Ryan Warner, host of Colorado Public Radio affiliate KCFR's Colorado Matters, allowed state Republican Party chairman Dick Wadhams to criticize negative campaigning by Democrats without mentioning Wadhams' well-documented history of using such tactics. Warner also did not challenge Wadhams when he repeated the conservative talking point that the Democratic-led state legislature has had few accomplishments this session.
Appearing on the March 27 broadcast of Colorado Public Radio affiliate KCFR's Colorado Matters, state Republican Party chairman Dick Wadhams condemned negative campaigning by Democrats and falsely claimed that “there's very little to show for this new Democratic majority and this new Democratic governor.” Following a pattern established by other Colorado media outlets, host Ryan Warner failed to mention Wadhams' well-known history of using negative campaign tactics, which Colorado Media Matters has noted repeatedly (here, here, here, here, and here). Furthermore, Warner left unchallenged Wadhams' assertion that the Democratic majority has done little so far; Colorado Media Matters has pointed out several legislative accomplishments on the issues of education, alternative energy, and health care by the Democratic-led Assembly during the 2007 session.
During the show -- which also featured Colorado Democratic Party chairwoman Pat Waak -- Wadhams said that “the political process can be rough at times” for candidates because of "[t]he media scrutiny, the attacks by the scurrilous 527 groups out there, especially by the four billionaires on the -- my friends on the Democratic side." Wadhams presumably was referring to Democratic activists and contributors Pat Stryker, Tim Gill, Jared Polis, and Rutt Bridges; only one of them -- Pat Stryker -- is actually a billionaire, according to Forbes magazine. Wadhams continued, "[T]hey need to anticipate their lives will be scrutinized and they could be taken out of context and unfairly attacked. That's one of the realities, unfortunately, that we've seen in the last few elections."
(Colorado Media Matters' financial backers include organizations Gill and Stryker support.)
Later in the broadcast, discussing the financial resources necessary for the 2008 U.S. Senate race in Colorado, Wadhams added that, during the 2002 Senate race between Republican Wayne Allard and Democrat Tom Strickland, “there were literally seven negative ads being run against Wayne Allard at one time by seven different groups. So we've seen it in Colorado before, we'll see it again.”
Despite Wadhams' apparent disdain for negative campaigning on the Colorado Matters broadcast, a September 2006 profile in The Washington Monthly detailed instances in which Wadhams has “taken ... low blows to new heights, combining blistering verbal assaults, nasty wedge issues, and general loud-mouthing in an astonishingly effective manner,” as Colorado Media Matters has noted. A 2005 profile of Wadhams in the online magazine Slate similarly reported on the negative tactics he used in the Allard/Strickland Senate races:
When Wadhams worked for Allard in 1996 and 2002, his two-time opponent Democrat Tom Strickland was widely regarded as the smarter candidate. But Wadhams successfully cast Strickland as an untrustworthy “lawyer-lobbyist” and Allard as a likable, low-key country vet. When it turned out Strickland had made a tidy profit from the IPO [initial public (stock) offering] of Global Crossing -- a company that figured prominently in the corporate scandals of 2002 -- Wadhams was well-positioned to pounce. Strickland was “up to his mustache in corporate scandal,” he proclaimed, and “probably the dirtiest candidate in America.”
Wadhams also attempted to portray the Democratic-led Colorado Assembly as a do-nothing legislature, repeating the conservative talking point that “there's very little to show for this new Democratic majority” :
WADHAMS: I think we're already seeing the differences between the two parties. They're running the show now at the state Capitol. They have the governor's office and the state legislature. We're about two-thirds of the way through the session and, essentially, other than some renewable fuel programs that passed early in the session, there's very little to show for this new Democratic majority and this new Democratic governor.
But, as Colorado Media Matters has noted, the Democratic-led Colorado House and Senate have already made significant strides in addressing the bipartisan priority issues of health care, renewable energy, and education. Aside from accomplishments on the issue of renewable energy, the 2007 legislative session has also accomplished the following in education and health care:
- Gov. Bill Ritter (D) signed Senate Bill 1, establishing a program allowing the state to buy discounted generic prescription drugs and sell them to lower-income and uninsured Coloradans.
- The Senate passed Senate Bill 97, which divides a $34 million tobacco settlement between the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center and “rural health care, mental-health and drug-and-alcohol counseling for inmates, and immunization programs.”
- Ritter signed into law on February 6 the bipartisan House Bill 1048, “creat[ing] a more sophisticated way to show achievement than the current snapshot of scores on statewide assessment tests.”
