Accusations of racism and more have arisen over a series of fliers supporting Senator Cory Gardner's re-election bid. Among other things, the mailers are accused of demonizing Reverend Promise Lee, a prominent Colorado Springs religious leader and criminal-reform advocate who's also serving as spokesperson for the family of De'Von Bailey, who was fatally shot in the back while fleeing from a Colorado Springs Police Department officer in August 2019; the incident has spurred a lawsuit.
Echoing the infamous Willie Horton ad employed by supporters of George H.W. Bush during his 1988 race for the presidency, the fliers attack Gardner's opponent, former Governor John Hickenlooper, for pardoning, granting clemency to or commuting the sentences of supposedly dangerous criminals, most of them people of color.
At the center of five photos is a contemporary snapshot of Lee, whom Hickenlooper pardoned in 2018. But while Lee did indeed commit a murder during a drug deal gone wrong, he was just fifteen at the time — and afterward, he turned his life around, as outlined in his book Pardoned: A Judicial Memoir, which details his inspiring path to redemption.
Here's a look at the fliers, variations of which have been sent out since at least September and continue to turn up in mailboxes:
Justice for De'Von, a group that formed after Bailey was gunned down, is decrying the fliers. Jody Alyn, commenting on behalf of the group notes that "it's not possible to do justice to all of Reverend Lee's accomplishments...or to his humility. People keep talking about him running for office."
In comments that encompass the experiences of all the individuals spotlighted by the fliers, Alyn adds: "The idea behind our so-called criminal justice system is that redemption is possible. By their lives, these men have and are illustrating that success. The Colorado Republican Party would not have us believe that people can change. In fact, they seem to be the only ones who do not change. Once again, they have disgraced themselves and the system they purport to uphold with their blatant disregard for truth, dignity and the public trust."
Lee has also penned a statement about the fliers, and his comments are directed toward Gardner, even though the mailers aren't an official part of the senator's campaign. Instead, they were financed by the Colorado Republican Committee, the fundraising arm of the Colorado Republican Party. (We've reached out to the CRP for a comment.)
Here's Lee's response, titled "Why I Am Not a Republican."
In a time of racial unrest and the public annihilation of men of color, Mr. Cory Gardner, in an attempt to amass political gain, showcases the draconian nature of our justice system, which is currently under great and appropriate scrutiny.
Understandably, bashing an opponent is part of the race, but Mr. Gardner has included pictures of people with whom he is unacquainted. He does not comprehend the extent of communal reach and has assumed, unjustly, a political allegiance. This reflects poor ethos.
The picture of me and the others lack context. And ironically, showcasing me in the center might acknowledge that reform actually works. However I doubt that this was Mr. Gardner's intention.
It’s unfortunate that this attitude and strategy to divide people is not only interwoven in Mr. Gardner’s campaign and psyche but is also obviously rooted in his heart.
Do you want to see such a person holding a political office and perpetuating the current toxic climate of racism in our state? I certainly don’t. Mr. Gardner, your attempt to dehumanize people of color to advance your political career has backfired on you. Your party should be ashamed at your desperate divisive tactics.
Rev. Promise Y. Lee,
Redeemed by God
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