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Ryan Frazier is in fine spirits, all things considered.
He's at ease here, glad-handing and flashing warm smiles, at the clubhouse of the Heritage Eagle Bend 55-plus gated subdivision in southeast Aurora, where the grass is country-club green and the folks are Republican red. It's as if he hadn't read the papers this morning or isn't bothered by what they say.
While the one hundred or so attendees are here to see U.S. Senate candidate Bob Schaffer, it's the 31-year-old Frazier, the event's co-host, who's the subject of much of the chatter. "We'd support Frazier wherever he goes. I think he's certainly mayor material, certainly governor material," gushes Tom Coker, president of Eagle Bend Metropolitan District 2, the civic entity behind this subdivision. "He's a Colorado version of Sarah Palin, with probably more experience."
People began talking about Frazier in 2003, when he was elected to the Aurora City Council at the age of 26. Republicans rallied around his re-election campaign in 2007, even though he supported liberal social causes like domestic-partnership rights, and they helped him build an $85,000 campaign war chest, the largest ever for an Aurora council candidate. More recently, Frazier has garnered state- and nationwide attention as co-sponsor of Amendment 47, the "right to work" proposal on this November's ballot.
The measure would prohibit making payment of union dues a condition of employment in Colorado — an initiative that some people call a much-needed step for workplace freedom and others vilify as conservative union-busting 101.
GOP movers and shakers expect big things out of their rising star; they believe the handsome young African-American could be mayor of Aurora or win statewide office. Maybe, as Coker suggests, he has a shot at the governor's mansion.
There's no question that Colorado Republicans could use a little freshening up. When Schaffer tells the crowd that "the race is going pretty well," he's putting things nicely. Polls show that Schaffer consistently trails Democrat Mark Udall in the race for retiring Republican senator Wayne Allard's seat. The controlling party in Colorado just four years ago, Republicans have since lost control of the governorship, a Senate seat and two House seats. They've also ceded their majorities to Democrats in the state House and Senate. Maybe someone like Frazier could help get the Grand Old Party back on track.
But what about those headlines today?
In an eleventh-hour deal the day before the Schaffer reception, prominent members of Colorado's business community, folks who are usually staunch supporters of right-to-work, joined organized labor to oppose Frazier's amendment. In return, the unions agreed to withdraw four ballot measures of their own — so-called "poison pills" that many feared could cause financial havoc for businesses across the state. Even worse, these business leaders, whom Frazier and his colleagues had been counting on for support, said they planned to donate $3 million to the union effort.
It was the latest fire in a year-long scorched-earth campaign Frazier has weathered since he threw himself behind the right-to-work initiative. He and other Amendment 47 backers, including Jonathan Coors, have faced appeals — if not outright threats — from Governor Bill Ritter, Mayor John Hickenlooper and powerful Denver business executives to back down. Frazier and Coors also became one of the main targets of an aggressive, multimillion-dollar offensive bankrolled by national labor unions.
But unlike Coors, part of a Christian conservative wing of the historically union-antagonistic Coors brewing family, and Amendment 47 co-sponsor Julian Jay Cole, a Golden businessman who helps companies combat unions — critics can't pin many anti-union tendencies on Frazier. And some wonder why the ambitious up-and-comer would stake his career on this particular fight.
"There are members of the business community who, if right-to-work fails and the unions succeed, may want to hold him responsible," says Frazier's 2007 re-election campaign manager, Leondray Gholston. "He may not be elected to another office because of this. That is what's at stake."
If the turmoil has shaken the young city councilman, however, it hardly shows. When he ushers the reception's attendees to an outdoor clubhouse patio and introduces Schaffer, the most pressing thing on his mind seems to be the overcast sky. No matter. He steps to the podium and flashes a wide smile. That and Frazier's trim physique and charismatic mug have looked good on his glossy election commercials.
"As everyone knows, this is a very important election," he tells the crowd. "The future hangs in the balance with whom we elect."
Perhaps the answer to why Frazier seems ready to risk it all for Amendment 47 lies in the story he tells the crowd about a whitewater rafting expedition he took a few years ago. At one point, Frazier found himself out of the raft and floating downstream, beset by raging rapids on all sides. "Sometimes a man has to admit he is lost, and at some point realize when he's in trouble," he mirthfully tells the crowd. "So I called out to our guide, 'Hey, I'm going downstream here!' The guide looked over and said, 'Put your feet down' — so I did and stood right up."
Frazier grins as the audience laughs. Then he turns serious. "What that taught me is there are times when you have to put your feet down and stand up for what you believe in."