Bob Schaffer has a thirst to be ‘where the debate is’ |

Bob Schaffer has a thirst to be ‘where the debate is’

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Special to the DailyFormer Congressman Bob Schaffer spends much of his free time with his family, shown here. Back row: Emily, Bob, Maureen; front: Jenny, Mary, Justin and Sarah.

Bob Schaffer is a man who has never had trouble finding his voice.

While serving in Congress from 1997 to 2002, he was a member of the “theme team,” whose job was to speak often about Republican Party values. He threw out one-minute barbs to start the day. He unleashed hourlong monologues while practically alone in the chamber at 11 p.m. He spoke on the floor 424 times in six years.

It wasn’t just that the Fort Collins businessman had words and sounds coming out of his mouth. He had a point of view ” a low-tax, limited-government, conservative voice ” and there was never a question where Bob Schaffer stood.

He referred to Democrats as “liberals” or called their policies “liberal baloney” 96 times in floor debate. Universal health care was “fascism.” A lack of competition for government-owned schools would lead the country in the direction of Russia’s “communist legacy,” he warned.

Both supporters and opponents say Schaffer was not someone who went to the microphone just to hear himself speak ” not in the state Senate, not in Congress, not on the Colorado Board of Education. He doesn’t have a dog in every fight, but when he does, his bark is loud and clear.

The 46-year-old father of five says his motivation is simple: “It’s a desire to be where the debate is.”

That statement, more than any quip or arrow-to-the-heart zinger he’s fired during two decades of public service, explains why Schaffer is clawing to hold one more office: Colorado’s open U.S. Senate seat.

“I think Bob’s running at exactly the right time because I think if there’s anything that people want right now, it’s that they don’t want mellow members of Congress,” said U.S. Rep. Pete Hoekstra, a Michigan Republican whom Schaffer calls his closest friend from his time in Washington, D.C. “When Bob was here, Bob forced Congress to do its work.”

Being vocal and being in the debate are traits that always have defined Schaffer. He was the student government president at Archbishop Moeller High School in Cincinnati. Later, his first job in Colorado was writing speeches for Republicans in the state Senate.

He had that gig for only 1-1/2 years before the Republican senator who represented Fort Collins resigned, leaving a seat the party needed to fill by appointment. Schaffer was 25 and had lived in the state less than two years, but suddenly he was a state senator.

And he was on his way.

In the state Senate, he grew a reputation as a voracious reader who discovered the LexisNexis information system early, printed out magazine articles and passed them out to everyone in his caucus. Schaffer was a “quality speaker,” former Senate President Tom Norton said, but not one who gave his opinion on every two-bit resolution.

Once in Congress, though, speaking his mind became a defined part of Schaffer’s job. As a theme-team member, he sometimes gave five-minute afternoon talks on party positions and, at other times, delivered hour-long lectures at the end of each day aimed mainly at amnesiacs watching C-Span.

But Schaffer’s most pointed words often came in his one- minute morning speeches, delivered as daggers directed at the hearts of Democrats.

He spoke for tax cuts, missile defense and term limits (which he imposed upon himself), and he railed against abortion and bloated budgets. He pushed for school choice and less federal government involvement in education.

During the heat of the Clinton sex scandal, Schaffer told his then- 9-year-old son from the microphone: “Treat women and girls with dignity and respect.”

That style brought him both great praise and loathing.

Former state Sen. MaryAnne Tebedo, a Colorado Springs Republican who sat next to him in the chambers, said Schaffer drew universal respect for the thorough research he put into his bills and speeches. Fellow Colorado Board of Education member Peggy Littleton, a Republican, called him a coalition-builder and a “great listener.”

“He’s really good at pulling out discussion to get other people’s points of view before making a decision,” Littleton said.

But former Sen. Jana Mendez, D-Boulder, remembered the time that Schaffer, upset at a health department display in the Capitol lobby advocating condom usage and safe sex, tore it down because he found it inappropriate for kids. That 1993 incident exemplifies why Mendez said Schaffer could not work with Democrats and even alienated Republicans at times.

“He just really had his ideas, and he wouldn’t let new facts interfere with his ideas,” Mendez said. “We’d all go out and socialize, but never him. He never lunched together with us, never crossed the aisle.”

Such descriptions fall at odds with the picture of Schaffer the husband and father ” a man who his wife, Maureen, said she fell for in high school because he was funny and sincere.

He is a practical joker with his children, ranging from 8 to 21. He develops elaborate and eagerly anticipated treasure hunts on which he sends his youngest daughters and their friends on their birthdays, she said.

Schaffer loves animals and has found excuses to give pets to his kids so they could have more in the house, she said. When he gave his three oldest kids iguanas one year, he built a massive ecosystem with plants and logs and fish and newts in it.

The Senate hopeful is a man of motion and action. He loves hiking. He takes the kids to public ceremonies each Veterans Day. He talks to his children around the dinner table about issues, fostering in them a love of country and of learning, his wife said.

Most of all, Bob Schaffer the family-values conservative, is a true family man, Maureen Schaffer said.

“Most of his free time, he likes to spend with the family,” she said. “He’s great with kids . . . He likes to do things. He doesn’t just want to sit and watch TV.”

Schaffer is the son of a Ukrainian mother who immigrated to the U.S. at age 10 and later met his father. The understanding he’s gained about her family’s struggle to flee communist oppression for freedom has greatly influenced his philosophy, he said.

He now describes himself as a “pro-economic-growth, small-bureaucracy reformer,” a change from his 1996 congressional race when he dubbed himself “the real conservative.”

Some of Schaffer’s critics point to this semantic switch and accuse him of trying to moderate himself and duck what they call his extremism. This is a man, they note, who cast one of just five votes against a $300 million child-abuse prevention program in Congress and one of just three state senators to oppose a protester buffer zone outside abortion clinics.

Schaffer, who was a senior vice president for Denver-based Aspect Energy until he left in January to concentrate on the campaign, concedes that both he and some of his principles have changed and matured over time. Not only would he liked to have addressed some subjects more than he did ” particularly agriculture in the state Senate and foreign affairs in Congress ” but he said he would have used different words than he did at times.

Some people will focus on statements made in debates 10 years ago without looking at the different challenges Schaffer has addressed as a businessman and education board member over the past six years, he said.

“I made a lot of mistakes, learned a lot of lessons the hard way, made a few speeches out there that I wish I could take back and do over again,” he said. “I’m a lifelong learner, and I try to teach that value to my kids.”

But he still believes his campaign will attract all voters in favor of freedom and economic growth. And he still holds onto his five-tiered value system: power of the individual; essentialness of the family; importance of maintaining a refereed private sector; rights that come from God rather than the state; and the belief that weakness threatens freedom.

“For me, there’s one general question I ask on every single political decision I make: Is this leading me in the direction to the country my grandparents came to or is this leading me in the general political direction of the country my grandparents fled?” Schaffer said.

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