Colorado residents are no stranger to negative political campaigning. But even amid the onslaught of accusatory ads, one state House race boasts a back-and-forth battle that stands out, with one candidate being accused of having been arrested for selling cocaine paraphernalia -- 27 years ago. Rick Enstrom, the challenger in question, denies the allegation, while the incumbent, Max Tyler, calls the claim "demonstrably true."
A recent mailer from an outside group goes after Enstrom, a Republican running for the House seat in District 23, for allegedly selling cocaine paraphernalia 27 years ago, in February 1985. The ad doesn't come from Tyler, but the Democratic representative stops short of rejecting the accusations it makes.
Here's part of the attack mailer.
The mailer says that Enstrom was "arrested for selling cocaine paraphernalia out of his business." That included cocaine grinders, snort tubes, mirrors and razor blades, according to the mailer, which labels him the "nose-candy man" -- a reference to his family business, Enstrom's Candies. The attack, which date back to a time when Enstrom owned a Grand Junction record store, comes from the Colorado Accountable Government Alliance Independent Expenditure Committee, a liberal group.
(Disclosure: Tyler once worked as a typesetter for Westword, while The Latest Word editor Michael Roberts is a longtime friend of Enstrom's who worked at the Grand Junction record store prior to the 1985 incident.)
Enstrom says the ad is absurd and denies that he was ever arrested.
"It was very sensational and it was almost a third of a century ago, and I think what the citizens of the state of Colorado want to talk about right now are issues that are important," he says. "And this isn't."
Enstrom says his case was "dismissed with prejudice" by a judge and that the store was issued a summons while he was owner. He has a letter from the district attorney at the time, on view below, stating just that. And Enstrom's attorney has sent a cease and desist letter, also on view below, which says the mailers contain "false and defamatory statements." As noted by the Denver Post, Enstrom does not have an arrest record according to the Colorado Bureau of Investigation.
Still, Tyler, who says he had nothing to do with the attack, backs the facts as spelled out in the mailer. He e-mailed us this statement:
I'm focused on communicating with voters of House District 23 based on my three years of service in the district and my goals for the next session to create jobs and support education. Under campaign finance laws I am not allowed to communicate or coordinate with any outside groups.
I do think it's absurd that the same side that has spent over $150,000 on a TV campaign to distort my record and my concerns for kids is having a fainting spell over one mail piece that is demonstrably true.
When told about these comments, Enstrom says he is shocked, given that he has what he feels is such clear proof that the ad is false.
Continue for Enstrom's response and full documents in the case. Enstrom provided us with this statement in response:
It appears from his comments that Rep. Tyler has taken a direct ownership stake in this line of filthy politics. It seems to me that 99% of voters are sick and tired of the political lies and distortions. I'll get him to explain all of this to my grandchildren, since he states he is "concerned for kids" -- his quote.
"It's really unfortunate that they've taken this tactic," he says in an interview with Westword. "I'm not sure it's gonna resonate with the citizens of the district. I think what they want to know...is what we plan to do for the state of Colorado...not what stuff we can dredge up from 27-28 years ago."
Despite the "demonstrably true" reference, Tyler stresses that he has had no contact with the group behind the mailer. "It is totally illegal for me to communicate with any independent expenditure groups," he says. "I'm not going to defend or attack them."
He adds, "I'm not going to worry about a single [mailer]...that goes out from somebody I can't control.... I'm not going to take responsibility for that.
And he says he too has faced tons of negative ads. "I don't have sympathy."
Like Enstrom, Tyler says he, too, is trying to stay away from the negativity. "Everything I put out there, what I've done, what I plan on doing...it's going to be positive.... I'm taking care of the people of Colorado."
Meanwhile, Ed Ramey, an attorney for Colorado Accountable Government Alliance, a Democratic Party-aligned super PAC, tells us that Enstrom was arrested, and he has records to prove it.
"Everything in the ad that Mr. Enstrom is complaining about is completely factually accurate, supported by...records," he says.
Those records, on view below, are from the Grand Junction Police Department and Mesa County, as well as in a newspaper clipping.
Saying something all parties probably agree on, he adds, "There seems to be a lot of quibbling over the word 'arrest.'"
For his part, Enstrom -- who has not filed a lawsuit to date -- also notes that paraphernalia is only drug paraphernalia if one chooses to put drugs in it. That was why the case was dismissed with prejudice. "Of course, we agreed to never sell drug paraphernalia in the dismissal," he writes in an e-mail to us.
Ultimately, Enstrom says, he wants the campaign to move away from these kinds of attacks. "That's why people are losing faith in politics."
Continue for the many documents involved in this back-and-forth debate. A letter from Mesa County's former district attorney that Rick Enstrom sees as proof he wasn't arrested.
The cease and desist letter from Enstrom's attorney.
Continue for documents disputing Enstrom's claims. Material that attorney Ed Ramey sees as evidence that the Colorado Accountable Government Alliance's mailer is accurate and Enstrom was arrested.
The mailer that started the whole thing.