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COVER STORY | Bob Beauprez: Colo.’s partisan past should bend toward the middle

Author: Joey Bunch - June 26, 2018 - Updated: July 2, 2018

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COALMONT– The high country air chops like the beating of helicopter blades next to Bob Beauprez’s farmhouse in the heart of his 1,300-acre ranch in Colorado’s North Park. He doesn’t notice until a visitor points it out.

“Isn’t that great?” he replied about the sound of wind energy  helping power his family business in Jackson County. Some 350 head of bison lumber about behind the rail fences and graze the high mountain meadows of his sprawling ranch, a scene fit for the cover of a Zane Grey novel.

Former Colorado Republican congressman and gubernatorial candidate Bob Beauprez secures a fence enclosing some of the 350 bison he and his family raise on Eagle’s Wing Ranch, their 1,300-acre bison ranch in Jackson County, Colo., photographed June 15, 2018. (Photo by Andy Colwell for Colorado Politics)

The former two-term congressman and two-time Republican nominee for Colorado governor is a defender of oil and gas, but he knows renewable energy is the future, even if it’s not ripe for the marketplace yet. The solution on energy, in his view, is much like the peace in past partisan battles: It’s found in the middle.

Politically it’s possible, if not admirable, he said, to have a foot in both worlds, Colorado’s past and its future.

“It’s still country up here,” he said of North Park. “If you stay awhile you’ll think you’re in 1918 instead of 2018. Folks are just as real as real gets. What you see with people is what you get. I like that.”

His ranch is a far cry from the gold-domed Capitol in Denver, where Beauprez thought he’d be spending his days. Four years ago, he lost the governor’s race to incumbent John Hickenlooper, a man now being sized up for the White House.

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Since then, the strapping 69-year-old elder statesman of the Colorado GOP  has raised a lot of bison. He had hip replacement surgery, survived rolling his pickup off a mountainside, and added more grandchildren to the Beauprez brood.

A former state Republican Party chairman, he talks more about the middle these days. He worries about the persistent trek to the hard right of his own party.

And he thinks Democrats have gone off the deep end of the left. Bernie Sanders pulled Hillary Clinton that way in 2016, and it helped put Donald Trump in the White House. The Democrats have stayed on that course, Beauprez said.

In Colorado, however, both parties are ignoring unaffiliated voters in the middle, Beauprez told Colorado Politics in an interview as the June primary election entered its final days.

Republican gubernatorial nominee Bob Beauprez embraces former primary foe Tom Tancredo at a stop in Jefferson County on a unity tour on July 2, 2014, during Beauprez’s unsuccessful run for governor. (Colorado Politics file)

“We’re not focusing on them and convincing them that we’re worthy of their respect and consideration,” he said of unaffiliated voters, who can now vote in the primary for the first time. “We focus on eating our own. I don’t get it.”

As four Democrats and four Republicans clash in the primary, it’s not dissimilar to Beauprez’s fight in 2014, when he held off ultra-conservative icon Tom Tancredo, pugnacious then-Secretary of State Scott Gessler and former state Senate Republican leader Mike Kopp. Beauprez became the nominee with just over 30 percent of the votes cast.

Democrats and Republicans in the race have staked out predictable positions on energy issues, one that fires up their base and riles up their opponents.

Beauprez knows energy and politics, and he thinks voters would rather hear about compromises and solutions than hot air and brinksmanship.

All of the above

The ranch life is nothing new to Beauprez. The Colorado native, the grandson of Belgian immigrants, grew up on a dairy farm.

On the maze of narrow roads that lead eventually to the Beauprez spread called Eagle’s Wing Ranch, oil rigs pop up along the landscape framed by distant mountains still snow-capped in mid-June under a great dome of a blue sky.

“The only problem I have with oil wells is I don’t have one,” Beauprez joked, saying he hopes operations are coming his way.

To say Beauprez doesn’t care about the land is akin to saying Santa Claus hates Christmas, from his point of view. But when it comes to energy, he favors “all of the above,” he said. It’s never been cheaper, safer or more rewarding to harvest domestic supplies of oil and gas.

