With the announcement that Rep. Joel Hefley (R.-Colo.) is retiring after 20 years in Congress, it seems likely that his successor in the Centennial State’s 5th District will be another conservative Republican. Indeed, the Colorado Springs-based district is the most Republican in the state as well as the fastest-growing of all seven in Colorado. George W. Bush defeated John Kerry two to one here in ’04 and Hefley (lifetime ACU rating: 92%) won his last two terms with 69% and 71% of the vote. When it was first created following the 1971 census, the 5th District sent to Congress state legislator Bill Armstrong, who became a much-loved conservative hero during his years in the House (1972-78) and then in the Senate (1978-90). When Armstrong went to the Senate in ’78, taking over as the new congressman was another conservative stalwart from the state legislature, Ken Kramer. An unabashed Reagan Republican who called for a U.S. Space Force years before the 40th President made Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) a part of the political lexicon, Kramer ran unsuccessfully for the Senate in the Republican-unfriendly year of 1986. He later served in the Department of Defense and recently retired as chief judge of the U.S. Court of Military Appeals.
Like Armstrong and Kramer, onetime cowboy Hefley came out of the state legislature and sported a conservative record. But Hefley’s relations with other conservatives in Congress — notably former Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Tex.) — have been rocky. The Colorado lawmaker was chairman of the House Ethics Committee in 2004, when DeLay was admonished for granting lobbyists special access at a golf tournament and for offering to support Rep. (1992-2004) Nick Smith’s (R.-Mich.) son if the elder Smith voted for the multi-billion-dollar prescription drug package supported by the Bush Administration. (Hefley’s panel also strongly admonished Nick Smith himself for "exaggeration" in hinting to reporters that unnamed sources offered campaign donations for his son in return for a vote in favor of the entitlement. The Michigan lawmaker had strongly retreated from the charge once under oath before Hefley’s panel).
Hefley also sharply criticized plans from DeLay’s allies to tone down House ethics rules and permit a chairman or member of the GOP leadership team to remain in his position if under indictment. The Coloradan made his sentiments about DeLay clear when he told a reporter: "I don’t want to be part of his team."
The early favorite for the Republican nomination appears to be former Greater Colorado Springs Chamber of Commerce Vice President Jeff Crank, who has close ties to both the area business community and evangelical conservatives. Onetime Hefley top aide Crank is also reportedly the favorite of Hefley’s political team, including the retiring congressman’s wife, State Rep. Lynn Hefley.
Also considered a strong contender is conservative State Sen. Doug Lamborn, vice chairman of the Senate Finance Committee. Lamborn has a strong organization in El Paso County.
Rounding out the GOP field is former El Paso County Sheriff John Wesley Anderson, generally regarded as the most moderate contender. Anderson has not exactly endeared himself to Hefley, as he signaled he would make a run for the seat even before the 70-year-old congressman announced his intention to step down.