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Republican Kit Roupe sets grudge match with state Rep. Tony Exum Sr. in House District 17

February 14, 2018 Updated: February 14, 2018 at 7:50 pm
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State Rep. Kit Roupe, a Republican from Colorado House District 17, was meeting and greeting other legislators on her first day in the Colorado General Assembly on Wednesday, January 7, 2015. (The Gazette/Jerilee Bennett)

It'll be round three this fall in Colorado's seesaw House District 17 between state Rep. Tony Exum Sr., the incumbent Democrat, and former state Rep. Kit Roupe, the Republican, who filed Tuesday to run for the seat she won from Exum two elections ago and held for one term until Exum ousted her in the last election.

At the same time, Republican Gordon Klingenschmitt, who represented a neighboring House district for a term, told Colorado Politics he's no longer considering a run for the seat and will support Roupe.

The House District 17 seat has changed hands between the parties every election since 2008, a pattern Roupe hopes continues even as Exum tries to break the spell. They've each run three times for the seat, with Roupe winning once and Exum winning twice. In the likely event Roupe gets the GOP nomination - she's the only announced candidate - this will be the third time they've faced each other on the ballot.

Roupe told Colorado Politics she's launching a campaign because district residents tell her they aren't happy with Exum's performance, feeling he is "listening to a select, elite few people and not the people in the district."

"I decided to run because I do listen and act for the district, not the party or a few confidants," she said. "This district deserves better."

The head of the House Majority Project, the campaign arm of the House Democrats, said Exum is up for a rematch.

"Voters in Colorado Springs saw enough of Kit Roupe during her one term and voted her out of office," Matthew McGovern told Colorado Politics.

"Since then, Rep Exum has passed bills that help keep lead out of the drinking water in Colorado schools, extended child-care tax credits for hardworking Colorado families and helped low-income families literally keep the heat on with an energy-assistance program. Rep. Exum did this all with bipartisan support and will continue to work hard for his district and all middle-class Coloradans."

Pointing to her near-perfect record passing legislation during the single term she served in the Democratic-controlled House, Roupe said her record speaks for itself.

"People are angry about how much goes out in taxes and they rarely see the benefit in their neighborhoods and community. Many have personally experienced regulations that seem to squash their dreams. Many are vulnerable to unchecked criminal activity and want someone to champion them, the victim of the crime," she said.

"I brought jobs to the district while I served, advocated for a real education and the trades, and championed the victims of crime. I will do it again by working with the people in District 17 when I am reelected."

Once a reliably Republican seat, House District 17 started its back-and-forth behavior with the 2008 election when it was an open seat and Democrat Dennis Apuan beat Roupe, the GOP nominee, by just over 500 votes. In the next election, Republican Mark Barker unseated Apuan by a slightly larger margin only to lose it to Exum by around 3,500 votes in 2012. Roupe returned in 2014 and took it back by just under 300 votes, but then Exum reclaimed it in 2016 by around 1,800 votes.

Klingenschmitt, the ultra-conservative televangelist known as "Dr. Chaps," said a month ago he would accept the nomination in District 17 if a viable Republican candidate hadn't emerged by the time precinct caucuses rolled around in early March - precisely because the seat swings so reliably between the parties, so the GOP shouldn't give Exum a pass.

"I had said all along that if Kit Roupe wants to run, that I would support her," he told Colorado Politics. "Not because we agree politically - I'm more conservative, and she's more moderate - but because she is a great fit for House District 17. She has already won that seat; she has beat Tony Exum before. I volunteered for her, I knocked on doors for her, I contributed money to her campaign. When she told me she was going to run this year, I told her I would do the same thing."

Klingenschmitt moved into the district from House District 15 on the east side of town last fall after he gave up that seat to run unsuccessfully for an open state Senate seat.

While he said the House Majority Project was ready to take on Roupe, McGovern said he was disappointed the party wouldn't have Klingenschmitt to run against because no one animates donors in Colorado like the conservative firebrand.

Hearing that Klingenschmitt probably wouldn't be running this fall, McGovern told Colorado Politics with a rueful chuckle, "means a big line item just dropped off my revenue projection."

Klingenschmitt was taking it in stride.

"I'm excited that the Democrats are so afraid of me that they would immediately panic and have their heads explode at the same time," he said. "I'm just sad I won't be able to help them with their fundraising if I'm a non-candidate."

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