The Republican Party bench is short on known quantities, those will-they-won’t-they candidates people like me size up like horses at the track.
For governor or for going to Washington, the Colorado GOP has Heidi Ganahl, the University of Colorado regent at-large, and District Attorney George Brauchler, who seems barely diminished by his loss in the attorney general’s race two years ago.
The short list got shorter when I had lunch in Golden with former state Rep. Lang Sias.
“Not never, but not now,” he said when I tried to pin him down on whether he’s in or out in 2022.
A no is significant. Sias has been penciled in for just about everything, and if he’s out, the top of the deck shuffles.
The Top Gun pilot and then-state legislator was Walker Stapleton’s running mate for governor in 2018. The pick was roundly applauded.
Sias is a former Democrat who has tangled with the base of his own party, an independence that’s cost him at times when the political winds were against him, yet he makes no apologies for what he believes. Bad-mouthing others isn’t his first language, another admirable rarity these days.
Sias told me he has kids to raise and educate, and his income as a delivery pilot took a beating when he served three sessions in the Legislature, then hit the campaign trail with Stapleton. Family, faith, country and fellow man, those are his priorities, he said. Maybe there will be more time for politics later on.
There’s a thing in Colorado I should mention here. More than other places I’ve been, we’re less forgiving of also-rans. Women usually get one big defeat; men, no more than two before the stink of losing sticks to their shoes.
Sias ran unsuccessfully for Congress in 2010 and for state Senate in 2012 and 2014, so he’s been out there awhile to still seem fresh.
“In that climate,” Sias said of the 2018 loss, with President Donald Trump dominating the discourse, “I don’t think Ronald Reagan would have won that race.” Plus, Reagan would have been 107.
Jared Polis, the tech millionaire turned congressman, dropped in about $22 million of his own money to go with about $8 million from supportive campaigners. Stapleton and Sias came up with about $8 million, counting their super PAC.
To take on the Polis cash machine in two years, Sias joked he’d need a winning Powerball ticket.
“Good for Polis for having that kind of money, and I don’t begrudge him that, at all,” Sias said. “He’s a smart guy, and he spent it smartly.”
Sias contends there’s a lot of talent under the GOP tent, old and new. “Look at Mike Coffman,” he said, pivoting to the new mayor of Aurora who lost his congressional seat in 2018. Coffman proved F. Scott Fitzgerald is wrong; there are second acts in American lives.
As he bowed out, Sias suggested someone to consider.
Sure enough, state Sen. Paul Lundeen of Monument has conservative credentials on parental choice and fiscal responsibility. He’s as likable and reasonable a negotiator as there exists in the Capitol. A former radio newsman, he commands a room with a deep voice and easy cadence.
Lundeen first caught my attention in 2016 when he and now-House Majority Leader Alec Garnett, a highly bona fide Democrat from Denver, crafted a comprehensive student data privacy law to protect information about kids in a rapidly changing online landscape.
Lundeen makes perfect sense. Expect Democrats to tee him up and try to knock him out. He should thank his friend Lang.
State Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg of Sterling is another player who could contend in the eastern plains’ Congressional District 4, if incumbent Ken Buck should move on. House Republican leader Patrick Neville is a serious contender there, as well. State Senate Republican leader Chris Holbert of Parker keeps reassuring me he has no aspirations after he’s termed out of the upper chamber, but it’s hard to imagine that kind of talent out of the game.
I asked Sias several times: What would he run on if he ran for governor or against U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet in 2022? He didn’t like to speculate, but he had some thoughts for his allies in the field.
“I’d tell them to be confident that the pendulum will swing,” Sias said in a followup text exchange a couple of days after lunch, on a flight to Japan. “The Democrats have already overreached. Look at the disconnect between the defeat of big government ballot measures and the election of a far left Legislature that’s pushing policies already rejected by the voters. The voters are going to figure that out.
“Meanwhile, focus on fighting for common-sense solutions to the important problems that families face. Use your heart and your head. Use your heart to remember that you’re dealing with real people with a wide range of challenges. Try to see the world through their eyes. Use your head because resources aren’t infinite. Individuals are way smarter at spending their money than bureaucrats. Government owes taxpayers a return on their investment. The defeat of those big government ballot measures shows that voters don’t think they are getting a very good deal from our politicians and bureaucrats.”