Over the past few weeks, a number of Republican candidates have run deceptive advertisements or used sneaky language to paper over their hardline views on reproductive rights. Pols who've done this include Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, Senate hopeful Scott Brown in New Hampshire, and Colorado gubernatorial candidate Bob Beauprez. Now you can add another name to the list of pro-life GOPers who are suddenly talking about choice: Oregon's Dennis Richardson.
Richardson, a Republican state representative running for governor, cut an ad (watch it above) featuring a self-described "pro-choice Democrat" named Michelle Horgan. Speaking directly into the camera, Horgan says: "I trust Dennis. He'll uphold Oregon's laws to protect my right to choose, and he'll work hard for Oregon families."
The language in Richardson's ad—"He'll uphold Oregon's laws to protect my right to choose"—hews closely to the rhetoric used by Walker, Brown, and Beauprez. All of those Republicans have previously sought to restrict women's reproductive rights (Walker supports eliminating all abortions). But during this election season, they have each tried to strike a moderate tone on the issue.
Richardson's ad is particularly brazen given his long record of opposing abortion rights. He wrote a letter to the Oregonianin 1990 saying that "a woman relinquishes her unfettered right to control her own body when her actions cause the conception of a baby." As a state legislator, he sponsored legislation to give unborn fetuses the rights of humans and to require parental notification for abortions. In 2007, he voted against mandating that hospitals offer emergency contraception to women who have been sexually assaulted.
What's more, Richardson has the endorsement and full-throated support of Oregon Right to Life, the state's main anti-abortion-rights group. Oregon Right to Life's PAC has donated $80,000 to Richardson's campaign. (Right to Life's $50,000 check in September remains the fourth-largest cash contribution of Richardson's entire campaign.) In an email blast to its list, the group touted Richardson as "an excellent gubernatorial candidate" who, if elected, would offer the "opportunity to reclaim political ground and hopefully start changing the way Oregon politics treat the abortion issue. We might actually be able to end our 'reign' as the only state in America lacking a single restriction on abortion."
No mistaking that message: In Richardson, the pro-life community sees an opportunity to finally start curbing abortion access in the state of Oregon. But you probably won't see that message in Richardson's campaign ads any time soon.
"It's eerie how much 2014 is like four years ago," says Craig Hughes, a Denver-based political consultant who ran Democrat Michael Bennet's successful 2010 Senate campaign. It's just after 10 a.m., and we're sitting in a coffee shop called Paris on the Platte. Hughes recounts how, back in 2010, all but one of the final 18 public polls conducted before Election Day showed Bennet losing. In recent weeks, Democratic Sen. Mark Udall has trailed Republican Rep. Cory Gardner in 11 of 12 polls. In 2010, pundits said that Bennet's campaign ran too many pro-choice advertisements; political commentators these days deride Udall as "Mark Uterus" because his campaign has relentlessly focused on reproductive rights and women's health. And Udall's campaign is betting, like Bennet's 2010 effort did, on the changing composition of the Colorado electorate. Also, just like four years ago, Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, who is seeking a second term, is facing a strongly conservative challenger, and in the state Legislature, Colorado Democrats are fighting to protect their majorities in both chambers.
So if there are so many parallels, do Democrats in Colorado have reason to believe they can again buck the political tide?
Colorado gun-rights crusader Dudley Brown has a simple political philosophy: "No compromise." He says the NRA is spineless. (An NRA official once tagged him the "Al Sharpton of the gun movement.") He loathes middle-of-the-road politicians. For show, he occasionally drives a Pinzgauer, a bulky Austrian-made troop transport vehicle, which he describes as his "political pain delivery vehicle." His opponents—Democrats and Republicans alike—call him "poison" and a "political terrorist." After Democratic lawmakers in the state passed new gun-control laws in response to the Aurora and Newtown mass shootings, Brown told NPR, "There's a time to hunt deer. And the next election is the time to hunt Democrats." But, as it turns out, Brown's bid for political revenge has upped the odds that Democrats will hold on to power in the state legislature.
