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Regent candidates take off gloves

Eben Harrell
Aspen Times Staff Writer

Political campaigns are often uneventful, even boring, with candidates minding their manners and checking their language.

This is particularly the case in primary elections where same-party candidates often have similar platforms and are unlikely to criticize the beliefs they themselves espouse.

Sometimes, however, politics get personal.

Jim Martin and Wally Stealey, the two Democrats facing off in the Aug. 10 primary for the University of Colorado Board of Regents, agree on many things. But their campaigns are unusual in their passion, heightened rhetoric, and complete absence of hesitation of going on the offensive against the opponent.

Martin doubts Stealey’s credibility so much he has said publicly he will probably endorse the Republican candidate if he loses the primary. Stealey counters that “it’s hard to run [in] a Democratic primary against a Republican.”

Martin, the incumbent, was elected to the Board of Regents six years ago as a Republican but switched his affiliation in 2002 to the Democrats.

The CU Board of Regents consists of nine elected, unpaid officials who oversee the finances and general operations of the four campuses and some 50,000 students that comprise the University of Colorado system. Stealey and Martin are competing for a statewide “at large” seat on the board. The winner will face Republican Steve Bosley in November.

The University has been rocked by scandal recently, with accusations of corruption, cover-ups, and even rape leveled at its football program. The university is also in the middle of a financial crisis, with TABOR (Tax Payers Bill of Rights) now limiting state funding to less than 10 percent of the university’s income.

On both the football scandal and the financial crisis, the two candidates agree ” a complete change in the culture of the athletic department, and great increases in state funding are necessary.

Both say the only way to line up the necessary financial support necessary is to repeal TABOR, the state constitutional amendment that drastically limits all government spending. They also want to revoke the university’s “enterprise” status, a recent decision by the Board of Regents to limit state money to less than 10 percent of the university’s income.

Neither minces words as to who caused the problem in both state finances and the athletic department.

“Imbecilic fanatics from the right have hijacked education,” Stealey says.

“Republicans have been in charge of the university for 20 years and they’ve sold us out. They acted like cheerleaders for the [football program] for too long,” Martin says.

But while Martin and Stealey may agree that a Democrat is needed on the

Republican-controlled board, they are outspoken in their belief that their opponent is the wrong Democrat for the job.

Martin accuses Stealey, a retired state lobbyist who lives in Pueblo, of being an outsider, someone too easily shunned by the Boulder elite.

“I’d never heard of him. No one in Boulder has heard of him,” Martin says. “Reform is a question of convincing people. How he hopes to do that I don’t know.”

Stealey attacks Martin’s credibility in Boulder, accusing him of isolating himself from the other regents.

Stealey counters that his years as a lobbyist has made him crucial contacts in the Legislature, something that will help when it comes to lobbying for more money for higher education.

“I have the ability to build coalitions, even with moderate Republicans. Martin is totally isolated from other regents. No one listens to him,” Stealey said.

Martin concedes that he is isolated from his colleagues (“I’ve been a lone voice crying in the wind,” he says) but argues that his isolation indicates only an attempt by the administration to cover up problems from the public.

“Public business needs to be conducted in public view,” Martin says. “The university believes you should do it behind closed doors with attorneys. I’m only marginalized by people in power who don’t believe in the First Amendment. Ask the students and the faculty who they support, and it’s me.”

As to why he would endorse a Republican if he lost the Democratic primary, Martin argues that for a regent’s election, which does not receive as much attention as other high-profile races, people normally vote by party line. In Republican Colorado, that’s not good news for the Democratic candidate.

“It would be hopeless for Stealey. I’m not even sure I could win. The only hope the Democrats have is if we have a name on the ballot that people recognize and respect, which is me,” Martin says.

“Look at what my opponent has on the ballot: ‘Wally Stealey.’ I mean give me a break. You can’t put ‘Wally’ on the ballot. It should be ‘Walter Stealey.’ How does he expect to win like that?”

Eben Harrell’s e-mail address is eharrell@aspentimes.com


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