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Off to the races

Anyone who's watched 10 minutes of network TV lately knows all too well that it's election season. With its endorsements, the Indy aims to cut through some of the bombast and to provide useful information before ballots arrive in the mail next week.

A couple notes about the process: Due to time and staff constraints, we focused only on Democratic and Republican candidates in contested races. Also, our interviews, which we conducted in person whenever possible, were limited to approximately 30 minutes.

Next week, we'll cover select ballot measures that local voters will be asked to decide, and we'll start printing the "cheat sheet" that will put all our endorsements in one place.

But for now, the candidates.

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U.S. Senate

Mark Udall, D (incumbent), vs. Cory Gardner, R

Udall and Gardner are in a fierce fight not just to represent Colorado, but possibly to determine which party controls the highest lawmaking body in the land.

Senator Udall would like another six years in the Senate. Congressman Gardner would like to move up from the House. Gardner hopes to do that in part by attacking the Affordable Care Act, for which Udall voted.

This is silly. The act has been enacted. Unless and until our mercurial Supreme Court reverses itself, it's time to move on and do the real work of ensuring still better access to health care for all Americans.

Moreover, Gardner's tack is not local, original or especially relevant. It's been a mainstay of the GOP's playbook this campaign season — tie every Democrat to Obamacare and President Obama — and it's become tired and condescending. We are also underwhelmed by Rep. Gardner's dithering on climate change, even as this issue becomes more urgent, and by his checkered history relating to support of personhood initiatives.

The right-wing ideologues and their money are behind Gardner. The left-wing ideologues and their money are behind Udall. Lots of money and little enlightenment — that's irksome, too, but when push comes to shove, we'd rather stay with the horse that frightens Big Oil.

Vote Udall.

U.S. Representative, CD5

Doug Lamborn, R (incumbent), vs. Irv Halter, D

Congressman Doug Lamborn interviewed with us by phone for a possible endorsement, even as his opponent, Irv Halter, was rightly denouncing him for not debating. We appreciated that courtesy, especially since it allowed us to calmly review with him some of his positions, such as his belief, still, that there are times when it may be necessary to shut down the government, even if it penalizes your own, federally dependent district.

Lamborn is a soldier in the House GOP war against what it views as wrongheaded policies, runaway spending and rampant liberalism (and, of course, against President Obama, Obamacare and Democrats). He's been re-elected three times, but he's generated more headlines for incendiary actions and statements than for legislative successes, and he's picked up vociferous critics.

Should he be re-elected again, our wish is that he would engage with them more often — hold more forums that will attract a cross-section of constituents, listen, and keep an open mind.

Irv Halter, a retired Air Force major general who interviewed with us in person, professes the politics of a moderate Republican or conservative Democrat. He's never been elected to office, but he has served on the Regional Business Alliance and worked in the private sector, and says he has ample experience with government and the real-world effects of congressional decisions.

He was spurred to make this run, he explains, two years ago, at a meeting with Lamborn and others who pleaded in vain with the congressman to do something about sequestration — which Halter calls "a dumb way to cut things." Halter vows, if elected, to work with Democrats and Republicans alike. He supports marriage equality and opposes any further federal restrictions on abortion. Unlike Lamborn, he thought "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" was bad policy, and supports allowing gays to serve openly in the military.

Asked if he could think of a form of defense spending he would oppose, Lamborn could not think of any offhand. But Halter, despite being a fiscal conservative, says in the Department of Defense alone wise reductions could save "billions each year."

We also note that Halter says a congressman needs to be "engaged at a local level," and "should know local organizations really well — not just the ones that are friendly to you."

Vote Halter.

Governor

John Hickenlooper, D (incumbent), vs. Bob Beauprez, R

John Hickenlooper is like a Subaru we bought new four years ago. It's got a couple of dings, and we wish some aspects were better designed, but we've never once wished we'd gotten that tricked-out pickup truck instead. Among other accomplishments, Hickenlooper has overseen an economic recovery that is robust compared to those in other states, and has navigated a series of natural disasters with considerable grace.

Bob Beauprez, for all we know, is privately a great guy — but the hell with that. This is the candidate who, in a debate last month, vowed, if elected, to seize all federal lands in Colorado — national parks, forests and other public lands — and sell them. This goes beyond muddleheadedness and into incendiary madness.

Then, in another debate, last week, he said that IUDs are "abortifacients" — in other words, that this common form of birth control, which prevents sperm from fertilizing an egg, causes abortion — and naturally, he's against that.

Watch out for that truck!

Vote Hickenlooper.

Attorney General

Cynthia Coffman, R, vs. Don Quick, D

Cynthia Coffman was unable to schedule a time to interview, which we regret. But helpfully, Coffman, the chief deputy in the attorney general's office, is not coy about her views on her campaign website.

