You know what they say about first impressions. But according to Oliver Cook, state Rep. Larry Liston does not.
Cook is a clean-cut, college-educated, vivacious young man. Wanting to get involved politically before he joins the Navy, he took a position with the politically minded nonprofit Progressive Future, registering voters of all political affiliations. Cook says he was just doing his job outside the Safeway at 2210 N. Wahsatch Ave., on the morning of Sept. 23. That's when he says Liston accosted him "like a rabid dog" and threatened to have him arrested.
Cook says he didn't know who Liston was when the Republican legislator approached the store. So, Cook stopped Liston and asked if he was registered. Liston said he was, then asked Cook whom he was working for. When Cook named Progressive Future, he says Liston came at him aggressively, waved a finger in his face, and spat back, "That sounds like some damned liberal organization to me!"
"The only thing I didn't see was foam or froth coming out of his mouth," Cook recounts.
Cook says Liston then threatened to have him arrested, and ran into the store, flailing his arms in the air, demanding a store manager and shouting, "I am a state legislator!"
A manager did come, and told Liston and Cook that there was no problem with Cook's actions. Liston then did his shopping and, according to Cook, exited the store by a different door, head held high, eyes averted.
A passerby gave Liston's name to Cook. He checked Liston's Web page later that night, recognized him and gave him a call. He says Liston briefly recalled the incident, and then the phone went dead.
Dissatisfied, Cook called El Paso County Clerk and Recorder Bob Balink.
Balink says he's since talked to both Cook and Liston about the incident. The county clerk says he can't know what exactly happened, and therefore can't intervene. But he notes voter registration drives are regulated by the Colorado secretary of state and are very helpful to voters, and that most of the drives do a good job and follow the rules.
"Not knowing what exactly happened, it sounds like it was a bit of a hassle and a bad situation down at the Safeway," Balink says. "It looks like Mr. [Cook] was pretty upset, and perhaps had a right to be upset, if I knew more about it."
Liston did not return phone calls or e-mails seeking comment. The Safeway manager remembered the incident, but said company policy wouldn't allow him to comment on it.
Liston, the House representative for District 16 in north-central Colorado Springs, has served since 2005 and is assigned to the Business Affairs & Labor and Local Government committees. He made headlines earlier in the year when he called young, unwed parents "sluts," a comment for which he later apologized.
Cook, meanwhile, says Liston a guy he had never heard of before this has made an enemy out of him.
"Now I'm really paying close attention to [Liston's] campaign against Richard Flores," Cook says. "Because I'd really like to get involved in this campaign now."
J. Adrian Stanley