When Lisa Cutter, a Democrat from Littleton running for House District 25, saw Stephen Szutenbach's name on her donor list, she was shocked.
Steven — with a v — Szutenbach, a Republican from Evergreen, is her opponent in the race that'll be decided in November.
After Tim Leonard, the Republican candidate running for re-election in the district, stepped down in August following some complications with his divorce, a Republican committee appointed Steve Szutenbach of Evergreen to oppose Cutter. As soon as the candidate's son found out that his dad was running, Stephen Szutenbach says he donated $50 to Cutter's campaign. (Yes, their names are the same but spelled differently, and, yes, it's a hassle, Stephen Szutenbach says.)
"My father's political positions on things like gay marriage are very antithetical to my political position and my own life," says Szutenbach, who is gay and married his long-term partner in 2016.
Stephen Szutenbach, 36, grew up in Colorado and lives in Orlando, but says he feels an obligation to get involved in the state House race because the representatives there could be reshaping the state's congressional districts in 2020, which could have an impact on the entire country.
"I feel like if there's a way I can shift the state House toward a more centrist position, then I have an obligation to do that," he says.
As someone born and raised an observant Catholic who attended four years of seminary school and once prayed the rosary outside Planned Parenthood, Szutenbach says he understands his father's conservative positions on things like abortion, gay marriage and gun rights, and they are based in fear.
"I understand the fear. They're very afraid of their understanding of the world collapsing. I understand that, because I was afraid of that, too. I was afraid to come out for that reason," he explains. "It's hard to look at your beliefs at all and say, maybe I was wrong. My dad is very afraid of looking at his beliefs and afraid to admit he's ever been wrong. He's afraid of that more than anything."
For example, Stephen Szutenbach says his father never had guns when he was growing up. But when President Barack Obama was elected to his first term, his father began buying up guns and ammunition, almost like they were tokens required to prove he was a real Republican.
"It was so much hysteria at the time, and he bought into it," he says.
Other than his dad's stance opposing marriage equality, Szutenbach says he opposes Republicans' pro-gun attitudes — having seen the devastation gun violence had in Orlando after the Pulse Nightclub shooting — and the push to privatize education.
Shortly after Stephen Szutenbach donated, he reached out to Cutter on Facebook. She says she's grateful for his support.
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
"I was obviously really surprised. It took me aback," says Cutter, who works in public relations and helped organize the Denver Women's March.
Steve Szutenbach declined to comment in an email to Westword. "I love my son and respect his opinions," he adds.
District 25 includes Evergreen, Conifer, Coal Creek, parts of Golden and Littleton. Steve Szutenbach is a retired U.S. Air Force veteran and former legislative aide for Representative Tim Neville. He describes himself on his campaign website as "an Independent-minded Republican Conservative and small-business owner that believes the job of a legislator is to protect our God-given and natural rights."
As for his relationship with his father, Stephen Szutenbach says they don't speak often.