Birds dance in the wind overhead above Bob Beauprez, a former Colorado Republican congressman and gubernatorial candidate, as he checks on some of the 350 bison raised on Eagle’s Wing Ranch, his family’s 1,300-acre ranch in Jackson County, Colo., photographed June 15, 2018. (Photo by Andy Colwell for Colorado Politics)

His love of the West is partly why he’s chairman of The Western Way, a nonprofit that thinks it’s unfair to label conservatives as anti-environment. He’s urging other conservatives to be reasonable to regain a seat at the table on environmental issues, instead of continuing to fight zero-sum battles.

“I think the left has been pretty successful over a generation now of saying conservatives somehow don’t care about the environment, they don’t respect the environment, they want to rape and pillage the land,” Beauprez said. “That’s simply not true.”

He said the extreme edges have dominated the conversation, when cooler heads should compromise in the middle.

“You’ve got one side saying, ‘No, no, no, I’ve always been opposed to renewables, so I have to be opposed to them now,’ and that’s silly,” he said, sizing up the combatants. “And you’ve got the other side saying it’s going to be 100 percent renewables and fossil fuels be damned, no matter what it costs, and that’s absolute insanity.”

Vision for interior

Before President Donald Trump ultimately picked Montana Rep. Ryan Zinke as his secretary of the Interior, Beauprez was  a contender for the appointment. Had he gotten it, his moves wouldn’t be much different from Zinke’s, including reducing the footprint of national monuments in Utah to the potential benefit of drilling and mining.

“He took a lot of flak because of the monuments, but I think it only makes sense for the federal government to take a look at the massive amount of land they’ve got, and do we need it all? Is it properly designated? He took some heat for that, but Zinke’s big enough and tough enough that he can take a little heat,” Beauprez said.

He raised the possibility of land swaps between the state and federal government as a candidate for governor in 2014 and took heavy fire from the left.

“They made it sound like I wanted to give away Rocky Mountain National Park,” he said. “No, I didn’t.”

Former Colorado Republican congressman and gubernatorial candidate Bob Beauprez checks on some of the 350 bison he and his family raise on Eagle’s Wing Ranch, their 1,300-acre bison ranch in Jackson County, Colo., photographed June 15, 2018. Photo by Andy Colwell for Colorado Politics.

Conservation Colorado, the state’s largest environmental organization, said it takes everyone, Republicans and Democrats included, to protect the environment.

“So we’re happy that conservative leaders like Beauprez have seen the light and are speaking out in support of some critical conservation policies,” said spokesman Jace Woodrum. “We agree with Western leaders like Beauprez who believe in a clean energy future, but we cannot support Secretary Zinke’s policies. Public lands should stay in public hands, and Secretary Zinke’s policies have threatened our billion-dollar outdoor recreation economy and our Colorado way of life.”

Beauprez talked with Zinke recently about moving BLM’s headquarters to Colorado. He joined Zinke and Energy Secretary Rick Perry on stage to discuss oil and gas at the Conservative Political Action Conference meeting in Maryland in February.

“It’ll be a long-term process,” Beauprez said. “It’ll be a convoluted process. Anytime you try to do anything, the federal government puts a big dollar-sign tag next to it, and a lot of important people’s lives are invested in it being back there. I think it’ll take a very long time to do that.”

Veteran of politics

Beauprez has a hard-earned perspective on electoral politics across this state. He ran twice for Congress in a swing district and won. He ran twice for governor and lost. He knows the tolls that political battles take and the rifts left by partisan politics.

He would tell candidates that in their passion to win the primary, they have to keep in mind the allies they’ll need to win the general election.

Once the primary votes are counted, “You reach out to your opponents immediately and you do that personally. That’s not a staff call,” he said. “You’ve got to say how much you appreciated the opportunity to compete with them, but now you’re on the same team. And you say, ‘I’m going to have a very difficult road from here to the general election, and I need your help, if you would be so gracious as to help me.’ You have to be sincere about that.”

After clinching the nomination four years ago, Beauprez put on an eight-story unity tour across the state with his former opponents immediately after the primary.

His campaign manager, Dustin Olson, said it took a lot of courage for Beauprez to run again in 2014 after he lost by 15 percentage points to Democrat Bill Ritter in the governor’s race in 2006.

Beauprez could have faded away, like so many losing politicians do. He started the ranch — which is owned equally by his entire family in a trust — and wrote a book, “A Return to Values: A Conservative Looks at His Party.”

