Former Rhode Island pol to challenge Colorado governor

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Greg Campbell Contributor
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Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper has an official Republican challenger, but it’s not one of the expected names. Former mayor of Cranston, R.I., and current Fort Collins rancher Steve Laffey is the first candidate to take on Hickenlooper in the 2014 gubernatorial race.

Laffey, a father of six who moved to Fort Collins to give up politics after losing a Republican senatorial primary, said he felt compelled to run after watching the Democratic-controlled state legislature pass a number of what he called progressive new laws.

“I moved out here a little over three years ago thinking I wouldn’t have to do this anymore,” he said on 1310 KFKA radio Tuesday in announcing his candidacy for governor.

“I didn’t think I’d need to be involved as much,” he said. “I did my time. … [But] after this January, I thought, ‘I’ve got to get going.'”

A former banker, Laffey quickly rose to prominence when he was elected mayor of his Rhode Island hometown in 2003, which was on the brink of bankruptcy. He says he’s responsible for turning the financial tide and putting Cranston’s books in the black.

Next came a bruising Republican primary against incumbent Rhode Island Sen. Lincoln Chafee in 2006. Chafee beat Laffey in the primary and went on to lose the general election to Democrat Sheldon Whitehouse.

Laffey told The Daily Caller News Foundation that he moved to Colorado because “it was one of the last great places to live in America.”

He was looking for a change and got into ranching knowing “less than nothing” about the industry. He and his wife breed and sell rare Irish Gypsy Cob horses and Irish Dexter cattle.

But Laffey said he saw his adopted state’s greatness “evaporate” after the legislative session that ended on May 8.

Democrats, who control the state government, passed a bevy of new laws that touched on practically every hot-button topic in American politics, including civil unions for same-sex couples, higher renewable energy requirements for rural electricity cooperatives, regulations for legally selling marijuana, election reform and new benefits for illegal aliens, including special drivers licenses and in-state tuition.

But the most contentious have been new gun control laws that are the strictest in the West. They include a background check requirement for all gun transfers and a ban on magazines that can hold — or be easily converted to hold — more than 15 rounds of ammunition.

Since practically all magazines can be converted in such a way, it amounts to a near total ban on sales or transfers of magazines beginning July 1.

Those two laws have prompted a lawsuit by nearly two-dozen plaintiffs, including a group of 55 elected county sheriffs.

Laffey said Democrats aren’t going to stop with the legislation passed this year.

“These people in Denver, they’re not happy with what they did this year,” he said. “They’re not sitting around saying, ‘we’re stopping with those gun rights we just took from these people.’ They’re thinking about next year.”

He said he ran for mayor of Cranston when he realized that massive change needed to take place “and I think that’s what’s going to happen here in Colorado.”

Laffey, who was practically completely unknown to most Coloradans until his announcement Tuesday, jumped the gun on what’s expected to be a crowded field of Republican candidates vying for the nomination.

Possible contenders include Attorney General John Suthers, state Sen. Greg Brophy, Secretary of State Scott Gessler and former U.S. Rep. Tom Tancredo.

Laffey points out that he was an unknown when he ran for mayor, but he nevertheless won his election.

He describes himself as populist conservative whose primary reason for running is to fill what he calls a vacuum of leadership under Hickenlooper. In addition to overturning the new gun laws, he said he wants to address the cost of the public employees retirement fund, which he said is leading Colorado down the same road to insolvency that Cranston was on when he ran for mayor.

“I don’t mince words — Colorado is going in the wrong direction,” he said. “I’ve lived its future, so before it gets to be too late, I’m going to run for governor.”

Laffey is also an author, having written “Primary Mistake: How the Washington Republican Establishment Lost Everything in 2006 (and Sabotaged My Senatorial Campaign)” about his Senate race. He also filmed a documentary called “Fixing America.”

“I just can’t sit on my ass any longer,” he said. “I’ve got to get up and help someone and the people I want to help are the people of Colorado.”

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