Brown—who is widely referred to just as "Dudley"—is the face and voice of the absolutist gun-rights movement, which opposes any and all gun-related restrictions. A frequent guest on Fox News, Brown founded an outfit called Rocky Mountain Gun Owners (RMGO); it's Colorado's more extreme version of the NRA. He also runs a group called the National Association for Gun Rights (NAGR), which butts heads with the NRA and is allied with Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.). Brown's groups have spent millions lobbying state and federal politicians and trying to sway Republican primaries in favor of hard-line pro-gun candidates. As Brown's organizations bolster their membership lists and war chests, they could play a key role in the 2016 Republican presidential primary contest—but perhaps at a price for the party. In Colorado, Brown's take-no-prisoners tactics have splintered the state GOP. And this year, RMGO helped three far-right candidates win Republican state Senate primaries, which has boosted the chances for the Democrats in those races and given the Ds a good shot of retaining control of state Senate.
Born in Wyoming, Brown studied at Colorado State University and chaired the College Republicans of Colorado with the confrontational style that would become his trademark. "The College Republicans were having doughnuts with the College Democrats, even during Reagan's re-election year," Brown told Denver's 5280 magazine. "I didn't want to have doughnuts with them. I wanted to beat them over their heads." After college, he kicked around state politics working for US Sen. Bill Armstrong, the state House's GOP caucus, the Firearms Coalition of Colorado, and the Colorado Conservative Union. In 1996, he struck out on his own and formed Rocky Mountain Gun Owners.
"I didn't want to have doughnuts with them," Brown said of the College Democrats. "I wanted to beat them over their heads."
Those were the halcyon days for Colorado Republicans. They had enjoyed almost uninterrupted majorities in the state House and Senate since the 1970s. After the 1998 elections, the GOP controlled the governorship, the legislature, both US Senate seats, and four of six congressional districts. And it was conservative Republicans who were ascendant in the state. Using RMGO, Brown took aim at GOPers who did not pass his pro-gun ideological test. In one early instance, RMGO attacked a Republican congressional candidate named Don Ament, who for Brown was insufficiently pro-gun, with a mailer showing Ament purportedly leaving a Denver strip club. The mailer declared, "Send Denver Don home to his wife." But the state Republican Party's office was located down the street from the strip club, and the photo of Ament was a set-up. Ament lost in the Republican primary to a far-right challenger.
After the Columbine High School shootings in 1999, Colorado voters approved a ballot measure mandating that buyers at gun shows undergo a background check first. (Columbine killers Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold had obtained their guns illegally from a straw buyer.) Bill Owens, Colorado's newly elected Republican governor, backed the measure, putting him in Brown and RMGO's sights. RMGO badgered Owens at public events, blitzed his office with angry mail, and bird-dogged him at public events. Sean Tonner, Owens' deputy chief of staff, told5280, "All Dudley wanted to do was create controversy. He makes his money when there's turmoil, real or perceived, because that's what gets his members to write him checks."
But Colorado's political landscape has shifted in the past decade. The state has attracted large numbers of young people and Hispanics, turning the state "greener and browner," as local political consultants put it. Colorado progressives organized in the early 2000s and soon took back the legislature and the governorship. Still, gun rights (or gun safety) has remained a contentious issue, essentially a proxy battle in a changing Colorado, pitting new Coloradans against old. And Brown has capitalized on this intense fight to expand RMGO's profile and political clout.
Brown and his allies crafted a mailer showing two men kissing; with some clever editing, they replaced the Manhattan skyline with snowy pine trees reminiscent of Colorado.
Brown's controversial tactics have drawn national attention. In a 2012 GOP primary, conservatives sought to oust state Sen. Jean White, a Republican who had voted twice in favor of civil unions. So Brown and a right-wing group out of Virginia crafted a mailer showing two men kissing with the tagline, "State Senator Jean White's idea of family values?" Here was the rub: The two men in the photo lived in New Jersey, and, through some clever editing, Brown's team had replaced the Manhattan skyline with snowy pine trees reminiscent of Colorado. (The two men sued the conservative group that distributed the mailer; a judge ruled in April that RMGO had a right to use the photo under the First Amendment.) White ended up losing her primary to an RMGO-backed state representative and rancher named Randy Baumgardner.
