Colorado: Environment wielded like a hammer in tight Senate race

  • Wayne Allard and his wife, Joan

    Glen Martin/The Denver Post
  • Tom Strickland

    Helen Davis/The Denver Post
 

To hear the candidates tell it, the U.S. Senate race in Colorado is between two guys named "Strickland-the-Lobbyist" and "Allard-Gingrich."

"Allard-Gingrich" votes with the Republican congressional leadership 92 percent of the time, generally to dehydrate rivers, clear-cut forests and sell public lands to private developers. "Strickland-the-Lobbyist" talks pretty green, but has been paid quite well to represent polluters like Louisiana-Pacific, as well as a medical-waste incinerator in Denver and a ski-resort developer intent on destroying wetlands.

Their environmental jabs and punches fill Colorado airwaves as both major parties pour resources into Colorado this year. Colorado is getting all this national attention because the Senate seat is open. Hank Brown, generally a moderate Republican, is stepping down after one term.

Although Colorado can often be as Republican as a country club or a bank's loan committee, Bill Clinton did carry the state in 1992, Democrats have held the governor's seat since 1975, and Colorado voters seem to like to send one from each party to the U.S. Senate, ideological consistency be damned.

During the '80s, for instance, Colorado's senators were liberal Democrat Gary Hart, who got caught cheating on his wife, and conservative Republican Bill Armstrong, who, among other things, tried to ban sales of Playboy on military bases.

This trend has persisted into the 1990s, with Brown replacing Armstrong as the Republican in 1990, and Ben Nighthorse Campbell as the Democrat in 1992, replacing Tim Wirth who replaced Gary Hart in 1986. But then "Benedict Nightmare" Campbell - as some Democrats dubbed him - switched parties in 1995, giving Colorado two Republicans, an unusual state for the state.

Why the propensity for one of each? One theory is that Colorado wants to make sure that both parties have a Coloradan advocating important state issues like grazing subsidies, timber subsidies, mining subsidies, tourism promotion, highway subsidies, bigger Denver airports, water-project subsidies, military-base preservation, etc.

Another theory is that Colorado, with its relatively small population, contains only one person of senatorial caliber in either party. In that respect, things look promising for Tom Strickland, a 43-year-old downtown Denver lawyer making his first run for public office.

Strickland, who earned $555,536 in 1994 as a partner in the Democratic powerhouse law firm of Brownstein Hyatt Farber & Strickland, says his main priority is improving the lot of Colorado's working families.

Although, like Allard, he supports the controversial Animas-La Plata water project near Durango (HCN, 5/27/96), Strickland is campaigning hard on environmental issues. Strickland stresses his volunteer work with the Environmental Defense Fund and his leadership in the 1992 drive to guarantee that state lottery money would go to parks and open space, not prisons. He points to his endorsement by the Sierra Club and the League of Conservation Voters, as contrasted to his opponent's low rankings on environmental scorecards, such as 8 out of a possible 100 from the League of Conservation Voters.

Wayne Allard is a 52-year-old veterinarian from Loveland. His political career began in 1982 in the state Legislature. Along the way he managed Hank Brown's campaigns for representative and then senator. He was elected to Brown's House seat in 1990, and now he's running for Brown's Senate seat.

Earlier this year, Allard came under fire from environmental groups, which ran full-page newspaper ads of rock-strewn dry streambeds, portraying Allard as a heartless fish-killer errand boy for Newt Gingrich.

At issue were several reservoir sites in Roosevelt National Forest, leased by Front Range cities. As the old leases expired, the Forest Service tried to get provisions in the new leases to guarantee that enough water would be released from the reservoirs to maintain minimum stream flows.

"Wayne fought this as a federal intrusion into Colorado water policy," explained his campaign manager, Dick Wadhams. "He wasn't trying to dry up any new streams, but only to preserve the current status." The matter is now under review by a commission which is supposed to make recommendations sometime next year.

Wadhams also said it's unfair to portray Allard as uncaring about environmental issues. He said the congressman has worked to maintain the old Rocky Mountain Arsenal site on the north side of Denver as a wildlife preserve and to prohibit development along North St. Vrain Creek on the east side of Rocky Mountain National Park.

Allard "believes in working on the local level to build support and consensus," Wadhams added, "rather than establishing policy by fiat from Washington."

Aside from the environment, Allard is running the standard Republican campaign - economy in government, balancing the budget, more local control.

The latest polls show them neck and neck as they try to define themselves and each other. As for Colorado's newcomers, they arguably come to the state for its down-home charm - a factor that could favor Allard. If they care about the environment, and do some homework on the issues, it's more likely they'll turn to Strickland.