Coffman denounces the Affordable Care Act in a campaign video, which we fear is more red meat and red herring than an important matter for Colorado's top law enforcement official. She makes a point of calling the federal government "intrusive," and she emphasizes her support of the death penalty. She's also supported the actions of her boss, John Suthers, in defending the state's gay marriage ban.

Former Adams County District Attorney Don Quick, who was chief deputy under Ken Salazar when Salazar was Colorado's attorney general, interviewed with us for this endorsement by phone. That conversation happened well before the U.S. Supreme Court's refusal, announced Monday, to hear any cases on same-sex marriage from lower courts — which essentially gave a green light to gay marriage in Colorado and elsewhere.

When asked about the gay marriage ban, Quick said he supports "the right to marry the one you love." Would he have done anything differently, then, than Suthers did?

"Yes," he said, "180 degrees ... In 26 years I've defended many, many laws... However, I also have obligations under the rules that say if I can't make a good-faith argument, then I shouldn't be making that argument in court."

Quick stresses the usefulness of his experience as a prosecutor in this job, for the knowledge of the law it gives him and the history of having made tough decisions. He talks of using the office to do more to protect citizens from fraud and sexual assault. He supports some restrictions on gun ownership, such as those the state has enacted.

We wish this office were not so politicized, but, just as realistically, we wish we had a pet dolphin. So while we don't know whether Quick is less of an ideologue than Coffman, or if his values are just closer to ours, the whole issue is probably beside the point, leaving us with one clear choice.

Vote Quick.

Secretary of State

Wayne Williams, R, vs. Joe Neguse, D

The Colorado secretary of state's principal duty is to oversee elections — to ensure that they're fair, and to facilitate participation. It's exceedingly important.

We were captivated by Joe Neguse when he came to interview. The son of Eritrean immigrants, he impresses not just with the titles he's racked up by age 30 — founder of a get-out-the-vote nonprofit, lawyer, University of Colorado regent — but with his energy. Admirably, he's campaigning to execute, protect and strengthen the electoral reforms already achieved by the state legislature. "Colorado's election laws, the statutes that we have, are a model for the nation," he says.

It's a happy thing for the electorate in this race that you probably couldn't go wrong no matter which man you choose. Neguse's opponent is El Paso County Clerk Wayne Williams. We've been on the receiving end of Williams' office's efficiency and its professionalism, both of which have been impressive.

Unlike Neguse, Williams has experience running elections, including two very challenging ones: the 2012 primary that happened during the Waldo Canyon Fire (and forced his workers to evacuate for their safety), and the John Morse recall election last year. Also, in a measure of his ability to be nonpartisan, Democratic commissioners in Saguache County selected him to run a recall election of their own clerk and recorder.

While we appreciate Neguse's passion, we are reassured by Williams' experience. And we believe it would be Williams' duty to faithfully execute electoral reforms no less than Neguse would — with an eye toward maximizing participation. In fact, our endorsement is conditioned on that.

Vote Williams.

State Treasurer

Walker Stapleton, R (incumbent), vs. Betsy Markey, D

We weren't able to interview Walker Stapleton for our endorsement in this race, which is our burden, not his. However, we also were not even able to locate him by phone in order to invite him to interview, and our email via his campaign website went unanswered, which is odd and a little worrisome given that he's already a public official.

The duties of the treasurer's office entail investing state tax dollars and serving on the board of the Public Employees' Retirement Association. From what we can deduce, Stapleton has had a relatively unremarkable first term, for better or worse.

Betsy Markey, on the other hand, came to see us early in the race, exuding enthusiasm about the office and her candidacy. She brings to the job a varied background in the U.S. Treasury Department and the Department of State, as well as in the private sector, where she founded a successful software company and a Fort Collins ice cream shop. Then she won a seat in Congress, where she served one term before being defeated by Cory Gardner.

The treasurer job, she told us, is a good fit with her background in public finance, and "an opportunity to work outside of the Capitol as well. ... We have 64 dynamic counties, urban and rural, and I think the treasurer needs to work with all 64 county treasurers on economic development issues."

We believe both candidates would be diligent about watching the state's investments, and that both want to strengthen PERA, although their approaches may differ. Markey, however, vows to be more present, visible and accessible. We can believe it.

Vote Markey.

State Senate District 11

Bernie Herpin, R (incumbent), vs. Michael Merrifield, D

Somewhat to our surprise, this has not been an easy decision for us. It begins with the fact that we like and respect Bernie Herpin, who is running for a full term in District 11 after taking the seat in last fall's recall of Democrat John Morse.

He's a principled, industrious, accessible politician, a former Colorado Springs city councilor who seems more concerned with getting things done than getting credit for them. He's an unabashed conservative, but also a fair-minded one.

