Summit County: No clear leader in controversial race for Senate District 16 seat |

Summit County: No clear leader in controversial race for Senate District 16 seat

summit daily news
Special to the DailyTim Leonard

The race for state Senate District 16 seat that has Democrat and current Gilpin County Commissioner Jeanne Nicholson pitted against American Constitution Party leader turned GOP hopeful Tim Leonard is still anybody’s game.

Though Democrats have held the District 16 seat for the last several terms, a prevailing anti-Democratic and anti-incumbent sentiment among voters could swing the election in favor of Leonard, who has never held elected office.

No poll stats on the race are available.

Nicholson said although she represents “the values of the majority of the people who live in the district,” she still expects the election to be close. Leonard said he feels confident.

Leonard ran as an independent for governor in 1998 and for the Senate District 16 seat as an American Constitution Party candidate in 2006, landing 2 percent of the vote. In 2007, he registered with the Republican Party and, with the endorsement of gubernatorial candidate Tom Tancredo in hand, beat Fifth Judicial District Attorney Mark Hurlbert in the August primaries with 71 percent of the vote.

“Nobody gets elected unless they’re in the major party,” Leonard said when asked about his switch to the GOP. “In the United States we have a two-party system. The Republican Party has overwhelmingly given me their recommendation.”

Nicholson, a former nurse who will term out as Gilpin County commissioner this year, ran for House District 62 as a Democrat in 2000. She bills herself as a centrist and a mountain local who understands the High-Country lifestyle.

“(My priorities are) getting people back to work, improving the economy and looking for the best way we can put together a health care plan for Colorado based on the challenges that are being handed down to us because of the health care reform bills,” Nicholson said.

Former Central City Mayor Ron Slinger, who also served briefly with Nicholson as a Gilpin County commissioner, said that while she was firm in her positions she was well-liked by constituents and was able reach across the aisle when necessary. Slinger said Nicholson did “butt heads” with the casinos on certain issues, but recognized the gaming industry’s importance to the county’s economy.

Leonard, a commercial real-estate developer and proponent of limited government, touts his business background and strong fiscally conservative leanings, saying government spending is the issue that will be first with voters this year.

“My No. 1 goal is to bring business expertise into the state Legislature to be able to deal with cuts across the board in order for us to be able to balance our budget,” Leonard said.

But critics say Leonard has brought a hard-core conservatism and ACP values with him to the Republican ticket.

“I would argue that folks in Senate District 16 don’t share those values,” said Sen. Dan Gibbs, who endorsed Nicholson for the seat he’s vacating, “I just think this Constitution Party is extreme and I know that he’s not running in that party right now, but I would ask him (if) his views changed.”

The American Constitution Party, a conservative Christian party based in Arvada, has endorsed controversial tax-cutting initiatives Amendments 60 and 61 and Proposition 101 as well as anti-abortion Amendment 62.

A former board member of Colorado Right to Life, Leonard has stayed on the far right of issues like abortion and gay marriage.

Leonard also took a conservative stance on education.

“More money does not equal better education,” Leonard said. He advocated alternatives to public education, such as charter schools and home schooling and said parents need to take greater responsibility for their children’s education. Leonard’s own six children are home-schooled.

But Republicans in Summit County have embraced Leonard as one of their own. Summit County GOP reps said Leonard’s business expertise makes him a strong candidate for the party.

“He’ll bring a fresh perspective, being involved in business and real estate, that we need right now,” said Lisa Knobel, vice chair of the Summit County Republicans.

Summit County, the most densely populated area of District 16 – which also includes Gilpin, Clear Creek and Grand counties as well as rural parts of Jefferson and Boulder counties – tends to vote Democrat.

In fundraising efforts, Leonard so far has managed to edge Nicholson out, posting $115,000 in campaign contributions over Nicholson’s $98,000 on the most recent campaign finance report. Leonard, who accepted some small donations from political-action committees, has attacked Nicholson in campaign materials for taking special interest hand outs. Nicholson’s biggest contributors are the Colorado Trial Lawyers Association and The Colorado American Federation of Labor.

Neither candidate received significant contributions from Summit County residents.

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