As Brown stoked his supporters' fears of gun-grabbing Democrats and as RMGO's bank account grew, the group became a potent force in Republican primaries—and a headache to the state GOP. "He's exactly what's wrong with the Republican Party all rolled up into one guy," Sean Duffy, a former spokesman for Bill Owens, told5280. "He'll say or do anything to destroy viable candidates and legislators who agree with him 90 percent of the time, because you’re either 100 percent with him, or you’re 100 percent against him."
The mass shootings in 2012 at an Aurora, Colorado, movie theater and at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, did nothing to slow Brown. In an email blasted out to RMGO supporters, he sent condolences to the families of those affected and then attacked "the Washington, DC, gun control lobby"—calling it "circling vultures"—for "shamelessly using the blood of innocents to advance their anti-gun agenda." When told that Aurora gunman James Holmes had 6,000 rounds with him the night he shot 70 people, killing 12, Brown replied: "I call 6,000 rounds running low." His National Association of Gun Rights spent $6.7 million in 2013 lobbying against new gun-control measures in Congress—nearly twice what the NRA spent on lobbying. NAGR has gone far beyond the NRA in its gun-rights advocacy, fighting reauthorization of the Patriot Act (because it allows "unconstitutional" gun searches) and suing to overturn the ban on firearms in post offices. Sen. Rand Paul, who was endorsed by the NAGR in 2010, has signed fundraising appeals for the group.
When told that the Aurora gunman had 6,000 rounds with him the night he shot 70 people, killing 12, Brown replied: "I call 6,000 rounds running low."
This year, RMGO helped three far-right candidates win Republican primaries in crucial Colorado state Senate races in Jefferson County, west of Denver. These were major victories for the RINO-bashing RMGO. But the result could be good news for the Democrats. Had the more moderate Republicans won those primaries, political handicappers observed, the GOP would have had a good chance of winning those seats in the general election and regaining control of the Senate. (Democrats currently have a one-seat majority in the state's upper chamber.) But with Brown-preferred (and die-hard) candidates on the ballot, Democrats may be able to eke out victories in these critical races. "Dudley Brown could be the Democrats' savior this year," says Laura Chapin, a Democratic consultant based in Denver.
While Brown's brand of take-no-prisoners politics has earned him enemies in both political parties, among his fellow conservatives he's a rock star. Last Wednesday, in a packed hotel ballroom, Brown introduced his old friend David Bossie, who runs the conservative group Citizens United, at the premiere of Bossie's latest propaganda film, Rocky Mountain Heist. The film purports to tell the story of how a secret cabal of liberal donors hijacked Colorado beginning in the 2000s, and warns that this model could turn other states deep blue. Brown stars in the movie.
Afterward, I introduced myself to Brown and asked for an interview. The smile disappeared from his face. "I don't talk to leftists like you," he snarled. "My guys don't read your crap." He brushed past me, yelled "Pravda" over his shoulder, and moved into the crowd.
The 30-second TV spot is stark and brutal. First it shows the bespectacled face of candidate Louis Butler, then a grainy mug shot of an ex-con. "Louis Butler worked to put criminals on the street," the narrator warns, "like Reuben Lee Mitchell, who raped an 11-year-old girl with learning disabilities." After Mitchell's release from prison, the narrator continues, he raped again. "Can Wisconsin families feel safe with Louis Butler?"
This attack ad wasn't from a bitterly fought congressional race. It was from a 2008 campaign for state Supreme Court justice—a position that until recently was considered above the fray of partisan politics. Butler, the first African American Supreme Court justice in Wisconsin history, was defending his seat against a trial court judge whose campaign tactic recalled the GOP's infamous Willie Horton hit job on Michael Dukakis during the 1988 presidential campaign. Long before ascending to his state's highest court, Butler had been assigned as Reuben Lee Mitchell's public defender—he wasn't the judge in the case, as the nasty ad implied.
