Is Scott McInnis's plagiarism controversy really a "non-issue," as he claims? Not to Lu Busse, chair of the 9.12 Project Colorado Coalition, and a leading voice in the state's "liberty movement," which includes Tea Party groups. Below, she explains why.
"I do believe it's a legitimate concern when someone is deceptive," says Busse about the revelation that McInnis's "Musings on Water" pieces included a section almost directly lifted from an essay by Colorado Supreme Court Justice Gregory Hobbs.
"It appears that he took somebody else's work not just once but twice," she adds, referencing a current Denver Post story noting extremely close similarities between a '90s-era McInnis column and speech and a Washington Post op-ed he didn't credit. "And getting paid $300,000 also seems excessive."
That bounty came from the Hasan Family Foundation, which included Ali Hasan, who tried but failed to launch a political career in Colorado; he recently relocated to California. For the Foundation's three-hundred large, McInnis turned in 150 pages of material -- a rate of $2,000 per page. "If I were paid that much, I might have even given them 300 pages," Busse jokes.
Not that she thinks the situation is a laughing matter. She feels the size of the payment McInnis received "goes to the entitlement mentality. The political elite, no matter whether they're elected or within the party -- either party -- feel they're entitled to a better deal than the rest of us. They think they don't have to work as hard -- that they're a class apart and separate from the rest of us. And in this country, we're all supposed to be equal, and to have equal opportunities. We rejected the class system of Europe. But a lot of these politicians haven't."
McInnis has blamed the use of Hobbs' words on a researcher, Rolly Fishcer, whose main statement to date about the controversy, shared with the Glenwood Springs Post Independent, has been, "Scott's responsible for it."
"If that's his statement," it certainly didn't help Mr. McInnis," says Busse, who also questions McInnis's assertion that the plagiarism tale is a "non-issue" during a 9News interview. "To say it's not an issue just because it's a political year is a total misread of voters' opinions on such things. So no, I'm not satisfied with his current statements, and I don't think many grassroots people would be satisfied with his statements, and the tone from the McInnis campaign.
"I think it's confirmation of some things that have been suspected all along -- that he claims to be more than he is, or that he claims to be something that he's not."
This last assertion harks back to an earlier dustup involving McInnis and the liberty movement. Late last year, McInnis appeared on a Fox News segment in which he was identified as Colorado's "Tea Party candidate;" see the segment below. McInnis staffers quickly put the responsibility for this tag on Fox News and insisted that they weren't pretending to have received a non-existent grassroots endorsement. But wariness of the McInnis campaign has lingered among folks like Busse, who also questions McInnis's conservative credentials. She uses stats from the Colorado Union of Taxpayers to illustrate her concerns.
"When he was in the state legislature, his average CUT rating was 39 percent out of 100, with 100 being most favorable to taxpayers," Busse points out. "And in some years, he had scores of 15 and 17 -- the kind of scores we'd associate with the Democrat side of the aisle. And yet he's been trying to portray himself during this campaign as a conservative.
"It would be a different matter if he came out and said, 'I didn't always vote as conservatively as I should have,' and then reveal why he had a change of heart, and why he now believes we need to take a more fiscally conservative, limited government approach. But that's not the story we get. He just says, 'I'm a conservative. My CUT ratings were fine."
Given these doubts about McInnis, it's only natural that Dan Maes, his opponent for the Republican gubernatorial nomination, has attracted plenty of support from folks in the 9.12 Project and assorted Tea Parties. But he's had troubles of his own: Maes just paid a fine of over $17,000 for a handful of campaign-reporting violations.
In Busse's view, though, Maes's troubles are less serious than McInnis's, and he's handled them better.
"While he's made mistakes, he appears to be learning from them," she notes. "And to me, it's not the same as being paid $300,000 for shoddy work."
Indeed, Busse believes McInnis should return the aforementioned cash to the Hasan Family Foundation -- not that she thinks he will.
"Those of us on the liberty/grassroots side keep being told we don't understand these things and how politics works," she says. "So he certainly wouldn't take our advice regardless of what we felt. But no matter how this is handled at this point, it's hard to see a way that he could win the governor's race."
She bases this opinion on recent conversations with likeminded activists. "There's a small segment of people out there who, if their choice is between Scott McInnis and John Hickenlooper, they'll be leaving the ballot box blank. And there's another segment -- small, but vocal -- on the Western Slope who didn't particularly care for McInnis as their congressman, and they've said they might even vote for Hickenlooper if McInnis was the only other choice. These groups aren't large, but when you start adding them together, it could make a difference. And they're pretty strong feelings. They're not wishy-washy.
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"In the liberty movement, there are Scott McInnis supporters and Dan Maes supporters. But generally, they tend to be more on Dan Maes's side. And yes, some of them are a little concerned about some of Dan Maes's missteps. But the issues revealed this week about McInnis seem to be of greater concern."
Page down to read McInnis's statement about the plagiarism controversy, as well as to watch his 2009 appearance on Fox News:
McInnis Statement on Water Article Controversy
In 2005, I accepted a water fellowship with the non-profit Hasan Family Foundation. Part of this fellowship entailed compiling a series of articles designed to promote public understanding of historical water issues in Colorado.
In order to complete this project, I retained a renowned Colorado water expert. That expert, Rolly Fischer, spent nearly three decades with the Colorado River Water Conservation District , and is well-respected across the state. During our collaboration, he provided research for the articles.
Regrettably, it has now become clear that much of the research was in fact taken from other source material without proper attribution. While I do not believe that this was a deliberate act, it was a serious mistake.
It's unacceptable, it's inexcusable, but it was also unintentional.
I made a mistake, and should have been more vigilant in my review of research material Rolly submitted.
I've reached out to Justice Hobbs and the Hasan Family Foundation, and hope to meet with both in the not too distant future.
We all share a deep commitment to Colorado's future. In the coming days, I hope we can put this matter behind us, and focus on solving the many problems that face our state.