Tea party favorite Tim Leonard brings hard-core conservative history to key Colorado senate race

By David O. Williams
Real AspenAugust 27, 2010

Senate District 16 candidate Tim Leonard, far left, got a big boost at the state assembly from American Constitution Party gubernatorial candidate Tom Tancredo in May.

State Senate District 16 candidate Tim Leonard shocked the mainstream Republican Party and a lot of Democrats when he trounced moderate 5th Judicial District Attorney Mark Hurlbert at the GOP's SD 16 assembly back in May.

Portraying himself as pro-business and anti-big-government, Leonard seemingly rode a tea party wave of disaffection to a 71 to 29 percent victory over Hurlbert, who had the backing of mainstream Republicans like state Sen. Al White and Senate Minority Leader Josh Penry.

A founding member of the American Constitution Party in Colorado who ran for governor on that ticket, Leonard got a boost at the assembly from former Republican U.S. Congressman Tom Tancredo, who's now seeking the governor's office as an ACP candidate.

While Leonard may present himself as a fiscal conservative fed up with runaway government and ballooning taxes, he helped found the ACP in Colorado in the 1990s with other Republicans who were disenchanted with their party's increasingly moderate stance on abortion issues.

“The pre-born child, whose life begins at conception, is from that moment fully a human being created in God's image,” reads the ACP's platform. “The first duty of the law is to prevent the taking of innocent human life. It is, therefore, the duty of all civil governments to secure and safeguard the lives of the pre-born.”

Leonard is a commercial real estate developer who home-schools his six children with his wife, Monica, in their Evergreen home. His campaign did not respond to repeated requests for an interview. His Democratic opponent, former Gilpin County public health nurse and current county commissioner Jeanne Nicholson did agree to an interview with the Colorado Independent.

“The distinction between my opponent and I is our opinions about the role of government,” Nicholson said. “He thinks that government has a role in the bedroom and doesn't have a role in business, and I think exactly the opposite. I am pro choice. A decision about abortion is a decision that an individual woman should make.”

A Democratic stronghold the last several elections, SD 16 includes all or parts of Boulder, Jefferson, Summit, Grand, Gilpin and Clear Creek counties. Made up of the mostly rural portions of Boulder and Jefferson counties, SD 16's most populous area is in Summit County, home to current Sen. Dan Gibbs, D-Silverthorne. Gibbs is stepping down to run unopposed for Summit County commissioner.

Hurlbert, from Breckenridge, was considered a highly electable moderate Republican by most observers, and the district as a whole is considered key to the GOP regaining control of the state Senate.

“I met with [Hurlbert] and I thought he was a really nice guy, and when we got into some of the issues we weren't that far apart,” Nicholson said, adding she's known SD 8 Sen. White for nearly 40 years. “I'm going to govern like Al does — across the aisle. I hope I do it as well as Al does, but he's a good role model.”

Leonard's views on everything from education to health care, Nicholson said, are far too extreme for the district.

“I would encourage and support any legislation which moves us toward the separation of school and state and allows parents their right to privately educate their children,” Leonard said when he unsuccessfully ran for SD 16 as an ACP candidate in 2006.

Nicholson, whose two children in their 40s were both educated in public schools, said government must support a strong public school system.

“Public education is the foundation of a democracy, so I don't think you would ever want government to not have a role in education, and the reason is because a good public education teaches people to think critically and creatively,” Nicholson said. “A lot of private educations are really designed to tell you what to think.”

A former board member of Colorado Right to Life — a key backer of November's personhood initiative — Leonard during his 1998 gubernatorial run said, “As governor, I would not sign any legislation which violates our constitution, violates the rights to life for all unborn persons, or gives special rights to any individuals based upon their homosexual behavior.”

Nicholson rejects the personhood initiative, which would amend the state constitution to define life at the moment of conception: “I'm opposed to that. It's just a backdoor way of controlling women's lives.”

Nicholson also questioned Leonard's “positions on gay and lesbian rights. I suspect that he doesn't think that they should have the same basic rights the rest of us should have, and in my opinion we should all have the same rights. I certainly would be very supportive of changing whatever we need to change to make sure all of us have the same rights.”

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