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More Bennet and Romanoff (and a little McInnis and Penry)

January 5, 2010

Michael Bennet and Steve Farber at an Allied Jewish Men's Event in Support of Israel During The Gaza War Last Year

Anschutz, Mizel, McInnis and Penry

According to political pundits, Andrew Romanoff’s run to challenge Michael Bennet for the Democratic nomination for the US Senate seat is all but over and that the former Colorado state legislator has given up. True enough Bennett has lined up a great deal of support from monied interests in the state and beyond. He and Steve Farber, a key player in Denver’s Democratic Party, seem to have made their peace. And Bennet’s political support also appears to have crossed party lines.

If Republican billionaire Larry Mizel hasn’t openly endorsed Bennet, he’s come pretty close certainly making it clear that if Bennet won , it would be no skin off of Mizel’s back. But then, Mizel has never been adverse to keeping his fingers in both pies, and distasteful as it might be, supporting Democrats when necessary. 

Larry Mizel and his stable of quarterbacks

Larry Mizel also seems to have a soft spot for football quaterbacks. True, it helps if they can read but if so they can be useful if properly managed.

Mizel recently got John Elway `to star’ in a short video on how to identify terrorists for Mizel’s little counter-insurgency museum in downtown Denver, The CELL, as it is strangely called. Awful place by the way. The Elway script reading project was paid for with a grant from the Department of Homeland Security. It features Elway, himself a rightwing Republican, instructing all who will listen as to the eight signs of identifying terrorists. He reads well.

Penry, Mizel’s apparent choice for the Republican nomination for Colorado governor,  is cut out of a similar – if not yet as high flying – mold and has successfully used his college sports prowess as a springboard for a career in politics. Penry did all the right things to endear himself to Mizel. So in the US Senatorial race, Mizel supports a somewhat liberal democrat, in the Colorado gubernatorial contest, where perhaps is vested interests in real estate are key, he supports a conservative – really too polite a term for the guy – Republican. Classic Larry Mizel. The main elements that Penry would bring to the fore:

  • A lover of unregulated markets and defender of the US war machine second to none, like Elway, Penry also a former football quaterback  and was a stand out at Grand Junction’s Mesa College.
  • a likely supporter of the privatization of the state pension fund PERA
  • he very much liked to strut his militarist credentials when at the state legislature, was willing to grovel for Israel and defend the US war in Iraq  to all who would listen.

In one way or another Penry caught Mizel’s attention,  won his effection and respect which basically translates that Mizel found Penry useful and Penry needed to extend his connections with power beyond Colorado’s oil and gas dominated Western Slope to the Denver metro area if he is to become more than an a-bit-too zealous, small town politican he’s been up until now. Mizel is always in need of of an-a-bit-too zealous small town politican so here we have nothing short of a meeting of mind and spirit, something akin to love at first site, with unending possibilities for both. Keep in mind that few are they, in Colorado or elsewhere who can work politicans, local, state or national with the finesse of Larry Mizel (with a little help from his legal team).


Mizel is always in need of of an-a-bit-too zealous small town politican so here we have nothing short of a meeting of mind and spirit, something akin to love at first site, with unending possibilities for both. Keep in mind that few are they, in Colorado or elsewhere who can work politicans, local, state or national with the finesse of Larry Mizel (with a little help from his legal team).


Larry Mizel Isn’t Always The Fastest Gun In The West

But alas, even Larry Mizel  has competition and is not always the fastest political gun in the west. You know the old story, there is always someone who can out draw the best of them and all that stuff? Mizel, the poor man, has to contend with fellow Republican and even wealthier billionaire Philip Anschutz who has his own pet political projects and had shown a preference for Scott McInnis for governor

When the dust had settled last November, Mizel seems to have lost out to Anschutz in this year’s race for the Republican Party gubenatorial nomination.  There were reports in November that Anschutz personally asked Penry to withdraw from the primaries to avoid a knock down drag out political fight with McInnis that would weaken Republican chances against Bill Ritter, not particularly strong in any case, to win the seat. Whatever the odds, the state republicans think they have more of a chance to win back the governorship than to produce a victory in the US Senate.

