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The 33-year-old who would be Colorado's next governor

GOP's Josh Penry is hailed as an up-and-comer who can help buoy a down-and-out party, at least in the Rocky Mountain West.

By / September 24, 2009



Josh Penry doesn't need to be asked. He raises it himself, right up front: his age. At 33, isn't he a tad young to be running for governor of Colorado?

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At another time, maybe. But not now, he says in a conversation over coffee Wednesday with the Monitor and two other reporters. Mr. Penry has come to Washington to raise money and see old friends. He used to work here – and now he's running for the GOP nomination against his old boss, former Colorado Rep. Scott McInnis, and businessman Dan Maes.

"Everywhere we go, the crowds are bigger, so people are intrigued," says Mr. Penry, the youngest member of the state Senate and the leader of its Republican minority. "I'm a different kind of Republican. I jokingly say, 'I'm not an old white guy, I'm an aspiring old white guy.' "

With more than a year to go before the 2010 elections, most voters don't know much about any of the Republicans. But polls show the sitting Democratic governor, Bill Ritter, vulnerable to both Penry and Mr. McInnis. A recent Rasmussen poll shows Penry just one point behind Governor Ritter, 41 to 40 percent. McInnis beats Ritter 44 to 39 percent.

National media have dubbed Penry the boy wonder of the GOP's hoped-for resurgence in the Mountain West. The Monitor profiled him in August. But Penry knows that being the new face isn't enough.

"What I have to do is close the deal and show that I'm up to the job," says the Grand Junction, Colo., native.

"It's the difference between Sarah Palin and Bobby Jindal," he says, referring to the GOP 2008 veep candidate and the governor of Louisiana. He says he makes this point "with some peril."

"Now I like Sarah Palin, personally. I like her fire and her tenacity. [But] she didn't close the deal by having command of where we're going....

"Bobby Jindal, on the other hand, has done that," Penry says, suggesting that Governor Jindal – at 38, the youngest governor in America – has bright long-term prospects.

Penry also doesn't hesitate to diss both Republicans and Democrats, which makes campaigning easy. He won't have to run his primary one way, then pivot for the general, since both parties have spent irresponsibly for many years, he says.

He goes after his main primary opponent, McInnis, by linking him to Washington, where he was a congressman from 1993 to 2005.

"The most appealing aspect of Republican philosophy ... is our economic and fiscal message," he says. "We totally surrendered it. [That surrender is] part of [McInnis's] record, because he voted for a lotta that stuff."

One example: the Medicare prescription-drug plan, which passed in 2003 with McInnis's support.

On Ritter, Penry heaps scorn over what he calls a $250 million car tax, oil and gas regulations, and the unionization of state workers. Penry believes the state can make up for eliminating the car tax revenue by cutting back on the state workforce and other economies.

"We have 120, 130 boards and commissions in Colorado, five devoted to some aspect of historic preservation," he says. "I'm for history and preservation, but I'm not sure we need five."

In an era when many 33-year-olds are still finding themselves, Penry comes across as a settled man, receding hairline and all. He married his high school sweetheart, who now works with at-risk youth at the high school they both attended and where Penry was football quarterback (a role he repeated at Mesa State College). They have two children, ages 7 and 3.

He knows the age thing will come back next Feb. 1, when he turns 34. After that, he hopes it will be full steam ahead toward the nomination and a shot at unseating Ritter.

One last question: What did he think of GOP Rep. Joe Wilson's outburst at President Obama during his recent healthcare speech to Congress?

Penry says his mom would have smacked him if he had done that.

"The president is profoundly wrong, but there's something to be said for basic civility."

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