Off Limits

One of the most bruising battles of the current election has been the heated contest between state senator Marilyn Musgrave and state senate president Stan Matsunaka, squaring off for the 4th Congressional District seat being vacated by Bob Schaffer. But according to Greeley attorney Richard Blundell, whatever licks Musgrave, the Republican candidate in a heavily GOP district, delivers to Matsunaka can't possibly be as damaging as the bang-up job she's already done on his clients, Ken and Susie Sandoval.

According to a lawsuit recently filed by Blundell in Adams County, motorist Musgrave rear-ended the Sandovals' automobile when they were stopped at a red light in Brighton last year. Blundell claims that not only did Musgrave drive "with willful or wanton disregard for the safety of others," but she refused to use her cell phone to summon help and told the Sandovals that no accident report was necessary.

"Believe me, the cops don't have to be called," Musgrave reportedly said. "I know, because my husband is an insurance agent." After exchanging insurance information with the Sandovals, Musgrave left the scene, claiming she was late for work, Blundell says.

The lawsuit alleges that Ken Sandoval, a heart-transplant recipient and recent stroke victim, "was in obvious substantial pain and discomfort as a result of being injured" in the crash, but Musgrave offered no assistance. "She acted like it didn't make any difference to her," Blundell says. Although the damage to the Sandovals' car exceeded $1,000, well above the $500 limit beyond which an accident report must be filed, Blundell says his clients believed Musgrave and never bothered to contact the police. If they had, he adds, Musgrave "could have lost her license for leaving the scene of an accident."

The Sandovals filed suit after Blundell contacted Musgrave's insurer (and her husband's employer), which offered a paltry $4,500 to settle the case; the Sandovals' medical bills now total around $15,000. Musgrave campaign manager Guy Short did not respond to a request for comment on the lawsuit.

But in an October 23 column published by the Longmont Daily Times-Call, Musgrave called for tougher state limits on civil litigation and blasted "the predatory tactics of American trial lawyers." (She also slapped Matsunaka, calling him her "trial lawyer opponent.") Incensed, Blundell fired off a letter to the paper that has yet to be published. "I think people should know why she wants to take away the right to sue," he fumes. Stuffing the bullet box: With both the Tom Strickland/Wayne Allard race for the Senate and the Mike Feeley/Bob Beauprez fight for the new 7th Congressional District slot too close to call, the National Rifle Association didn't waste much ammunition on Marilyn Musgrave's candidacy at last week's rally in Denver. Instead, NRA officials -- including Charlton Heston, in what amounted to no more than a cameo appearance -- exhorted the crowd to get out the vote, because "any gun owner who stays home is voting for the enemy." By which, of course, they meant Democrats Strickland and Feeley.

The last time the national NRA contingent came to town -- for an annual convention less than two weeks after the Columbine shootings -- none of the state's higher-ups would greet them, leaving embattled Secretary of State Vikki Buckley to do the honors. This time around, though, Musgrave look-alike Jane Norton, Governor Bill Owens's choice for lieutenant governor, laid out the welcome mat -- and laid it on thick.

A few miles away on the same day, Colorado Democrats brought out their own firepower in the form of Gloria Steinem. By Saturday, their arsenal included a Boulder appearance by actor Robert Redford and some 7th Congressional District doorbell-ringing by the West Wing's Bradley Whitford, aide to fictitious president Josiah Bartlet. On Monday, the state's GOPs retaliated by bringing out the big gun: actual president George W. Bush, on his second campaign visit to Colorado in as many months.

That's a tough act for the Democrats to top. Former president Bill Clinton reportedly had been penciled in for an appearance at the University of Colorado -- but was a no-show.

The sound of silence: Most recent political advertisements have been foul enough to fill a cesspool the size of Lake Dillon, and that's unlikely to change in these last few days before the November 5 election. In one current anti-Matsunaka spot, for example, the congressional hopeful seems to be speaking against a backdrop of flames straight from Hell.

But Bighorn Ballot, the organization behind Amendment 28 (which would send mail-in ballots to all voters) and Amendment 29 (which would replace Colorado's caucus system with a petition-based approach), is offering a rare break. Its latest thirty-second commercial fails to make any claims -- negative or positive. Instead, the narration-free spot lingers on a woodsy patch of nature as seen by a static camera. No edits, no fancy angles, just a single sentence that's superimposed over the image near the ad's conclusion: "This moment of political silence brought to you by Bighorn Ballot, sponsor of Issues 28 and 29."

"With each election that passes, the ads seem to grow uglier and uglier," says Peggy Lamm, Bighorn's campaign director. "So we were thinking it might be nice for the voters to have a wee bit of respite." And providing it was a snap: Although the scenery makes the spot seem like it's set deep in a mountain forest, it was actually videotaped on October 18 in a back yard in Arvada.

While the result bears an unsettling resemblance to the peaceful holiday messages served up by Rocky's Autos, Lamm wasn't aware of this unintended homage. "We don't recall anyone doing this before in a political message," she says.

But Bighorn, a group best known for championing the telemarketing no-call list, isn't betting all of its chips on the tasteful approach. Other pro-28/29 commercials slated to run prior to election day are more traditional, if far less nasty than many of this year's salvos. In fact, the sounds-of-silence ads were scheduled to appear only on October 30; future airings will depend in part on support for the measures. But votes by visitors to the Web site will also be taken into account. "If people like the spot and want to see more of it," Lamm says, "that's the way they can let us know."

Or they can simply wait until next week, when the political silence will be deafening -- and much appreciated.

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