State House District 19 has defined the phrase “cat fight” during the past six months, ever since House Majority Leader Amy Stephens and Rep. Marsha Looper were put into the same district in December.
The pair were at each other’s throats throughout the 2012 legislative session, and they haven’t let up in the past three weeks. Looper, R-Calhan, has been calling Stephens a liberal in disguise, and Stephens, R-Monument, has been responding that Looper is a liar and an opportunist.
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For years, the two were on good terms. They were both elected in 2006, they’ve both supported conservative legislation, and they both back the military, gun rights and conservative social issues.
But not now.
The focus of the race has been the 2011 bipartisan Senate Bill 200, which Stephens co-sponsored with Democrats.
The measure created a health care exchange system for Colorado, which allows businesses to buy into a large pool of health insurance plans on behalf of their employees. The state, which runs the system, picks health care plans, and businesses use it to give their employees more options, instead of just one or two benefit plans.
And though much of the business community loved the bill — including groups such as the Colorado Springs Chamber of Commerce and the National Federation of Independent Business — tea partiers and other conservatives revolted, and dubbed the bill “Amycare.”
Looper has lambasted Stephens over what she calls Amycare, a mockery of what some call “Obamacare,” the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, the national Democratic health care bill. Looper has painted the measure as everything from a government takeover of healthcare to a way for women to get less expensive abortions.
Stephens defended Senate Bill 200 as a preemptive move to protect the state from federal mandates in the healthcare bill.
Stephens has said Looper’s campaign is “a crock.”
“That’s all we’ve ever seen from her — deceive, deceive, deceive,” said Stephens. “A despicable, whispering campaign is something I can’t control.”
Looper did not respond to requests for an interview. She has said in the past that she is “the real conservative.”
One bill that Stephens’ campaign has used against Looper is a seasonal worker pilot program bill that Looper carried with Democratic Senator Abel Tapia in 2008. Looper says the bill was intended to streamline the federal visa program for immigrant workers, but Stephens’ campaign has portrayed it as support for illegal immigration.
Stephens has been endorsed by Attorney General John Suthers, Focus on the Family’s Tom Minnery, El Paso County Commissioner Peggy Littleton, the National Rifle Association, and more.
Looper is backed by former U.S. Rep. Tom Tancredo, former state Sen. Dave Schultheis, the El Paso County Tea Party, Fourth Judicial District Attorney Dan May, and more.