Character assassination in Glenwood Springs?
Glenwood Springs CO, Colorado
GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colorado ” Republican Garfield County Commissioner John Martin said Glenwood Springs Mayor Bruce Christensen and other area mayors have engaged in negative campaigning and character assassination over outside political spending that is beyond Martin’s control.
But Christensen, registered unaffiliated, said he and other mayors weren’t targeting anyone and were only speaking out against outside funds spent on ads and mailings containing “nasty, negative, untrue statements.” The mayors also said some of the groups providing funding failed to properly register or disclose the sources of the money.
Christensen said he’s voted for Martin in the past. But this year he has been a vocal supporter of Democratic Garfield County commissioner candidates Stephen Bershenyi and Steve Carter. Bershenyi is battling Martin, a three-term incumbent, and Carter is campaigning against Republican candidate Mike Samson. Despite his political activity this year, Christensen said he has no intention of ever running for the county commission.
As of last Friday, five groups outside the county spent $45,700 in about two months to influence voters in this year’s two county commission races. About $31,500 went to pay for ads supporting the Republican candidates or targeting the Democratic ones, while about $14,200 went to ads supporting Democrats or targeting Republicans. Most of the money benefiting Democratic candidates came from an environmental advocacy group, while a $20,000 donation meant to benefit the Republican candidates came from a drilling company executive for Antero Resources Corp.
Christensen’s voice has recently been heard in a 40-second automated call to area residents endorsing Carter and Bershenyi.
“Hi, this is Bruce Christensen, first let me say that I dislike automated calls as much as you probably do, but I would really appreciate 20 seconds of your time for a very important issue,” the automated call says. “As you know, tens of thousands of dollars of outside funding are currently being spent in an attempt to influence our Garfield County commission election. This is happening at a time that we desperately need county commissioners whose number one commitment is to the citizens of our county.
Please join me in voting for Steve Carter and Steven Bershenyi, both of whom I trust to put the needs of the people of Garfield County ahead of special interests.”
Carbondale Mayor Michael Hassig and New Castle Mayor Frank Breslin, both Democrats, also reportedly helped out the Democratic candidates’ campaigns with automated calls.
Christensen spoke at a press conference Tuesday in which he, Hassig, Breslin and Rifle Mayor Keith Lambert denounced outside oil and gas money spent trying to influence the local commissioner race. The mayors said some of the groups spending money on ads and political mailings benefiting Republican county commissioner candidates have failed to properly register or disclose their funding sources.
Christensen said lesser amounts of outside money spent for the benefit of Democrats came mostly from an environmental group, which was following the rules and has the public good as its priority rather than private profit.
A question of endorsing
In response to questions about the automated calls and the press conference, Martin said a mayor can’t separate being mayor from his individual life. He said the mayors are perceived as representing a city and shouldn’t contribute to campaigns then go out and hold a press conference and make paid automated calls without forming a political action committee.
“I don’t go out and endorse people,” Martin said. “I don’t think it’s proper.”
This same group of Garfield County mayors also banded together in 2006 in support of Democrats running for county offices.
Martin sees it as a double standard since the mayors criticized outside groups for failing to properly register. Those groups were spending to benefit Martin and Samson without their consent or knowledge.
“If they feel that everyone else should register they should follow their own advice,” Martin said.
Martin’s wife, Nancy, said the false attacks go both ways. She received a call Thursday from a group called Colorado Rural Voters. Once she said she would vote for Martin and Samson, she said the person calling from a blocked number asked “Are you aware they would let people be living and working on your land without your permission?”
She said the caller claimed to live in Colorado but wouldn’t say where and then hung up on her as she tried to find out specifically where they called from.
John Martin said none of his ads contain anything negative at all but Christensen’s automated call is aimed directly at him and refers to untrustworthiness.
“I don’t believe in negative comments,” Martin said. “As grandma said, ‘If you have nothing nice to say, then keep your mouth shut.’ And that’s what I’m doing. It’s not only low but it’s a personal attack, and I take it personally as well.”
Christensen said he takes care not to attach his title as mayor to anything he does outside of city business and the automated calls did not say anything negative about Martin or anyone else.
He said the Bershenyi and Carter campaigns split the cost of the automated calls and asked the mayors to participate in order to counteract the influence of the outside spending on negative attacks on their campaigns. He said being an elected official doesn’t mean a person has to give up freedom of speech.
“If things are happening that I’m seeing as extremely offensive, potentially harmful to government, I think I have an obligation to speak out,” he said.
City Council members Shelley Kaup and Kris Chadwick said they support the efforts Christensen and the other mayors have made. Other city councilors said they had no problems or concerns about it. Councilor Dave Merritt, registered as a Republican, said he would prefer not to comment, and Dave Sturges, the only other councilor registered as a Republican, couldn’t be immediately reached. City Council seats are nonpartisan.
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