Butler's opponent, Michael Gableman, had been showered with campaign donations from business leaders, who were keenly aware of Butler's role in two decisions. One was a 4-3 ruling to strike down a $350,000 limit on so-called pain-and-suffering damages in malpractice suits. The other held that if an individual harmed by lead paint exposure couldn't identify the producer, then multiple paint companies could be held liable under a legal theory known as "risk contribution."
While Butler's and Gableman's campaigns spent a combined total of $1.2 million on the race, outside groups aligned with the US Chamber of Commerce and the state's labor unions spent $3.6 million, funding 89 percent of all the TV ads. Butler was the first sitting justice to get booted from the court in 40 years.
By 2011, with Wisconsin reeling from political battles over Gov. Scott Walker's union-busting agenda, the next Supreme Court race was equally ugly. This time it was conservative Justice David Prosser defending his seat; a misleading ad from a partisan group backing his opponent claimed that Prosser, as a district attorney in 1978, had helped cover up sexual abuse of two young boys at the hands of a Catholic priest. (The abuse had only emerged years later; the victims called the ad "offensive, inaccurate, and out of context.")
Although Prosser successfully defended his seat, he says that the election—which saw nearly $5 million in total campaign spending—poisoned relationships on the court. The tension boiled over weeks later, when Prosser and Ann Walsh Bradley, a liberal justice, engaged in an argument that got physical as four of their fellow justices looked on. Bradley claimed Prosser choked her, while Prosser said he raised his hands in self-defense as Bradley charged at him. In police interviews, two conservative justices sided with Prosser, and two liberal justices with Bradley. Investigations by the county sheriff, the local DA, and a special independent prosecutor all cleared Prosser of any wrongdoing, but the controversy still festers. When I spoke with Prosser in September, written in chalk on the sidewalk outside the state Capitol was an invitation to visit him for "free chokes."
"They wanted to make sure we were punished for our decision and that other judges witnessed that," says former Iowa Supreme Court Justice Marsha Ternus.
Bitter, costly judicial elections are by no means unique to Wisconsin. These days, as more candidates for the bench face rough contests—buffeted increasingly by outside money, thanks to the US Supreme Court's 2010 decision in Citizens United—state judges around the country often raise six- and seven-figure sums, mount statewide campaigns, and fend off attack ads from groups that don't disclose their donors. This trend has escalated over the last decade and a half as partisan groups realize that donating to judges can get them more influence, for less money, than bankrolling legislative campaigns. After all, the donors often end up with business before the very judges they are helping elect.
These are also the judges that most citizens who interact with the system have to face. Can Americans still trust in getting their fair day in court?
Court cases that make big news are usually in the federal system, where most judges are appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate. Yet the vast majority of justice is done at the state level, where more than 100 million cases are filed annually (versus about 400,000 in federal courts). The nation's approximately 30,000 state court judges vastly outnumber their federal counterparts, and 85 percent of them will stand in at least one election during their career.
No two states pick their judges exactly the same way. Some hold partisan judicial elections, others have nonpartisan elections, and still others use merit selection—that's when legal experts select a short list of qualified candidates, the governor appoints one to the bench, and that judge later stands in a retention election.
The system has its roots in the Panic of 1837, a mini-depression fueled by rampant cronyism and massive overspending by corrupt governors and legislatures. Partisan elections replaced the tradition of elected officials appointing their friends to the bench, but for decades connections and loyalty still mattered most, with party bosses determining who won. Eventually states embraced nonpartisan elections and merit selection, and for most of the 20th century, judicial elections were a little-noticed corner of American politics.
Still, on occasion a contentious race attracted national attention. In 1977, Rose Bird became the first woman appointed to the California Supreme Court and its first female chief justice. An avowed foe of capital punishment, she voted to vacate all 61 death penalty verdicts that came before her, prompting Republican Gov. George Deukmejian to label her a "soft-on-crime liberal." With Bird up for retention in 1986, oil and agribusiness companies, which generally saw Bird's liberal views as a threat to their interests, poured more than $5.6 million into a campaign that would unseat her. It was an early glimpse of a reliable strategy for big business: Using the soft-on-crime theme to oust judges considered unfriendly to corporations.
