Local voters have elected a paranoid delusional to the state Senate, a county commissioner who referenced "normal white Americans" on national TV, and a city councilman whose city-issued computer would eventually be found full of porn. Charlie Duke, Betty Beedy and Charles Wingate, respectively, are just three reasons the Springs has become infamous. But does it want to perpetuate that image?
That's one question asked by El Paso County Democratic Party executive Christy Le Lait in the wake of recent comments by Gordon Klingenschmitt, the Republican candidate in House District 15. Here's another:
"Can you imagine if this guy gets elected?"
It's not hard to imagine. Republicans outnumber Democrats in the district more than 2 to 1.
Klingenschmitt, a 46-year-old retired Navy chaplain, recently drew barbs even from some in his own party for suggesting that Congressman Jared Polis of Boulder wants to behead Christians. But Klingenschmitt has made shocking statements before, even claiming last fall that the Affordable Care Act causes cancer.
And such assertions haven't scared off some influential people. In July, Grow Freedom Grow Prosperity, a Denver-based campaign committee that supports Republicans, gave Klingenschmitt's campaign $200, and Bill Hybl, CEO of El Pomar Foundation, gave $50.
Klingenschmitt's TV show, Pray in Jesus Name Project, was added to the Southern Poverty Law Center's anti-LGBT hate list in March, after Klingenschmitt called a 6-year-old transgender child a demon. Klingenschmitt also dubbed Sen. Al Franken's Student Non-Discrimination Act the "No Child Left Unmolested" bill and said it is "legislating pedophiles to recruit your kids," according to rightwingwatch.org.
More recently, in an email to supporters, Klingenschmitt wrote that "Democrats like Polis," who is gay, "want to bankrupt Christians who refuse to worship and endorse his sodomy. Next he'll join ISIS in beheading Christians, but not just in Syria, right here in America." Days later, he issued a sarcastic video apology.
The incident has prompted some party leaders to try to put him at arm's length. "Gordon does not speak on behalf of the Republican Party, and his comments in no way reflect the views of the Party," state GOP spokesman Owen Loftus said in a statement.
Although El Paso County GOP Chairman Jeff Hays told KOAA that Klingenschmitt is "part of our team," party executive Daniel Cole says via email that "In parts of the KOAA interview that did not air, Chairman Hays indicated, and now wants to emphasize, that he does not condone Gordon Klingenschmitt's comments. Klingenschmitt does not speak for the party or for other candidates, and the party does not speak for him."
Klingenschmitt's District 15 opponent, Democrat Lois Fornander, taught school for 30 years before retiring and now runs a small antiques business. The 66-year-old has been active in party politics at the precinct level for years. She recently called on Klingenschmitt to withdraw from their race, saying he's unfit for office. She says she plans to send a mailer to show the "huge contrast" between "some of his craziest claims" and her stances on issues.
Fornander is pro-gun-control and supports the legislative measures that got state Senate President John Morse, the Democrat from Colorado Springs, recalled last year. She's also pro-choice, pro-gay-marriage and anti-school-voucher, and would support a tax increase to fund schools — all stances that may not resonate positively in a district where, she says, "there are a lot of people who are fundamental Christians and agree with" Klingenschmitt.
The district, which flanks the city's east side and includes Peterson Air Force Base, didn't have a Democrat on the ballot in 2012. In 2010, Democrat Marcus Troy Cimino garnered only 25 percent of the vote.
So far, Klingenschmitt has received about $34,400 in contributions from about 110 people, 75 of whom live in other states; another $7,885 has come from the candidate himself. That's 18 times the amount raised by Fornander, according to campaign finance records.
Asked about his contribution to Klingenschmitt's campaign, Hybl said through a spokesperson that he does not discuss his political decisions. Last week, Hybl co-hosted a campaign fundraiser for Congressman Doug Lamborn, who has appeared on Klingenschmitt's TV show and prayed with him for Israel.
Klingenschmitt declined to be interviewed for this story. In a February interview, he told the Independent he keeps his politics and religion separate. Fornander disputes that, citing his repeated references to religion during his campaign, including a comment that only people who are going to heaven are entitled to equal treatment under the law.
That kind of thing is beyond the pale for retired state Sen. Andy McElhany. "In my opinion, Klingenschmitt has no business in public office," the Republican says, "because he's more than extreme." McElhany added that electing someone like Klingenschmitt doesn't help the region's image.
Which brings us back to Le Lait. "At some point, the people in this county are going to have to ask themselves, 'What do we want?'" she says. "Are we serious about bringing jobs and economic development, or are we OK with being called the capital of crazy?"