An article appearing on the website suggested that with the backing of furniture multimillionaire Jake Jabs and `other principle GOP donors’, Anschutz personally approached Penry and kindly asked him to withdraw his name. Penry, something of a right wing bully was not been able to raise much money outside of his home base around Grand Junction. Seeing the writing on the wall, he stepped aside, if only for the moment. Bottom line – the Republicans avoid a primary contest, unite behind McInnis (more on him later), while the Dems cluster around Bennet or Romanoff in what could be a lively contest.

Colorado Dems, Udall, Bennet and Romanoff

Perhaps Penry was promised future support in exchange for his magnanimous gesture? Colorado Democrats have been known to play similar games, the most recent one (of which I am aware) was the speculation that Mark Udall was pressed in a similar manner to `wait his turn’ and let Ken Salazar run for the US Senate seat (that Salazar, a man whose political career has never been that far from Brownstein and Farber) won.

Udall was a good boy; he did wait his turn; and eventually he did get elected to the US Senate which just shows that it pays the follow the [unspoken] rules. For whatever reason, Andrew Romanoff has decided not to take that route, and for that frankly, I praise him (if only a little). Why shouldn’t he run and give Colorado Dems a bit more of a choice?

To date, the primary contest between Bennet and Romanoff is shaping up to be a rather boring one, classic contest of images – the `hard working politican who is `a good listener’ and `does his homework’ (Bennet) vs. the handsome, young `effective’ former member of the State legislature. Uggg. Yet for all that from where I am sitting, there is only one thing worse than a boring primary and that is not having one. And that is what the `leadership’ in both parties would like to side step, primary battles.

Had Penry and McInnis gone at it, recent history suggest it would have been little more than a contest to prove to the Republican Party base, which one is more neanderthal on foreign policy and opposed to any regulation of this country’s diseased financial sector. To do this in a state whose political center of gravity often veers to the center is a great formula for defeat. Not everyone, not even Republicans have forgotten `The Bush Legacy’. So Anschutz and Mizel could make their peace over McInnis and Penry and move on.

Likewise, in the race for the US Senate, Dems would like to avoid primaries as well, fearing that it will force the candidates a few notches left of center. Besides primaries, like democracy itself, are messy things; they are not impossible, but still a bit more difficult to rig , and worse – have to sit through listening to the issues that concern the party’s base, always dangerous as it just might happen that the party base will stick it to its powerbrokers.  Primaries force candidates to confront each other on issues. They have to make commitments they’d like to forget.

While I have not heard any offers made to Romanoff to drop out, it is not out of the realm of possibility that some future post was suggested in exchange for handing Bennet the keys. Indeed, the culture of political horse-trading that normally goes on here (and of course elsewhere in the US of A) it would be surprising if Romanoff wasn’t offered `something’ in return. But whatever it might have been, it apparently wasn’t enough. Besides, the Dems – or at least what can be called the Democratic Party machine likes primaries as little as do the Republicans. They worry about `party unity’… which is little more than a cover for an attempt to control the party’s base and temper its populist ideals.

Andrew Romanoff will have a hard time winning the nomination and defeating Bennet. Romanoff was already passed over when Governor Ritter appointed Bennet to Ken Salazar’s vacant US Senate seat when the latter was appointed Secretary of the Interior by Barack Obama. Then Romanoff was let hang to dry by Brownstein and Farber as well. He lags far behind in the fund-raising department and has hardly had much of a press campaign. The party’s different power brokers and `principle donors’ to date appear luke-warm.

Andrew Romanoff Embraces Mike Miles Style; but to date, lacks his content…

So is it all over? Not quite.

