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McCain's Strong-Arm Tactics Roil Colorado Politics

I’m the least likely person to be writing an column chastising John McCain. But after leading the GOP to defeat in 2008, McCain seems to think it’s his duty to ignore the voters and anoint winners and losers inside the Republican Party here in Colorado. In fact, he’s trying to set himself up as the “Godfather” of Colorado politics, about which Alex Isenstadt wrote perceptively in Politico.

This is wrong and I don’t mind saying so. I was the Republican chair of a large metro-county party here in Colorado. As a former GOP chair, I’m generally supposed to support the party. John McCain is the titular head of that party. But these are not the only reasons why calling out John McCain will be painful for me. In 2007, when no one was supporting John McCain for president, I was one of his most vocal backers in Colorado, because I believed that his policies on Iraq would give us victory there. An Iraqi victory would, in turn, help the GOP regain its health.

In this, I was largely right. So I feel both qualified and obligated and not a little pained to say this of John McCain, just as Benjamin Franklin observed of one of his contemporaries: In some ways McCain is a good man; in all things he is a brave man; but in some ways and in some things, John McCain is absolutely out of his mind. McCain’s attempt to manipulate Colorado’s elections in 2010 is proof that he’s out of his mind. “Godfather” John McCain almost dealt a fatal blow to the U.S. Senate campaign of GOP candidate Jane Norton.

Last summer McCain and his lobbyist friend Charlie Black bungled the strong-arm tactics they used in a bid to chase Norton’s rivals for the GOP U.S. Senate nomination in Colorado out of the race. The resulting fracas has caused a red-faced Norton campaign to spend months apologizing (and denying complicity) to anyone who would listen. They are apologizing still. Even though I personally think Norton had nothing to do with the strong-arm tactics, even now no one is listening or believing Norton’s protestations of innocence. Team Norton can thank John McCain for that.

That’s in part because Charlie Black is a notorious inside-the-Beltway, D.C. lobbyist who also happens to be Norton’s brother-in-law, as has been detailed by the Denver Post. Black was also the very top strategist for John McCain’s presidential campaign —  the campaign that somehow lost “swing state” Colorado by 8 percentage points to the most inexperienced of all presidential candidates; the campaign that selected Sarah Palin as McCain’s running mate one day, and then stupidly, unbelievably, and tactlessly started attacking her the very next day; the campaign that ran on fiscal responsibility and then stupidly, unbelievably, and actively promoted the largest financial welfare program for Wall Street bankers in the history of our republic.

That campaign now believes that John McCain and his country club buddies should be picking winners and losers in Colorado politics on the basis of whom they like and who is a part of their family, just the same way they picked their Wall Street bailout friends. It’s as if the voters aren’t supposed to have a choice any more. Politicians like John McCain don’t have to read the laws they pass or even have primary elections — the voters are just supposed to take it.

I know and like Jane Norton. I think Jane is a qualified candidate for U.S. Senate. But McCain’s insertion into a Colorado campaign has hurt her ability to win the support of the regular GOP activists here. That hurt will linger for Norton. While competing for Colorado’s presidential electoral votes in 2008, McCain thoughtlessly, foolishly, and smugly opined that he wanted to raid Colorado’s water supply for the benefit of Arizona by forcing the renegotiation of the 77-year-old Colorado River Compact. The compact controls how much water, which starts as snow in the mountains of Colorado, goes to other western states.

And maybe that’s the key to McCain’s behavior. Maybe he wants Colorado’s U.S. Senate seat and the 7th Congressional seat (where he’s also endorsed a candidate) to represent his state’s voters, not Colorado’s. Right now the first 7.5 million acre-feet go to California, Nevada, and McCain’s Arizona. Only then does Colorado get to split the rest with other western states. “Senator McCain’s position on opening up the Colorado River Compact is absolutely wrong and would only happen over my dead body,” then-U.S. Senator from Colorado Ken Salazar told the Pueblo Chieftain at the time. Salazar’s body isn’t dead now, it’s just moved on to the position of secretary of the interior. His replacement in the Seante, Michael Bennet, is almost dead. Recent polls show that Bennet could lose to any Republican if the election were held today.

I wonder how Norton would react to a McCain raid on Colorado’s water. I wonder when someone responsible will ask her how she’ll react.

The Denver Post’s Bob Ewegen  suggested that McCain should be tarred and feathered for wanting to open up renegotiations on the Colorado River Compact. Note to Bob: just bring feathers, because it looks like McCain is content to bring his own tar.