Instead, he had a stronger second act in 2014. He lost to Hickenlooper, a popular incumbent, by less than 3 percent without much financial help from the Republican Governors Association or other wealthy outside donors, nothing like those candidates are receiving this year.

Bison are pictured out to pasture on June 15, 2018 at Eagle’s Wing Ranch in Jackson County, Colo., the 1,300-acre enclave operated by Bob Beauprez, a former Colorado Republican Congress gubernatorial candidate. Photo by Andy Colwell for the Gazette

“When we found out late that night that it was Boulder and Denver that had to come in, we knew what was going to happen,” Beauprez recalled. “But we thought we made a pretty good run. We had a very popular governor, and we didn’t have the resources that these guys are going to have this trip.”

Ols0n said he was struck by the political veteran’s determination and passion. He remembered how at peace Beauprez seemed on the ranch, but how he would tear up talking about the future he wanted to leave his family.

“Whoever wins the primary should learn from Bob’s example — that regardless of what you’ve done in the past, the past doesn’t exist,” Olson said,  “Your job is to go out there everyday and prove yourself newly … to the grassroots, donors, the press and most importantly the voters.”

Tangling with Republicans

Two years ago, the Beauprez-led Colorado Pioneer Action nonprofit worked against Republican legislative candidates to elect others they thought were better representatives of the GOP brand. One of the candidates it opposed was Gordon Klingenschmitt, the then-state representative from Colorado Springs who constantly courted controversy over his strident religious views on homosexuality and abortion. Klingenschmitt gave up his House seat to run for the state Senate in 2016, losing in the primary to Bob Gardner.

“We’ve had several of them,” Beauprez said of Republicans he couldn’t support. “They’re not about good government. They embarrass the party, and politics in general. They don’t do the cause any good. And yet they’re typically in these brutally safe districts. Then you get what you get.”

Last year, Colorado Pioneer Action was  fined $17,735 by an administrative law judge for failing to register as a political committee.

In an interview with Colorado Politics, Klingenschmitt called Beauprez a “RINO” — Republican in name only.

“He has not changed in 30 years,” he said of Beauprez’s interest in the middle. “When he was in Congress, he voted like a RINO. He’s just showing his true colors today; the mask is off. He’s never been perceived by grassroots conservative as a principled leader. He’s always been a compromiser with Democrats and liberals.”

Beauprez also cited Dudley Brown, the leader of Rocky Mountain Gun Owners, as another conservative who has too much influence over Republican candidates and office-holders to the detriment of reason and compromise.

Former Colorado Republican Congressman and gubernatorial candidate Bob Beauprez and his wife Claudia Beauprez pose for a June 15, 2018 portrait on their family’s 1,300-acre ranch in Jackson County, Colo. Photo by Andy Colwell for Colorado Politics

“The kind of Republican Party Bob Beauprez wants to build … is essentially the Democratic right,” responded Brown. “And that doesn’t excite the base.”

Brown continued, “Unfortunately there are people like me who like to remind people what leftist scum he is.”

Beauprez didn’t think Rep. Cole Wist and District Attorney George Brauchler, rising star Republicans, should have been excoriated in April by other conservatives for offering up a “red flag” bill to temporarily remove guns from people law enforcement think could be a danger. Most statehouse Republicans opposed the measure, which was blocked.

“There has to be a mental health aspect to this gun discussion, and that’s all Cole and George were trying to say,” Beauprez said. “If the bill wasn’t perfect, then fix it. But it shouldn’t have happened the way it did. There has to be some room for dissent and discussion.

“Both parties have lost that. Reagan said, ‘Give me somebody I agree with 80 percent of the time and that’s a friend and an ally, not a traitor.’ That was Reagan.”

If the old cowboy misses the political rodeo, Beauprez only has to look around at his spread, at his four adult children and the herd of children who will inherit his land someday, to find his peaceful center.

“I would love to have been governor,” he said. “I really would have loved that. But I should be so fortunate. The last guy in the world to ever feel sorry for is Bob Beauprez.”

Joey Bunch

Joey Bunch

Joey Bunch is the senior political correspondent for Colorado Politics. He has a 31-year career in journalism, including the last 15 in Colorado. He was part of the Denver Post team that won the Pulitzer Prize in 2013 and is a two-time Pulitzer finalist. His resume includes covering high school sports, the environment, the casino industry and civil rights in the South, as well as a short stint at CNN.