- Sen. Ron Tupa (D-Boulder) introduced Senate Bill 53, which “sets a commission to create smooth transitions from preschool up to college.”
- The bipartisan House Bill 1256, which “would allow in-state tuition at Colorado colleges for those who move to the state because of an economic-development initiative,” passed the House on February 28.
In addition, the state legislature recently introduced its fiscal year 2008 budget. According to an Associated Press news brief that appeared on The Denver Post's website on March 26, the proposed budget “includes an increase of $185 million for public education, $52 million for health care, $52 million for higher education and $51 million for prisons.”
Near the end of the broadcast, Wadhams took a dig at the state Democratic Party by stating that “just about at the time a party thinks it's got things on a roll and cannot lose, the voters have a way of rising up and smiting that party.” He concluded by saying, “So I enjoy the overconfidence and cockiness I see from my Democratic friends, because that's the time that voters rise up and smite people who do that.”
From the March 27 broadcast of KCFR's Colorado Matters:
WARNER: Dick, sometimes candidates face nasty campaigns, personal scrutiny. Do you ever have to do arm-twisting to convince good candidates who may have that record of community service to run?
WADHAMS: Arm-twisting might be too strong of a term --
WADHAMS: -- because I don't believe that you should try to force somebody to run who -- whose heart isn't in it. But what you do do is -- is to tell them that the political process can be rough at times. The media scrutiny, the attacks by the scurrilous 527 groups out there, especially by the four billionaires on the -- my friends on the Democratic side.
WADHAMS: And so we -- they need to anticipate their lives will be scrutinized and they could be taken out of context and unfairly attacked. That's one of the realities, unfortunately, that we've seen in the last few elections.
WARNER: Dick Wadhams, how do you think Republicans can gain some of the ground they lost in the state legislature in the last election?
WADHAMS: Couple ways. First of all, I -- we hope to win seats in this cycle. I don't know that we can win either house back in this cycle, but we're going to gain seats in both houses, I believe. I think we're already seeing the differences between the two parties. They're running the show now at the state Capitol. They have the governor's office and the state legislature. We're about two-thirds of the way through the session and, essentially, other than some renewable fuel programs that passed early in the session, there's very little to show for this new Democratic majority and this new Democratic governor. So it's an interesting thing to watch.
WARNER: Pat Waak, your take on the same question. What issues do you think Democrats will focus on to retain control of the House and Senate?
WAAK: I think that, by and large, what the Democrats are focusing on are what they've been asked to do by their constituents. I mean, nobody's up there firing out crazy bills because they have some particular thing they like. In fact, there is -- the polling shows that there's real support for all of these things: the prescription drug executive order that the governor did was something that was really -- if you go out and poll people, they're very concerned about health care because it's one of the biggest things that comes out of their pocketbook. The second biggest cost to them is gasoline. And so these renewable energy bills are really important.
WARNER: Is a lot of that money [for the 2008 U.S. Senate race] going to come from outside the state?
WAAK: I mean, I certainly think that there will be -- just based on past races in the state in the last few election cycles -- we'll see money coming in from the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee and the DNC [Democratic National Committee], but a lot of it's going to be raised also in the state.
WADHAMS: It'll be raised, a lot of it, in the state, but I would remind you that at one time, in the 2002 Allard/Strickland race, there were literally seven negative ads being run against Wayne Allard at one time by seven different groups. So we've seen it in Colorado before, we'll see it again.
WARNER: Fair enough.
WARNER: Final question for both of you. Do the gains the Democrats have made in the state legislature, with the governor's seat, the congressional delegation, necessarily signal that there is a change coming in how Colorado votes for the president? It's traditionally been a state that goes Republican. Can we look at any of those other factors and say, “Here's what's going to happen in the presidential race?”
WADHAMS: The great thing about Colorado politics is that it is constantly competitive, just constantly dynamic, and is always changing. And just about at the time a party thinks it's got things on a roll and cannot lose, the voters have a way of rising up and smiting that party. So I enjoy the overconfidence and cockiness I see from my Democratic friends, because that's the time that voters rise up and smite people who do that.
WARNER: But shouldn't they draw some confidence? I mean --
WADHAMS: I hope they do. If you look at these -- what's up next year, there's no doubt in my mind we will gain seats in the state legislature, we will win this U.S. Senate seat, and we're going to carry this state for our presidential nominee over Barack [Obama], Hillary [Clinton], or John [Edwards].