Steamboat Springs At the urging of state Republican leadership, Muhammad Ali Hasan of Eagle County will not challenge state Rep. Al White, R-Winter Park, in a primary for state Senate.
The two men looked to be set for a contentious contest on the way to the District 8 seat being vacated by term-limited state Sen. Jack Taylor, R-Steamboat Springs. But in a statement released Thursday morning, Hasan announced he will instead run for House District 56, which includes Lake, Park and most of Eagle counties. Colorado Republican Party Chairman Dick Wadhams said he was among those who encouraged Hasan not to take on a strong, established candidate in White.
"I certainly brought that issue up with Muhammad because I certainly believe (House District 56) is winnable," Wadhams said. "I think it makes a lot of sense."
House District 56 recently was vacated by former state Rep. Dan Gibbs, D-Silverthorne, who was appointed to fill the Senate District 16 seat vacated by the resignation of Democratic state Sen. Joan Fitz-Gerald. Fitz-Gerald is running for the U.S. Congress. Democrats have not yet filled Gibbs's seat in the House.
Hasan is the president and CEO of an Avon-based land development company. At an event in Steamboat Springs last week, he mentioned the possibility of running for House District 56, but said he would only back down from a clash with White if he and state party leadership signed pledges to embrace the issues important to Hasan, which include oil shale drilling.
Hasan met with White's campaign manager, Matt Johnston, after last week's event, but White said Thursday that he made no promises to Hasan in exchange for him moving his candidacy to the House.
"I didn't agree to anything," said White, who is term-limited in the House. "After eight years in the Legislature, I didn't feel like I needed to make any pledges to any candidate who was threatening to challenge me."
Hasan acknowledged Thursday that he did not receive any assurances from White, but said assurances from the Republican delegation in the state House were enough to convince him to switch races. Hasan said the delegation approached him from the beginning and asked what it would take for him to step away from Senate District 8.
"At first, I blew them off and said, 'nothing,'" Hasan said.
Hasan said he agreed to change his mind when he was assured the party would prioritize Western Slope issues such as severance taxes, bark beetle infestation and education.
"The House Republicans are going to prioritize these issues that are important to Western Colorado," Hasan said. "I'm very touched, and I'm more than happy to run for House District 56."
White called the current arrangement a "win-win situation" and said he would probably help Hasan when their campaign paths cross in Eagle County. White has not officially endorsed Hasan, however, and said he is hesitant to do so after the "nasty" criticisms Hasan has leveled against him in recent months.
"I want him to earn my respect," White said. "I'm not just going to bestow my endorsement on him until he shows me something different than he's shown me so far. But ultimately, I'll do what I can to help him win that seat, I believe."
Without the same assurances from White that he says he got from Republican leadership in the House, Hasan also is withholding his endorsement.
"I'm withholding endorsement from Rep. White as of now," Hasan said. "I have some concerns about how well he's representing the Western Slope."
The race ahead
With the specter of a primary now out of the way, White can focus his efforts on his Democratic challenger, former Steamboat Springs City Councilman Ken Brenner. Despite the Republicans' - and White's - success in Northwest Colorado in recent years, Brenner is confident in his ability to win.
"People in Colorado vote for candidates, not parties, and I think I'm the candidate who's on the right side of the issues for Colorado," Brenner said Thursday. "If the campaign stays focused on key issues, I'm comfortable in my ability to win."
Some of the "key issues," Brenner said, are achieving accessible and affordable health care for Coloradans and using natural resource extraction as a good economic tool, but one that is balanced with protecting air and water quality, wildlife habitat and other environmental concerns.
White said his "eight years worth of proven legislative leadership and accomplishment" give him the edge against Brenner.
"All he's got to offer are vague promises," White said.