Romanoff remains popular among the state Democratic Party structure – the county chairs in particular whom he is working hard and among younger voters. And if he has not had much of a media presence of late, perhaps it is because he’s organizing behind the scenes. He’s working the more liberal and left wing of the Democratic Party, most especially on the front range, lining up support – or trying to – from party activists in the peace and environmental movements, more or less following the approach developed by Mike Miles several years ago, when, in 2004, Miles stunned Ken Salazar by winning front line primary ballot status at the state democratic party convention.

Two Mike Miles Supporters in Northwest Denver - Summer 2004

Miles understood the tensions in the Colorado Democratic Party between its more liberal – if not radical – base representing what is still the party’s main constituents – labor, minorities, peace, environmental and civil rights activists – on the one hand and the financial greased power players that have continued to control the party for decades, albeit with minor changes now and then. Miles put forth easily, the most progressive agenda of any mainstream contender in Colorado politics in the past five decades and the in so doing, struck a deep chord.

The Great Divide: Colorado Democratic Party’s Base Vs. Its Power Brokers

There has always been a rather steep divide between the Colorado Democratic Party’s platform, shaped in large measure by its rank and file, quite frankly on most issues almost as progressive as the Greens (really) and the positions followed by its elected officials who have never taken the party platform as more than release of pressure, usually easily ignored once in office (for those who make it). The only thing concrete that came out of the Miles campaign was a change in the state party chair, a shift that turned out to be not particularly significant in the long run, the populist challenge that Miles represented was easily absorbed and coopted.

In any case, the Miles campaign became the blue print for party upstarts to attempt bypassing the power brokers and that is what Romanoff appears to be trying to do. He does have a strategy – it is to mobilize the district party structure, where he has real support, throughout the state but particularly on the front range – Denver, Boulder, Ft. Colllins, perhaps even Pueblo – and through the more grass roots structures mount a serious challenge to Bennet at the state party convention as Miles did to Salazar. He does have at least one experienced Denver Dem, respected within liberal circles, in his corner – Ken Gordon. Perhaps a few others.

Andrew: Where’s The Beef? Is There Any?

Actually, Romanoff’s strategy, is, under the circumstances, his only shot and I am the last to say that it won’t possibly work. There is one minor problem with the approach though – while Romanoff might be adopting Miles’ style, to date he has not come anywhere near Miles’ content. Romanoff seems to be trying to run on his record in the legislature. I doubt he can win on that basis. No, it was not a neo-conservative program, but careful consideration suggests it was centrist at best with some low spots – like his support for partially privatizing the state’s pension fund, PERA – now valued at $30 billion – which the financial sector would like to tear into (and will, if they can get away with it).

On foreign policy issues, Romanoff has positioned himself clearly and openly with the positions of the Democratic Leadership Council – those conservative Dems who support the war on terrorism and whose political positions, when it comes right down to it, are not fundamentally different from those of former President Bush, although the rhetoric might be softer. I am told, that on some visits to the Western Slope he has joined anti-war demonstrators but has been essentially silent on peace issues here in Denver where he has to deal with the more hawkish Democratic Party power brokers. He has yet to separate himself from Bennet on these issues.

And worse, he has had the bad habit of openly – and a bit foolishly, as why should the Colorado state legislature concern itself with such matters – supporting Israel in its wars against Lebanon and the Palestinians. He claims to have been to Israel and Palestine twice in recent years. At whose behest? As if we need ask? He needs to be more consistent – and frankly to educate himself on these issues better. He knows and many of us know just how little he knows about this subject. Perhaps he should give Mike Miles a call?

Where is anything like Miles’ progressive agenda on the financial crisis, on challenging the war on terrorism? Bringing what can only be described as the more rapacious oil and gas interests in the state under control? What alternative program does he offer the labor movement? The Black and Chicano Communities? There are 200,000 Coloradoans – a potentially decisive factor in Colorado politics, if mobilized, in one way or another participating in PERA. What protection is Romanoff offering them?

Another alternative would be a challenge to the left of the Democratic Party that might push both Bennet and Romanoff a few notches away from the center, especially if such a candidate could garner 6-7% of the vote. That is not impossible, far from it, but for the moment, no such challenge appears on the horizon. A pity.





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