THE race for governor of Colorado pits a popular Democratic incumbent against a conservative newcomer to electoral politics who is having to fight an uphill battle without much backing from his own party. But what Republican John Andrews does have going for him is the shadow of the savings and loan scandal, which has passed over many politicians in this state, plus doubts about the economy and a broad public concern over government spending and how those in office have handled themselves.
Here in the Rocky Mountains, the philosophical divide between Mr. Andrews and Gov. Roy Romer, the challenger acknowledges, ``is about like Barry Goldwater and Lyndon Johnson.''
Andrews supports a tax-limitation ballot measure a la Prop. 13 (which, he says, ``did worlds of good for California''), backs another initiative that would limit terms of elected officials, and supports school vouchers - all of which Governor Romer opposes.
Romer is a cheerleader for public-private partnerships like a new convention center, airport, and baseball stadium (Denver hopes to lure one of the planned expansion teams).
Andrews says such government-business get-togethers are unhealthy and ``no substitute for getting taxes under control and cutting the red tape that is making us an economic leper in the nation.''
Romer and Andrews look at Colorado's economy and see very different pictures. In a recent spirited debate, Romer ticked off the good news since he took office four years ago: unemployment down to 5.5 percent from 8 percent; over 60,000 new jobs in the state following a 10,000-job loss the last year of his predecessor, and increased investment in infrastructure that is making the state more attractive.
Andrews points to an August report, by the accounting firm Grant Thornton, which has Colorado dropping to 18th among 21 light-manufacturing states in attractiveness to manufacturers, as measured by such things as tax policies, worker compensation and unemployment, insurance expenditures, average wages, and education funding. When Romer took office, Colorado was fifth in the ranking.
``More Coloradans have had to leave Colorado than have found jobs in the private sector since Roy Romer took office,'' Andrews said in a recent debate. ``State and local taxes are rising faster than anywhere else in the region ... more than three times the cost of living. Our per-capita bonded indebtedness is the second highest of anyplace in the country. If we continue, they'll be calling us `Taxorado.' The Mike Dukakis approach isn't working for our state.''
Andrews cut his political teeth in the Nixon White House as a speechwriter (he resigned in protest over Watergate) and went on to head several small conservative think tanks. He has been appointed to advisory positions by presidents Reagan and Bush. He wears his conservatism proudly, but unlike Goldwater in 1964, Andrews intends not to go down in flames of pure ideology. He supports the Equal Rights Amendment to the state constitution, and while he is ``deeply opposed to abortion'' on religious grounds, says: ``I don't believe in imposing my religious beliefs on anyone through the force of law.''
But he does sometimes sound more ideological than he intends. Asked about the drug problem in his face-off with Romer, he talked at some length about the need for better information, education, law enforcement, and interdiction. But then he went on to say that increasing taxes had ``forced women into the workplace'' at a time when ``full-time parenting is the best answer to the drug crisis.'' That comment - and Romer's rebuttal that ``every woman in the state should be offended'' - that made page-one headlines the next day.
Colorado is the home of the infamous Silverado Banking, Savings and Loan Association, which was taken over by federal regulators in December 1988, and also an alleged money-laundering scheme involving a home builder. Politicians (Democrats as well as Republicans) have been hustling to return campaign contributions that may be from tainted sources, including Romer to the tune of over $45,000 - after he first refused to do so.
Andrews says that's barely half the amount Romer should shed. Beyond that, he says, the governor bears more direct responsibility for a scandal that may ultimately cost taxpayers more than $1 billion. Romer was state treasurer when the seeds of the S&L problem were being sown and, charges Andrews, should have acted earlier to shut down Silverado since state officials have testified that they knew of the impending crisis well before the feds stepped in.
Can Andrews make the S&L charges stick, given that the son of his own party chief was a director of Silverado? (Last Friday, Neil Bush and other Silverado officers were cited by federal regulators for ``gross negligence'' in a $200 million lawsuit.)
And beyond the S&L debacle, can Andrews convince Coloradans that Roy Romer is a tax-and-spend liberal whose day is done?
Part of Andrews's problem is that after 12 years of the pessimistic Richard Lamm as ``Governor Gloom,'' many Coloradans are quite happy to have a morale booster in the State House.
University of Colorado political scientist William Winter says flatly that ``there's no doubt the governor will win,'' and even the challenger concedes he's ``far behind'' in the polls.
Professor Winter notes that Romer ``has actually endeared himself to a lot of Republicans in the business and financial communities by his boosterism.'' Some have contributed to the Democrat's campaign.
Mr. Winter also points out that ``it's become almost an established tradition that we have a Democratic governor and a Republican legislature, going back to Dick Lamm's election in 1974.''
Noting that the governor is relatively weak compared to lawmakers under the Colorado constitution, he adds: ``The Republican establishment is intent on maintaining party control of the legislature and has almost given up on the governor's office.''
Andrews complains of being up against a ``rear-guard action among some old-time Republicans'' who are against the tax and term-of-office limitation measures he is pushing.
US Housing and Urban Development Secretary Jack Kemp was in town recently to campaign for his fellow supply-sider. But Rick Grice, Andrews's campaign manager, notes little help from the White House.
The Bush administration is putting most of its effort here behind Congressman Hank Brown, who is in a tough fight with County Commissioner Josie Heath for the US Senate seat of William Armstrong, the conservative Republican who is retiring.
President Bush was in Denver last week for a $1,000-a-plate lunch to raise money for Colorado Republicans, the lion's share of which will go to Mr. Brown.