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Owens notes that his bill was sponsored on the Senate side by, among others, Meiklejohn, a Goldwater-style Republican who fought the religious-right wing of the party during his twenty years in the legislature.
"Talk to Al Meiklejohn," says Owens. "I'll be interested to see what he says. I served on committee with him and developed a level of respect with Al."
Meiklejohn, who retired from the legislature in 1996, calls Owens a "smart guy" but adds, "He's a very hard-right conservative, and I think he has ties to the religious right. I also think Bill Owens is going to be the nominee of the Republican Party--with all due respect to Tom Norton."
Norton's in a difficult situation. Up to 70 percent of Republicans may be pro-choice, according to party moderates. But because the party machinery is controlled in large part by abortion foes, the pro-choice Norton realized he would have little chance of landing on the August primary ballot if he went through the GOP's caucus system. House Speaker Chuck Berry saw the same writing on the wall when he dropped out of the gubernatorial race last month. Norton's not giving up; he's going the petition route.
It's not as if he's without support. Several hours after Norton's appearance at the Aurora Republican Forum, Colorado Rockies owner Jerry McMorris hosted a fundraiser for him in the luxury suites of Coors Field. Norton, who is quite conservative himself, has the respect of many Republicans, but Owens has already locked up support from such heavy hitters as U.S. Senator Wayne Allard. As one moderate Republican says, "Bill Owens is on a roll."
In Meiklejohn's view, the Democrats will benefit from an Owens candidacy. Lawmaker Mike Feeley and Lieutenant Governor Gail Schoettler are jousting for their party's nomination; Meiklejohn predicts that Feeley will get it. "And I think Mike Feeley will win," he says. "There are a lot of Republicans, in their heart of hearts, who think Owens is too far to the right. Colorado is a center-right state."
Plenty of other moderate Republicans have trepidations about Owens. Veteran party activist Sharon Klusman of Evergreen clashed with the religious-right wing of her party in the early Nineties and was sent packing.
She sees Owens as "borderline" religious right. "I have always believed Bill Owens was decidedly pro-life, but several Republican businessmen have told me he doesn't intend to carry that out," says Klusman. "I'm puzzled by where he stands. He's saying to donors that 'it may look like I'm one of them, but I'm not.' He needs pro-choice Republicans to win the election, but he's better served by the fundamentalists, because they're the center of power in the party. I firmly believe they believe he's one of them."
Pat Miller, a twice-defeated candidate for Congress and a hardworking leader of religious-right Republicans in Arvada, still believes in Owens. But what about the hated bubble bill? "He told me," she says, "that he would take that vote back, and I believe him. I've talked to Bill Owens. I asked him whether he would veto any pro-life legislation coming out of the legislature. He said he wouldn't."
Adds Klusman: "He's polite, deferential, gracious, blah, blah, blah, but he scares me to death. I'd much rather have someone be more up front about what they're thinking."
This is what Bill Owens says when pressed about his ties to the religious right: "I'm not in politics to bring people to Christ. I'm in politics because I think there are certain policy issues which work better than others. Generally speaking, lower taxes help economies. I think, generally speaking, less regulation helps to encourage a society in which people can grow and develop."
Owens accurately points out that liberal politicians do plenty of politicking in liberal churches and insists he's a mainstream Republican.
"I'm from the conservative wing of the party," he says, "and I think it's a mainstream conservatism that's similar to a Wayne Allard, similar to [former U.S. senator] Hank Brown, with one exception--that Brown's pro-choice and I'm pro-life. In 1986 I was a leader in the Wayne Allard campaign. I was the first person to endorse Wayne Allard. Early. If I were part of some religious-right movement, would I have been with Wayne Allard instead of the 30 percent of the party with Bill Eggert and Charlie Duke? When Pat Buchanan was running, I was an early backer of Phil Gramm. I was state chairman for Phil Gramm, the man who Pastor--I'm literally having a blank, the guy in the Springs--Dobson attacked because Gramm said, 'I'm not running for preacher, I'm running for President of the United States.' Remember Jim Roberts [a former religious-right state senator from Loveland]? I was his seat-mate for six years. He supports Terry Walker. In fact, I'm being hammered from my right wing by Walker for not being conservative, for not being pro-life, not being, you know, right-wing enough. If I were this right-wing zealot, I would be supported by the Terry Walkers and the Charlie Dukes of the world.
"I'd describe myself as a mainstream conservative, and I'm proud to have the support of people from the religious right, just like I'm proud to have support of moderates who are not religious. I'm proud to have the support of a lot of members of the Jewish community."