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Owen Hill to challenge Doug Lamborn in 5th Congressional District GOP primary

April 2, 2017 Updated: April 3, 2017 at 9:21 am
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Saying frustration with the incumbent has "reached a ... deafening chorus," Republican state Sen. Owen Hill of Colorado Springs said he plans to challenge U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn in the party's primary next year.

"We are not getting the representation we need, we are not getting the leadership we need, and so more and more people are saying we need a different option," Hill said.

Hill, a two-term state senator who ran for the U.S. Senate in 2014 before stepping aside for the eventual winner, Cory Gardner, cited constituents' dissatisfaction with Lamborn's representation in his decision to challenge him in the primary.

"We have a congressman who has been in for a while, and we think the very best form of term limits is when people get together and say, 'It's time for new leadership,'" Hill said.

"We've been hearing from a lot of constituents and the nonprofits that I work with and the businesses around town that they don't feel like their voices are being represented when they have challenges, when government is breathing down their necks, and they need someone to help push back against it - they're not getting that," he continued. "It's time to bring that energy, it's time to bring that representation for our people here in the 5th Congressional District."

A spokesman for the six-term incumbent was nonplussed by Hill's announcement.

"This is a free country and people are welcome to run for any office they wish," Jared Rego said. "Congressman Lamborn trusts the wisdom of the Republican primary voters in the 5th Congressional District. On average, over his time in Congress, they have decided to renominate him with 65 percent of the vote. He looks forward to working hard to earn their votes once again."

Lamborn, 62, has faced a primary opponent every time he's run except once. Last year, he was nearly knocked out by a relatively unknown state legislative aide, who missed keeping Lamborn off the primary ballot by 18 votes at the 5th Congressional District Assembly. Lamborn needed 30 percent to make the ballot and got 35 percent at the assembly, and went on to defeat Calandra Vargas 68 percent to 32 percent in the June primary.

In 2014, retired Gen. Bentley Rayburn made the race close, taking 47 percent of the vote in the primary.

No Democrat has ever been elected since the district was created in 1972, so the winner of the Republican primary is the heavy favorite to win the general election.

Hill pointed to his work this year on expanding access to charter schools as an example of his priorities and principles. The bipartisan bill aims at equitable funding for charter schools. It passed the Senate, but must still be considered by a Democratic-controlled House.

He is also sponsoring a bill this year that would allow and regulate self-driving cars, which lays the groundwork for a future with driverless vehicles. That legislation is awaiting a vote in the House.

Another bill highlighted by Hill this year legalized switchblades, which passed the House and Senate and been signed by the governor.

Hill also sponsored a bill that legalized so-called "ballot selfies." He filed a lawsuit before running the legislation to legalize the practice. The issue hit a tipping point in the November election as voters took photos of their completed ballots and posted those images on social media. Until Hill's bill was signed by the governor March 16, ballot selfies were illegal.

A 35-year-old Colorado Springs resident who moved to the district in 1999 to attend the U.S. Air Force Academy, Hill says he will make military issues a top priority.

After four years at the academy - where he met his wife, Emily, a native of Colorado Springs - Hill was "exiled" to Los Angeles, where he attended the Pardee RAND Graduate School. He earned a doctorate in economics. Hill and his family - the couple has four children - returned in 2006 to Colorado Springs, where the majority of his family lives.

Frustrated by the recent failure of congressional Republicans to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, Hill said, "We've been promising for seven years we're going to do this, and every single time the congressman (Lamborn) has been asked about it, his response is, 'I don't know. I'm waiting for my staff to review it.'"

Hill said his campaign will focus on galvanizing young people and earning the support of voters who are frustrated with national politics and media.

"We're going to do this person-to-person; we're going to do this in people's living rooms, talking with them at coffee shops and local businesses," Hill said.

"We've heard from so many people that the congressman is not present in the community."

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