In a time when many politicians are justifiably vilified for allowing ambition to trump integrity, I always viewed state Treasurer Cary Kennedy as a possible exception. While I often disagreed passionately with her policy views, she seemed, well, to put it politely, a bit benign when it came to her tactics.
Maybe she really did believe that higher taxes were good for Colorado's children. I could agree to disagree.
That all changed this week, however, when Kennedy launched an all-out, utterly sleazy attack on her Republican challenger, Walker Stapleton. I get that she's down in the polls and that statistically speaking, she may see going negative as her greatest hope to hold the office.
But a recent commercial implicating Stapleton for criminal activity for which he was never convicted crosses the line. In the scarce days leading up to next week's election, the left-leaning Denver Post editorial page took the time to characterize Kennedy's attack as "a low blow" and "a cheap shot," pointing out that Kennedy deliberately relied on "erroneous online reports" instead of facts so as to raise "unfair suspicions."
Denver's NBC affiliate also analyzed the attack as part of its "Truth Test" series, calling Kennedy's tactics "misleading," saying they included unfounded conclusions not based on fact or evidence.
Why would Miss Congeniality do this? Let's pause for a minute to remember the issues that Kennedy is trying to avoid talking about, and why she is losing in every poll taken to date.
First, she authored the budget-busting state spending mandate known as Amendment 23, a move which has plunged Colorado into fiscal chaos through its failed pledge to improve our state's public schools.
Second, she proudly championed the state's mill levy freeze, hiking our property taxes by nearly $4 billion just when Coloradans can least afford it.
Third and fourth, and honestly too many times to count, she helped Governor Ritter disguise tax hikes as "fee" hikes so voters couldn't have a say in whether we should pay more to government--a questionable move for a leader charged with protecting our voice from other forces in state government.
Finally--and from a long term perspective, potentially the most devastating to Colorado's public employees--she did little more than rearrange deck chairs in the ongoing battle over how to save our Public Employees Retirement Association (PERA) from imploding under the weight of its own multi-billion-dollar unfunded liabilities. She simply couldn't find the courage to take a stand against powerful lobbyists despite evidence of proven alternative fixes.
It wouldn't be fair to blame Kennedy alone for the 100,000 jobs Colorado has lost on her watch. But what is correct is to question why she hasn't had the guts to fight against policies that have driven our state's largest employers elsewhere in search of more favorable business environments.
These are the issues where Stapleton has kept his focus, refraining from personal attacks, and instead offering thoughtful solutions to the problems we face. The distinctions drew few fireworks in debates, and even fewer front page headlines. Certainly, if attention if what Kennedy wanted, she got it.
Kennedy could have chosen a better path. One with integrity. She could have and should have defended all her taxing and spending on their merits. If she believed in the choices she made, she should stand behind them. She could have and should have explained her allegiance to budget busters like Governor Ritter and President Obama. She could have and should have said why she's willing to let PERA get away with accounting fictions that could leave hundreds of thousands of Colorado workers without the retirement safety net they funded for decades.
But she didn't do any of the above. Instead, she waited until the last minute and lashed out with cheap-shot half truths that have nothing to do with the job Colorado taxpayers need their treasurer to do. Shame on Cary Kennedy, now revealed to be just another typical career politician who will do anything to save her job.
I have to admit I was already going to vote for Stapleton (as I've written for this site before, I've long considered him a good friend and an innovative businessman), but it was going to be without at least some minimal regret that I'd be voting against his very nice opponent.
I no longer have any regret. Kennedy made the decision easier for me. And at the end of the day, I will sleep well at night--a luxury she may have just thrown away for herself all in the name of shortsighted political gain.