Around that time, a political consultant by the name of Karl Rove was plotting his own assault on the Texas Supreme Court. Rove had helped launch the "tort wars" in response to what some Republicans saw as a court system too cozy with trial lawyers and too eager to slam corporations with hefty judgments that Rove had dubbed "junk lawsuits."
Running on the slogan "Clean Slate '88," conservative candidates backed by Rove's operation won five of the six open seats on the Texas Supreme Court. Not long after, Rove teamed up with the Business Council of Alabama to engineer a similar Republican takeover in that state.
Direct spending on supreme court races, 2000-14
Two years later, the US Chamber of Commerce, under the leadership of an aggressive new president named Tom Donohue, picked up on Rove's strategy. Pledging to "play hardball" against "frivolous" lawsuits, the Chamber spent $10 million on judicial races in 2000 alone. It pumped $4.4 million into Ohio's Supreme Court election—the largest expenditure from a single source on a court race in US history. In the following years, the Chamber injected tens of millions into races in Illinois, Michigan, Mississippi, and Wisconsin. Corporate America had grasped the potential to install friendly judges who could crack down on costly class actions and neutralize the efforts of consumer advocates. "We're clearly engaged in hand-to-hand combat," as Donohue put it, "and we've got to step it up if we're going to survive."
Unions spent millions on these races as well—particularly across the Upper Midwest, as labor leaders recognized they could get a great return on investment by backing justices sympathetic to workers' rights. As an official with the Ohio AFL-CIO once said: "We figured out a long time ago that it's easier to elect seven judges than to elect 132 legislators."
A major showdown came in 2004, in West Virginia's Supreme Court election. Don Blankenship, the former CEO of Massey Energy, donated $3 million to Republican candidate Brent Benjamin. Meanwhile, a nonprofit funded primarily by Massey Energy ran TV ads accusing incumbent Justice Warren McGraw of getting a child rapist out of prison and into a job at a high school. After Benjamin won, the investment paid off big time: He later cast the deciding vote to overturn a lower court's $50 million verdict against Massey Energy. Two years later, the US Supreme Court ruled that Benjamin should have recused himself. It overturned the decision and sent the case back to West Virginia. (Massey Energy ultimately prevailed in state court.)
Corporate interests also reaped a huge return on investment in the 2004 Supreme Court election in Illinois. Five years earlier, a jury had handed down a $1.19 billion penalty to the insurance company State Farm for requiring millions of claimants to accept subpar replacement auto parts. State Farm and its employees—working through the US Chamber, the Illinois Republican Party, and an Illinois-based tort reform group—steered $4 million to elect a sympathetic judge named Lloyd Karmeier to the Supreme Court, which was considering State Farm's appeal of the auto parts verdict. Karmeier, his opponent, and various outside groups spent a record $9.3 million on the race. Karmeier, who would later acknowledge that the sum was "obscene," won easily. And the millions State Farm spent were a pittance compared with what it gained: The next year, Karmeier cast the deciding vote to overturn the more than $1 billion verdict against State Farm.
Up to this point, the big spenders were mostly targeting contested judicial elections—ones in which a candidate challenged a sitting justice. Then came the Iowa Supreme Court's 2009 decision in Varnum v. Brien, in which the seven justices unanimously ruled that the state's ban on same-sex marriage violated the state constitution. Social-conservative groups leapt into action, targeting three of the seven justices who were up for retention election—ones where voters only check "yes" or "no." The National Organization for Marriage and its allies spent nearly $1 million and defeated all three. "They wanted to make sure we were punished for our decision and that other judges witnessed that so they wouldn't do it either," former Justice Marsha Ternus told me.
