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Most politicians spend their lives trying to get people to know their name. But Jason Bane, the Democratic Party candidate for Jefferson County commissioner against incumbent Republican Kevin McCasky, isn't most politicians.
In late 2004, when he helped launch the ColoradoPols.com website, Bane did so anonymously, and he left his moniker off his many posts there even after July 2005, when the Rocky Mountain News published an article revealing his identity. According to Bane, who's cut way back on his ColoradoPols writing since beginning his campaign, he didn't choose to perform his duties in the shadows "thinking, I wonder if this is going to hurt my chances if I run for office someday. In retrospect, will it? Maybe. But I can't think of anything off the top of my head I wrote that I'd regret." After a pause, he adds, "I'm sure there's something..."
Such concerns aren't commonplace, given that relatively few bloggers have made the transition from online firebrand to political hopeful. Indeed, the most prominent Colorado blogger-turned-candidate other than Bane is Republican Joshua Sharf, who aspires to serve as a state representative in the 6th District. (Sharf authors a blog called "View From a Height" and has contributed to the Denver Post's PoliticsWest.com site, home of the so-called Gang of Four, in addition to co-hosting a KNUS talk show with former state senator John Andrews.) So Bane is moving into relatively new territory, and he's finding it to be an often hostile place, thanks in part to conservative bloggers who accuse him — yes, anonymously — of hiding information about his employment by a prominent international union.
For his part, Bane insists that his past is an open book — one he has no problem letting potential voters peruse. A Jeffco native, he attended the University of Missouri's acclaimed journalism school with the idea of becoming a TV reporter. But he changed his mind following a stint at the NBC station affiliated with the college. "I was doing a live shot from a pumpkin festival," he recalls. "And I thought, what am I doing here?" So he turned to print, writing about sports for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch before relocating to the Denver area and taking a position with Westwind Media, an ahead-of-its-time Internet radio provider that paid for its prescience by going bust. From there, Bane served as a regular stringer for People magazine, penning human-interest stories and the occasional celebrity piece. "Let's just say I know my share about Ben Affleck," he admits, laughing. In the meantime, he got involved in politics, managing Dem Vince Buzek's unsuccessful 2002 campaign to unseat Republican Shawn Mitchell in Colorado House District 33 and playing the same role for Mitch Morrissey, who was elected Denver District Attorney in 2004.
After Morrissey's victory, Bane came up with the idea for ColoradoPols with several associates who've been able to maintain their anonymity; once the Rocky fingered him, he says, "I think they kind of gave up" on unmasking others. Still, the initial dearth of information about the creators paid off in a couple of respects, he believes. The crew wanted ColoradoPols to be bipartisan, unlike most other political sites of the day, and Bane feels the no-names policy helped reduce spin, causing insider scoops to emerge "a little more naturally, a little more truthfully." As a bonus, the mystery created a buzz. "Down at the Capitol, especially in the first few months, everyone was talking about, 'Who's behind it?'" he remembers.
Bane eventually stretched beyond ColoradoPols, blogging for 5280 magazine and Colorado Confidential. During this period, he paid the bills by penning newsletters and so on for Exclusive Resorts, a variation on the time-share concept aimed at the ultra-wealthy. In November 2006, ToTheRight.org, a website whose slant is made plain by its address, published a piece documenting the liberal political affiliations of Exclusive Resorts execs and implying that they encouraged Bane to blog on company time — a notion he finds absurd.
Last year, Bane stopped filing for the 5280 and Colorado Confidential sites in a move that sparked more dark speculation by his Internet critics. Yet representatives from the two entities say the partings were amicable. "We stopped using Jason because between us, ColoradoPols and Colorado Confidential, there was a lot of him on the local web," 5280 editor Dan Brogan reveals via e-mail. "I thought it would make more sense to focus on developing content that would be unique to 5280." In contrast, David Bennahum, CEO of the Center for Independent Media, which publishes Colorado Confidential, emphasizes that Bane decided to end the relationship, not the other way around. In an e-mail, he writes, "Jason left our program because he got a full-time job that precluded his continuing to write with us, as he no longer had the time to do original reporting."
Turns out, though, that Bane's latest job has stirred more nasty chatter. Specifically, ToTheRight charges him with concealing his association with the Service Employees International Union, an organization much in the news these days. Note that SEIU is heavily involved in Colorado WINS, a coalition of labor groups eager to put all 32,000 state workers under the union umbrella — a controversial measure with links to a union-friendly executive order signed by Governor Bill Ritter and the impending Democratic National Convention. On top of that, a recent item on the RockyMountainRight.com site alleged that Bane spends his days "videotaping Republicans during committee meetings" at the state legislature, presumably for nefarious purposes.
In response, Bane confirms that he is, in fact, on the SEIU payroll, performing "communications and PR work in the southwest region" — and he stresses that he's never tried to hide it. "I pass out my SEIU business card all the time," he says. "It's not a big secret." Even so, he hasn't gone out of his way to ballyhoo the connection, which may not pay loads of dividends in historically conservative Jefferson County. The SEIU doesn't rate a reference on his campaign website, JasonBane.org, or a Facebook page accessible to the public. (A second Facebook listing does mention the union, but only visitors Bane designates as a friend can see it.) He concedes that some of his SEIU co-workers have made donations to his campaign, but not because he's the official union choice for commissioner. "I did this on my own," he says. "No matter where I was working, I would have done this."
As for the videotaping rumor, it's definitely going around: Republican state rep James Kerr from Littleton says colleagues have told him they've seen Bane at hearings, camera in tow. But Bane says he only taped a single hearing, and he did so to capture testimony by state employees for a Colorado WINS video, not Republican gaffes.
To Bane, the muck being flung his way represents a distraction from much more important matters. "I was born and raised in the county, and I've watched over the past several years the ridiculous scandals that have come out of there: the indictments, the accusations, the lawsuit," he says. In the end, "I got fed up. I want to see the government run in a manner that addresses the issues that people in the county are concerned about, like what kind of future growth we want."
Of course, the odds that the campaign will stick to such subjects exclusively are mighty slim, especially considering the direction in which the preliminary stages of the race have gone — and Bane concedes that his anonymous blogging past may offer opponents ammo to use against him. "One of the things I fully expect to happen is that someone will take something out of context from ColoradoPols and put it in a negative mail piece," he allows. "Whether I wrote it or not, they'll say it was me" — and he'll have difficulty refuting such a claim, since "literally thousands of posts" have gone up on the site over the years, and at this point, "I don't remember what I wrote or didn't write."
Clearly, anonymity cuts both ways.