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Intra-party squabbling dominates RNC preview

Colorado’s GOP weighs in before Garden event

By Leigh E. Rich

Intra-party squabbling continues to dog Colorado Republicans, even as Gov. Bill Owens serves as a co-chair of the national party’s platform committee the week before the Republican National Convention in New York.

Owens left for the Big Apple early this week to head the committee that’s charged with drafting the party’s platform to be unveiled at next week’s event.

Though the highly scripted national conventions of modern day are mainly the creatures through which political parties present a unified message that is drilled into the minds of the American public over four days, dissent has marked the Colorado Republican Party and the Colorado delegation to the national gathering that commences Monday at Madison Square Garden.

It all began at the state Republican convention in Denver in June. Appointed with the task of electing a state chair for the delegation, a riff ensued among the delegates over the selection of Owens. Some delegates deemed the governor soft on social conservative values.

One of those was David Crater, a delegate from El Paso County, who challenged Owens’ endorsement at the state convention.

“Governor Owens is a moderate to liberal Republican. … His record is not conservative,” Crater said in a recent interview.

Crater lost his bid for state chairman by nine votes, with two abstentions.

Though Crater says that many of the dissenting Colorado delegates are “dissatisfied” with Owens’ record on several social hot buttons, including his stance on taxes, government spending, gun control and abortion, also at issue for some is the governor’s marital problems with wife Frances.

“A leader of the Republican Party, which claims to be the party of family values,” Crater said, ought to practice what he preaches.

“When there are questions about his personal exercise of the values he advocates, there does raise doubts in some folks’ minds.”

Owens and the Colorado First Lady separated about a year ago. “That has influenced some folks’ thinking,” Crater stated.

Adding insult to injury, Owens also was chosen to serve as a co-chair of the national platform committee, alongside Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist of Tennessee and Pennsylvania Rep. Melissa Hart.

While Crater emphasizes that “many of us in the party want a conservative representing us on the platform committee,” Jack B. Weil, an alternate from Denver, said in an interview earlier this week that “George W. Bush would certainly like to see Governor Owens as chairman.”

Another complaint against Owens, Crater says, is his 33 percent approval rating by the nonprofit Colorado Union of Taxpayers (CUT), “which is well below the average.”

CUT rates public officials on their tax, spending or government intrusion records. In a 2002 ratings report, however, CUT deemed Owens “an ‘A’ student in a mediocre class” and maintained that he “has ably filled that role” as a fiscal conservative.

Crater disagrees, criticizing the governor for his tax and spending records and his “gun (control) compromises” in the wake of the Columbine tragedy.

“On the social issues, he is essentially absent,” Crater said.

Abortion is another divisive topic that has riled the dander of some state Republican delegates.

“There is a very clear pro-life plank in the party platform,” Crater explained, but “when life legislation is being debated in the legislature, (Owens) and his office are conspicuous in their absence.”

Not all Republicans see eye-to-eye on abortion with Crater and other conservatives. Weil, a pro-choice Republican, says that a Republicans for Choice rally will be held Tuesday in New York during the convention. Weil also will host a similar event in mid-September at his home in Denver.

“The newspapers aren’t necessarily accurate when they portray the Republican Party as being anti-choice,” Weil said, adding that he doesn’t feel the abortion debate “belongs in politics. I think it’s between a woman and … her doctor—what she does with her own body.

“There are plenty of pro-life people in the Democratic Party,” he added, “(but) you never see that publicized.”

Other Colorado Republicans concur with Crater’s sentiments on Owens, abortion and other socially conservative topics. Kendal Unruh, a delegate from Castle Rock and a Crater supporter at the state convention, is one of 16 signers to a July 14 letter sent to Owens that called on the Republican National Committee to “request that either Sen. Rick Santorum or Sen. Sam Brownback be added to the convention lineup in lieu of one of the currently-scheduled speakers.”

Santorum of Pennsylvania and Brownback of Kansas are known to be more socially conservative than those who will dominate the primetime airwaves at the upcoming Republican gathering.

Though Santorum, Brownback, Frist, North Carolina Sen. Elizabeth Dole, Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert, Maryland Lt. Gov. Michael Steele and a handful of others have been added as speakers in non-primetime spots, the issue raised by the dissenting Colorado faction “was who was speaking in primetime,” Crater said.

“There’s only two reliable social conservatives, and one is not even a Republican!” Crater exclaimed, referring to President and Republican nominee George W. Bush and Democratic Sen. Zell Miller of Georgia.

Crater added that he’s stricken the vice president from that diminutive list of conservatives because of Dick Cheney’s public announcement Tuesday that he does not oppose legal homosexual unions. Cheney’s daughter Mary, a resident of Conifer, Colo., is a lesbian.

The signers of the July 14 Colorado letter also took specific issue with the “well-publicized support” by the speakers chosen for primetime convention slots “for homosexual marriage and other special treatment for homosexuals.”

They reminded Owens and the Republican platform committee that President Bush “public supports” an amendment that would limit legal marriages to those unions between a man and a woman. The recent Federal Marriage Amendment, sponsored by Colorado legislators Sen. Wayne Allard and Rep. Marilyn Musgrave, failed this legislative session in the U.S. Senate.

“This constitution of the speaker’s platform by the RNC not only creates a conflict with President Bush … but a much more widespread conflict with the national party base on one of the most salient issues of our generation,” the letter stated.

“The primetime speakers are sort of the face the party presents to the nation,” Crater explained, calling the current lineup of Republican moderates both “significant” and “disconcerting.”

And the Democrats couldn’t agree more.