The strategy of turning sleepy retention elections into political showdowns has been spreading. In Florida's 2012 retention elections, the Koch-backed Americans for Prosperity and the Republican Party of Florida spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to unseat three sitting justices. A group called Defend Justice From Politics spent $3.1 million on the justices' behalf, helping them prevail. In Michigan in 2012, two anonymously funded nonprofits, the Judicial Crisis Network and Americans for Job Security, poured $2.1 million into attack ads against five judges on Michigan's 6th Circuit Court, though the judges won out. And earlier this year, Tennessee's lieutenant governor, Ron Ramsey, took it upon himself to spearhead an effort to unseat three sitting state Supreme Court justices—and, along with them, the attorney general, who is appointed by the court. Ramsey's PAC pumped $425,000 into a group running negative ads that blasted the three justices as "liberal on crime" and for "helping advance Obamacare." Funds were also contributed by Americans for Prosperity and the GOP's State Government Leadership Foundation, which said it planned to spend an additional $5 million in 2014 on judicial races in North Carolina, Tennessee, and elsewhere.
Though the three Tennessee justices prevailed in the end, one of them, Connie Clark, told me she's concerned about the precedent set by the fight. "As long as there are no limits on outside money," she says, "then this will become the new normal."
The transformation of judicial campaigns has alarmed another veteran of the court system. "Judicial elections pose a serious threat," former US Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor told Mother Jones. "If judicial decisions are in fact not fair and impartial—or even if they are perceived as being biased—the basis of support for our courts crumbles."
Initially, the 2011-12 election season—the first full cycle since Citizens United—saw a modest dip in overall reported spending on state judicial races, compared to four years earlier. But that is likely because much of the new spending does not have to be disclosed or tracked. This year, for example, Americans for Prosperity-Tennessee announced a "major new effort" to educate the public about the "liberal records" of the three justices—and not a penny of that spending was reported to the state. The outside spending on judicial races that we do know about rose to a record-high $24.9 million—a nearly sevenfold increase since 2000, and now accounting for 40 percent of the total spending on these campaigns.
Direct vs. outside judicial spending (in 2014 dollars)
Recent research suggests this flood of political money could be influencing judges' decisions. Emory University analyzed 2,345 state supreme court decisions from all 50 states between 2010 and 2012 and concluded that the more campaign money justices received from business interests, the more likely they were to vote in favor of businesses appearing before them. (Interestingly, the study found a stronger tie between business donations and Democratic justices' decisions. Republican justices, it speculated, were already more favorably inclined toward business interests, so the campaign money didn't make as much of a difference.) Another analysis, by the left-leaning think tank Center for American Progress, suggested that as more money was spent on soft-on-crime attack ads in campaigns, justices were increasingly siding with the prosecution.
The public may be starting to catch on: A 2013 poll by Justice at Stake, a nonprofit group focused on reforming the system, found that 87 percent of Americans believe that campaign donations could influence court rulings. "You can't expect judges to act like Huey Long on the campaign trail and expect them to be Solomon in the courtroom," says Bert Brandenburg, the group's executive director.
A case pending before the US Supreme Court could inject even more politics into judicial races. In Lanell Williams-Yulee v. the Florida Bar, a county-level judge wants the nation's high court to strike down laws in 30 states blocking judges from personally asking donors for campaign cash. In those states, treasurers and fundraising consultants typically make the ask on behalf of a judicial candidate. Only nine states currently allow judges to solicit donations directly for their campaigns, but in those states, "the road to victory begins with the solicitation of money," Wallace Jefferson, the former chief justice of the Texas Supreme Court, has written. "The 'ask' is undignified, and the 'give' is fairly compelled." For those fighting to insulate judges from electoral politics, the elimination of the fundraising ban would be yet another step in the wrong direction.
Some researchers dispute the notion that rough-and-tumble judicial elections are a problem. One recent Michigan State University study of supreme court races concluded that attack ads did not hurt incumbents in partisan elections. Other studies found that nonpartisan elections are less likely to draw a challenger, are less competitive even when there is a challenger, and attract fewer voters than partisan elections do.
