimer County Republican Assembly this coming Saturday he can take some satisfaction in knowing that he has made an impact not just in his own party's politics. Whether Democrats will endorse the Boucher style of campaign where substantive issues are avoided to mitigate the risk of losing supporters from one side of the issue or the other, and party affiliation alone becomes the rallying point around which an "electable" candidate is selected remains to be seen. The August 10, 2010 primary election of Ball or Eckstein will answer that question conclusively. Boucher, however, will not be waiting for the results as his Ft. Collins residence has already been sold and his family is now waiting for him to join them in South Carolina to start a new life.
Gilliland, on the other hand, is planning to remain on her Alpaca farm in Larimer County for the time being but is unlikely to gather enough signatures to petition her way onto the Larimer County Commissioner ballot. This is because Marostica and other political entrepreneur supporters of Loveland's former Mayor are better at raising money from fellow travellers than they are at gathering grassroots support for any of their Republicrat candidates.
Rumors in the Republican Party say incumbent Republican County Commissioner Lew Gaiter III may face a challenge from within his own party for the seat when nominations are opened to the floor at this Saturday's Larimer County Republican Assembly. According to one source within the party, that nomination will be for a "big name" Republican. The Republicrats backed Andrew Boucher against Gaiter to replace the retiring Kathay Rennels when she departed the County Commission last year. No word yet on whether they are also the group plotting a challenge to Gaiter or whether the person is Larimer County Sheriff Jim Alderden.