We note approvingly, for example, that he took up the cause of expanding a "press shield" in state law, because, he says, he realized that if he were going to be strong on the Second Amendment, he ought to be strong on the First, too.

Pressed about why he thinks an absolute right to own guns is important, however, he says simply, "because that's our right." He supported civil unions, but not gay marriage, although he said before Monday's Supreme Court ruling that he would abide by whatever the courts decide.

Asked whether he thinks there should be any local control when it comes to fracking, Herpin begins his answer by saying, "You know, the gas and oil industry provides lots of jobs in this state," and goes on to say, "There are some things that need to be uniform throughout our state. ... If we allow each individual community to decide how to regulate oil and gas, we end up costing our state jobs and tax money, severance money."

Former state representative Michael Merrifield, like Herpin, is an experienced and dedicated politician, a straightforward liberal who is no less principled. When he, like Herpin, came in to interview for our endorsement, we asked him whether he thought the state was too friendly to oil and gas development.

"I feel they get all the support that they need," he said. "They're highly profitable, and a perfect example is Colorado's severance taxes: I think they're far too low, and so that's a giveaway to oil and gas. I would like to see an increase. ... Wyoming's severance tax is twice what ours is and they're rolling in the dough."

Asked about fracking and local control, Merrifield told us, "I firmly believe that local communities ... should have the right to control what happens within their boundaries. This is a heavy industry we're talking about, and why it should be exempt from local control eludes me."

As a former public school teacher, Merrifield emphasizes the need to reduce mandatory testing that has "taken the joy out" of the classroom. He disagrees with Herpin's stance on gun ownership, believing the state legislature has enacted reasonable restrictions. But should he win the seat, and find Herpin's press-shield bill sound, he says, he would carry it. "I wouldn't care that it was Herpin's bill before."

Voters in District 11 are fortunate to have two solid choices in this race. One just aligns a little more closely with our values.

Vote Merrifield.

State House District 14

Dan Nordberg, R (incumbent), vs. Glenn Carlson, D

Dan Nordberg did not respond to our request for an endorsement interview. Still, we can surmise that after one term, he wants to stay in the state House of Representatives in order to continue to fight for lower taxes, less regulation and "the right of law-abiding citizens to own firearms without interference from the government," as he states on his campaign website. There are just a few problems with all this, from our point of view.

We believe one of the principal functions of government is to see that some industries, particularly ones that are potentially dangerous, such as oil and gas, are well-regulated. We also believe some taxing and spending is good, or would be, for, say, needed infrastructure — roads, anyone? — in Rep. Nordberg's district. And we applaud the steps our state legislature has already taken to reasonably interfere with Rep. Nordberg's interpretation of the Second Amendment.

Glenn Carlson, who came to interview for our endorsement, is a newcomer making a valiant run here. An energetic businessman and entrepreneur, he ought to know whether state regulation is burdensome — and he says it isn't. A hunter and gun owner, he thinks the state's gun laws are just fine the way they are. He worries, rightly in our view, that his district and the Springs are overly reliant on federal spending, and believes that we need to diversify our sources of employment. Carlson says he wants to do whatever a state legislator can to encourage the development of more high-tech businesses in this area, and that he has the real-world experience to do it.

Carlson's not programmed. He's clearly thought through these issues for himself. That's what we want to see in government.

Vote Carlson.

State House District 15

Lois Fornander, D, vs. Gordon Klingenschmitt, R

And so we come to Gordon Klingenschmitt, the minister who has said the Affordable Care Act causes cancer, called a 6-year-old transgender child a demon, and most recently said in an email to supporters that Democrats such as Congressman Jared Polis of Boulder, 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."

Lois Fornander is a retired public school teacher who's pro-gun-control, pro-choice, pro-gay-marriage and would support a tax increase to fund schools.

Imagine how difficult this choice was.

Vote Fornander.

State House District 16

Janak Joshi, R (incumbent), vs. Ryan Macoubrie, D

Janak Joshi did not respond to our invitation to interview for this endorsement. A retired physician, Joshi is an ardent conservative who believes traditional family values are under attack and that the role of government should be more limited; he is anti-abortion and opposed to marriage equality.

Ryan Macoubrie, who did interview with us, is a young newcomer to electoral politics, a college graduate and Walgreens photo technician who knows what it's like to be underemployed and struggling. He wants to be a voice for the working class, and to that end he's campaigning on raising the minimum wage. "These are pressing issues for me," he told us. "Can I help the people who are just like me? That's what I want to be my first priority."

He acknowledges that raising the minimum wage could hurt some small businesses, but says, "if we can build better businesses who can afford this and still make a profit, that is better for everyone."

Unlike Joshi, Macoubrie also supports the Affordable Care Act and opposes "personhood."