The debate boils down to a fundamental notion: whether the judicial branch of government is unique from the other two and should be insulated from politics. With court integrity hanging in the balance, should judges be chosen the same way we pick presidents and members of Congress?
Randy Shepard, who served as the chief justice of the Indiana Supreme Court for 25 years, retired from the court in 2012 as the longest-serving state chief justice in American history. A lifelong Republican in a red state, Shepard has gone through the merit selection process and run in multiple elections. "What's at stake in these big-money elections is the promise of due process and an impartial court," he told me. "Do I as a citizen walk into that courtroom standing on a relatively level playing field?"
He offered up a hypothetical from a law review article he wrote that, he proudly noted, was cited by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Anthony Kennedy in the Massey Energy case—the one where the high court ruled that a judge who'd received massive campaign contributions connected to a company had to recuse himself from a case involving that company. "Say you're going before a trial judge making a decision about the custody of your grandchildren, and your evil son-in-law or daughter-in-law had made a very large contribution to the judge. How would you feel about that? You wouldn't feel very optimistic, would you?"
In an interview aired Wednesday on Colorado Public Radio, Beauprez, a former congressman, struck a decidedly pro-choice note when asked about abortion and birth control. He said he would not stand in the way of women having access to abortions, nor would he interfere with women choosing what kind of birth control to use. "I respect people's opinion, women's right to that choice," he said. He later added, "I don't want to run somebody else's family and make decisions for their family, their life; I want them to have the opportunity and the freedom to do that themselves."
Here's the full exchange (listen to the audio above):
CPR: On women's reproductive health, as governor would you be committed to your current stated position that while you're personally against abortions, you won't stand in the way of people having access to them or letting women choose their preferred method of birth control?
Bob Beauprez: That's correct. I respect people's opinion, women's right to that choice. I know what the law is. And my job is to enforce the law. The question of birth control has come up and let me be real clear…I think women ought to have the choice of whether to use birth control or not. I think women ought to have the choice of what type of birth control to use. I just don't think taxpayers need to be paying for it.
I respect people's right to choose. I live my life the way I personally choose, but I'm not going to interfere with somebody else's. The job of a governor is less to govern the people, and more to govern the government. I don't want to make somebody else's decision, but I want them to have every opportunity to make their own. I don't want to run somebody else's family and make decisions for their family, their life; I want them to have the opportunity and the freedom to do that themselves. That's the kind of governor I'll be.
Right to that choice…have the choice…right to choose…the way I choose: Beauprez almost sounds like a Planned Parenthood activist. But his legislative record and past statements couldn't be more at odds with his seemingly pro-choice comments.
In 2005, then-Rep. Beauprez cosponsored the Right to Life Act, a measure that guaranteed "equal protection for the right to life of each born and pre-born human person." The bill defined life beginning with "the moment of fertilization," and could severely restrict abortions. In Colorado Right-to-Life's 2006 voter guide, he said he supported a constitutional amendment to "restore full protection to pre-born human beings." That same year, he asserted—incorrectly—that the abortion rate for black women was an "appalling" 70 percent. (The actual rate at the time, according to the Guttmacher Institute, was 49 per 1,000—or 4.9 percent.) And in 2013, in a column on TownHall.com, he urged all Americans to reconcile the "tragedies" of abortions just as they reconciled the mass shootings in Aurora, Colorado, and Newtown, Connecticut.
As a gubernatorial candidate, Beauprez has not wavered from his decidedly anti-abortion position. He continues to say that he opposes all forms of abortion, even in cases of rape and incest unless the mother's life is at risk. He bragged to an interviewer in March about his "100 percent pro-life voting record." He also claims that an IUD is an abortifacient, not contraception. Beauprez has not said how he'd act on these beliefs, though he says he would eliminate all state funding for Planned Parenthood.
But anyone listening to his recent Colorado Public Radio interview might think that Beauprez was a supporter of a woman's right to choose, just as Scott Walker and Scott Brown sought to imply in their own sneaky ads on the issue. Pro-choice women are a key voting bloc that Beauprez needs to win—and he appears willing to distort his record to get their votes.