The Elephants in the Room

This month, as Coloradans select the new governor, the GOP is beginning to assess the spectacularly awful Scott McInnis campaign and ask itself: What happened? And what next?

November 2010

Just when you thought it couldn’t get any more ridiculous—every time it seemed that there was no way the McInnis campaign could do or say anything more stupid—well, the whole thing just got more bananas. For starters: While Democratic candidate Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper made public his tax filings, McInnis, last April, refused to do the same. Since leaving Congress, McInnis had joined the law firm Hogan & Hartson (now Hogan Lovells), a lobbying octopus with its arms in myriad policy issues; his refusal to make his filings public raised suspicions about what, if anything, McInnis was hiding. Then, McInnis campaign spokesman Sean Duffy claimed that his candidate had never served on the board of Republicans for Choice. Except Duffy was wrong. Within days, copies of the group’s masthead were posted online clearly showing McInnis’ name.

In a move hatched, at least in part, to galvanize a right-wing base, McInnis embraced a controversial position on immigration. Known as a moderate conservative on social issues, he became one of the first major GOP politicians nationwide to praise the Arizona law that requires law enforcement officers to stop people they suspect may be in the country illegally. He pledged to push a similar law in Colorado. The strategy flopped. At the GOP state assembly in late May 2010, zealous Republicans at the Budweiser Events Center in Loveland celebrated McInnis’ Republican challenger, Dan Maes, and his speech about the “conservative revolution.” Then those zealous Republicans booed McInnis and voted Maes to victory.

On the campaign trail, McInnis played up the tired political song of I’m-a-little-bit-country-and-the-Democrat-is-all-urban-rock-’n’-roll. “There’s just one candidate who’s not from a metropolitan area,” the Glenwood Springs native told a small-town coffee shop crowd last summer. “And that’s me.” Without acknowledging the existence of Maes, McInnis noted that the unchallenged Democrat, Hickenlooper, grew up in Pennsylvania and now made his home in the state’s biggest city. McInnis mentioned how both he and his wife Lori hail from Colorado pioneer families. “Lori just finished up the branding, and they’re headed up to the high country,” he said. His speechifying was chockablock with rugged Western jargon, down-home contractions, rural pedigree and, of course, the little lady. He talked jobs, jobs, jobs­—his campaign’s theme—and natural resources. That seemed to be where he was really going with the aw-shucks stuff: Those city-slicker Dems don’t understand agriculture or natural resources. “You’ve got to have someone who understands water,” McInnis said. “Hickenlooper understands how to bring it to Denver. You think he gives a hoot about water access out here?”

There it was, that word: water. Right when the media was beginning to buzz about a document McInnis had titled “Musings on Water.” The questions drip-dripped onto the campaign until last July, when it became the tsunami of a plagiarism scandal: In 2005 McInnis landed a fellowship with a foundation run by a Pueblo family, millionaire Republican Dr. Malik Hasan and his wife, Seeme. The Hasans wanted McInnis to leverage his congressional experience into two years of writing and speaking on water issues statewide. The Hasans paid McInnis $300,000. He submitted “Musings on Water,” a 150-page document accompanied by a memo assuring that it was his “original” work. Only it wasn’t his original work. Huge portions of the document were identical to 1984 writings by Colorado Supreme Court Justice Gregory Hobbs. Then the kicker: McInnis claimed an 82-year-old “research assistant” named Rolly Fischer was to blame, prompting a visibly upset Fischer to give KMGH Channel 7’s John Ferrugia an interview. “Rolly, is Scott McInnis lying to us?” Ferrugia asked him. After a long, painful silence, the elderly man replied, “Yes.”