GOP squabble echoes national trend

This intra-party disagreement between moderate and conservative Republicans, said Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe during a conference call Thursday, is more than just a Colorado phenomenon. It’s also being played out at the national level—something that he and a Democratic response team based out of New York will highlight during their opposing party’s convention.

“I have referred to the Republican convention as a masquerade ball,” McAuliffe said regarding the primetime speaker lineup of moderate Republicans that includes Arizona Sen. John McCain, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani. “It’s a charade. … They’re pushing moderates out on stage to mask … (the fact that) George Bush has governed as a right-wing, ultraconservative.”

McAuliffe and Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack will lead the Democratic response next week that will feature Kerry-bent speakers, including New York Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Chuck Schumer, Ohio Rep. Stephanie Tubbs Jones and Texas Rep. Ciro Rodriguez. Lambasting the president’s May photo-op when he landed on deck of the U.S.S. Lincoln under a banner that read “Mission Accomplished,” the Democrats’ theme, McAuliffe said, will be “Mission Not Accomplished.”

“As George Bush heads to New York to brag to America, we doubt that he’ll use that sign again,” McAuliffe added. “Every day next week, we will be highlighting that simple truth—that the mission is not accomplished.”

The Republicans waged a similar effort during the Democratic convention in Boston in July. Gov. Owens also was front-and-center during this Republican Party response, along with Giuliani and Republican Party Chairman Ed Gillespie.

With Owens in such a national spotlight, other delegates from the Colorado Republican Party have issued a letter of their own, attempting to assuage the in-house discord among Colorado’s moderates and conservatives.

Though stating there is “plenty of room for healthy debate on the great national issues facing us,” the August letter—signed by a majority of Colorado delegates and alternates—reprimanded the dissenting faction that opposes Owens as delegation chair and the lineup of the convention’s primetime speakers.

“Healthy debate, however,” the letter continues, “does not include negative, personal attacks like those launched recently by a few disgruntled delegates against the co-chairman of our Party’s platform committee, Colorado Governor Bill Owens. The handful of people who attacked Gov. Owens do not speak for us, for conservatives, or for the Republican Party.”

Crater takes issue with the letter calling for party unity. “I disagree with it. A call for unity that ignores the substance of the party platform is an empty abstraction,” he said, believing the “unwritten message” of the letter is to stifle those who are critical of what he says is his party’s growing trend “to become awfully scared of the socially conservative issues.”

Unruh, moreover, point outs that the “people who signed the letter were the alternates and the elected officials and those who are accountable to the elected officials.”

She said in an interview this week that those delegates who opposed Owens’ nomination “were elected by their peers. … We truly are the heart and soul of the party.”

Unruh also promised that these Colorado “grassroots activists … will continue to push that (conservative) agenda forward. … It’s our nature to maintain the integrity of the platform.”

“I don’t agree with the idea that debate means disunity. … Often, debate has a very unifying effect,” Crater stated. “We’re all adults. These are all issues we care about deeply.”

The August unity letter, moreover, Unruh said, is evidence of “the victory that comes from being called disgruntled.”

Mary Smith, a signer of the August unity letter and an alternate delegate from Denver, downplayed the Crater-Owens contention at the Colorado convention. “Honestly, it was not the slugfest that you’ve heard of.”

Weil agrees. “You can’t agree with everything in your party. In the Democratic Party, there are a lot of people who don’t agree with Al Sharpton or Pastor Jackson, but that’s just the way it is.”

Dems, GOP to engage in weeklong point/counterpoint

Immigration is yet another Colorado debate that has reared its head at the national level of the Republican Party.

Since the president unveiled his temporary workers program early this year, U.S. Rep. Tom Tancredo of Colorado’s 6th CD has taken to task Bush’s plan that would offer “legal status … to the millions of undocumented men and women now employed in the United States, and to those in foreign countries who … have been offered employment here,” Bush remarked from the East Room of the White House in January. “The legal status granted by this program will last three years and will be renewable.”

Tancredo deemed the “GOP platform on immigration as weak (and) Clintonesque” in a press release issued Wednesday, calling on the Republican platform committee to add “three common sense amendments” that would: limit treaties with countries that allow illegal workers access to Social Security credits; prohibit persons not legally residing in the United States from holding driver’s licenses; and prevent aliens from gaining legal status “without first returning to their country of origin and applying for admission under current law.”

Much of this intra-party debate will likely not be evident during the Republican convention that is predicted to highlight Bush’s response following the attacks of Sept. 11 and reiterate the 2000 theme of “compassionate conservatism.” But the dissension within the Colorado delegation may very well feed the Democrats’ response efforts next week.

“Obviously, they had tremendous fights inside their platform committee,” said McAuliffe. “We will highlight the differences” next week between Republican moderates and conservatives.

According to McAuliffe and Vilsack, the Democratic response team will speak more to President Bush’s record of job creation and job loss, the rising cost of health care and prescription drugs, the underfunding of the No Child Left Behind Act, the administration’s commitment to the Department of Homeland Security, and the “deficit that continues to balloon.”

“There’s nothing compassionate about (current) deficit levels,” Vilsack said at yesterday’s teleconference.

The Democrats also will likely criticize the Bush-Cheney campaign for its slow response to the ads promulgated by the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth attacking John Kerry’s Vietnam service.

“I know what you have to do when you’re an incumbent,” Vilsack said, explaining that you either have to “talk about the successes of your record or you have to tear the other person down.”

“We want to remind Americans about George Bush’s failed record,” McAuliffe added. “He’s misled us for four years and we’re not going to let him mislead us for four nights next week.”

Rich, L. E. (2004, August 27). Contentions at the convention: Colorado delegates weigh in before Garden event. The Colorado Statesman, pp. 1–2, 7.

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