Vote Macoubrie.

State House District 17

Tony Exum, D (incumbent), vs. Kit Roupe, R

Kit Roupe says that House District 17 needs someone who can get big government out of the way in order to let its residents realize the American Dream. We were disappointed that she didn't respond to our invitation to interview for an endorsement, when we would have asked her to elaborate on that, because we're not convinced that's her district's most pressing need.

A former soldier who owns a pet-sitting business, Roupe ran for this seat once before, in 2008, and lost. She has talked to an Independent reporter for news stories a couple times in recent months, and has said that if she were elected this time, her biggest focus would be helping other small-business owners, which seems like a more noteworthy goal.

Tony Exum, who has served one term and would like another, seems to be an accessible representative. More than that, in the 2013 session he carried and got passed the "Breakfast After the Bell" bill, which provides a morning meal for all students in public schools that serve a high percentage of at-risk kids. He's also worked to get contractors to do more hiring in-state, and to give tax breaks to people who reduce the risk of wildfires reaching their homes, among other concerns.

Asked about his focus on medium-sized problems, the former firefighter replied, "I'm not using this as a platform or a stepping stone. I'm looking for opportunities to help improve the quality of people's lives."

Vote Exum.

State House District 18

Pete Lee, D (incumbent), vs. Michael Schlierf, R

We were fortunate to have interviews in person with both candidates in this race. We found Michael Schlierf, a newcomer to electoral politics who describes himself as libertarian and as "a tree-hugging Republican," engaging. His campaign emphasizes protecting and expanding "personal liberty or sovereignty," however, and there's the rub.

While we have nothing against liberty as we understand it and feel likewise regarding sovereignty, we're not convinced they are the most important issues facing Colorado or District 18. Schlierf, who assured us that he is not an anarchist, accuses Pete Lee of acting as though government can solve problems.

Lee, in his two terms in the legislature, has tried to be a problem-solver. He wants a third term, he says, in large part to continue the work he's done in restorative justice, which entails trying — outside of the criminal justice system — to repair the harm done by some types of criminals to victims and communities. He's gotten three bills passed on this and says there's more to do. "It's significant stuff," he adds, and we agree. We also note that Lee has involved himself in trying to shine a light on the serious problems of the Spring Creek Youth Services Center.

These aren't glamorous endeavors, nor are they hot-button issues that can be easily reduced to slogans — which gives us confidence in Lee's judgment.

When it comes to creating jobs, he's done his part by working to give small businesses more access to capital and to expand the exemption in the state's business personal property tax, and he's tried to create an apprentice program in advanced manufacturing and technology businesses, which he vows to keep doing if re-elected.

Vote Lee.

El Paso County Commission, D1

Darryl Glenn, R (incumbent), vs. Thomas Nieman, D

Although we don't always agree with the positions taken by Darryl Glenn as a county commissioner, he's done the work his job entails. Moreover, the Doherty High School graduate, Air Force Academy alum and lawyer has been responsive both on city council (from 2003 to 2011) and on the county commission.

The same cannot be said for his challenger, whom we could not locate. "No one has heard from Thomas Nieman since he announced his candidacy," Christy Le Lait, the executive director of the El Paso County Democratic Party, told us. "I do not consider him a serious candidate."

Vote Glenn.

El Paso County Commission, D5

Peggy Littleton, R (incumbent), vs. Jariah Walker, D

Foremost we ought to credit Peggy Littleton for fearlessly facing all comers, including our ad hoc editorial board not long after this paper ran a cover story about her affiliations with some fringe sovereignty groups ("Fed up!" July 23). We appreciate her forthrightness. It's her priorities we question, in particular the amount of time lately that she's given to her unfortunately named emergency-preparedness initiative, YOYO (You're On Your Own).

We grant her the best intentions, but there's still a little cognitive dissonance for us in that message coming from our government, at whatever level.

Her opponent, Jariah Walker, a newcomer to electoral politics (whose campaign, by way of disclosure, is being managed by former Independent reporter Chet Hardin), says a commissioner's time could be better spent trying to address crime and the lack of jobs in parts of the district.

Walker, who also came to interview with us for this endorsement, is a partner at Walker Asset Management Realty and emphasizes economic development, including trying to make Colorado Springs Airport more than a joke. He recently marveled at the Salt Lake City public transportation system, he told us, particularly because a conservative electorate agreed to pay for it, and wondered whether something similar could be done here — which in turn could do much for employment, he believes.

A Democrat hasn't been elected to the county commission in decades. But Walker has lined up some impressive endorsements, from developer Chuck Murphy to former City Council president Scott Hente.

This community "is about 10 to 15 years behind where we should be," Walker told us. "It's just gone in a really bad direction."

We agree, and believe this race gives us one way to start turning that around.

Vote Walker.

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