Ed Quillen writes from Salida, Colorado.

The following sidebar article accompanies this feature story:

- Colorado's status quo holds firm

This article is part of a feature package - about the 1996 election - that includes these other articles:

- Greens prune their message to win the West's voters

- Utah: A liberal wilderness lover may prevail

- Montana: A scrappy Republican tries to cut down a green Democrat

- California: A 28-year-old talks the talk to green voters

- Montana: For veteran Baucus, it seems to be in the bag

- Washington: Greens storm the suburbs

- Arizona: Harvesting a bumper crop of bombast

- Nevada: Who hates nuclear waste most?


High Country News Classifieds
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    The Western Slope Conservation Center in Paonia, CO, seeks a dynamic leader who is mission-driven, hardworking, and a creative problem-solver. WSCC is committed to creating...
  • PLANNED GIVING OFFICER
    National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA), the nation's oldest and largest national parks nonprofit advocacy organization seeks a Planned Giving Officer. Do you find energy in...
  • NORTHERN NEW MEXICO PROJECT MANAGER
    Seeking qualified Northern New Mexico Project Manager to provide expertise, leadership and support to the organization by planning, cultivating, implementing and managing land conservation activities,...
  • REGIONAL TRAIL STEWARDSHIP COORDINATOR
    Are you passionate about connecting people to the outdoors? The Pacific Crest Trail Association (PCTA) is looking for someone with trail maintenance and volunteer engagement...
  • TRAIL CREW MEMBER
    Position Title: Trail Crew Member Position Type: 6 month seasonal position, April 17-October 15, 2023 Location: Field-based; The RFOV office is in Carbondale, CO, and...
  • CEO BUFFALO NATIONS GRASSLANDS ALLIANCE
    Chief Executive Officer, Remote Exempt position for Buffalo Nations Grasslands Alliance is responsible for the planning and organization of BNGA's day-to-day operations
  • IDAHO DIRECTOR - WESTERN WATERSHEDS PROJECT
    Western Watersheds Project seeks an Idaho Director to continue and expand upon WWP's campaign to protect and restore public lands and wildlife in Idaho, with...
  • DIRECTOR OF DEVELOPMENT, NA'AH ILLAHEE FUND
    Na'ah Illahee Fund (NIF) is seeking a highly qualified Development Director to join our team in supporting and furthering our mission. This position will create...
  • DIRECTOR OF OPERATIONS, NA'AH ILLAHEE FUND
    Na'ah Illahee Fund (NIF) is seeking a highly qualified Operations Director to join our team. This position will provide critical organizational and systems support to...
  • DEVELOPMENT DIRECTOR
    Grand Staircase Escalante Partners (GSEP) is seeking a leader to join our dynamic team in the long-term protection of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument (GSENM). We...
  • GRASSLAND RESEARCH COORDINATOR
    The Grassland Research Coordinator is a cooperative position with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that performs and participates in and coordinates data collection for...
  • HYDROELECTRIC PLANT
    1.3 MW FERC licensed hydroelectric station near Taylorsville CA. Property is 184 deeded acres surrounded by National Forrest.
  • "PROFILES IN COURAGE: STANDING AGAINST THE WYOMING WIND"
    13 stories of extraordinary courage including HCN founder Tom Bell, PRBRC director Lynn Dickey, Liz Cheney, People of Heart Mountain, the Wind River Indian Reservation...
  • GRANT WRITER
    JOB DESCRIPTION: This Work involves the responsibility of conducting research in the procurement of Federal, State, County, and private grant funding. Additional responsibilities include identifying...
  • MATADOR RANCH STEWARD
    The Matador Ranch Steward conducts annual stewardship projects at the Matador Ranch Preserve and occasionally supports stewardship projects elsewhere in Montana's Northern Great Plains. The...
  • COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT ASSISTANT
    The Idaho Conservation League is seeking a motivated individual to help build public support for key strategic initiatives in northern Idaho through public outreach and...
  • ASPIRE COLORADO SUSTAINABLE BODY AND HOME CARE PRODUCTS
    Go Bulk! Go Natural! Our products are better for you and better for the environment. Say no to single-use plastic. Made in U.S.A., by a...
  • CANYONLANDS FIELD INSTITUTE
    Field seminars for adults in the natural and human history of the Colorado Plateau, with lodge and base camp options. Small groups, guest experts.
  • CORTEZ COLORADO LOT FOR SALE
    Historic tree-lined Montezuma Ave. Zoned Neighborhood Business. Build your dream house or business right in the heart of town. $74,000. Southwest Realty
  • ATTORNEY AD
    Criminal Defense, Code Enforcement, Water Rights, Mental Health Defense, Resentencing.