July 16, 2010

Threat of McInnis Plagiarism Scandal Extends Beyond Gubernatorial Race

"I’m not getting out of this. They are bullying the wrong guy. I love the fight''--Scott McInnis to The Denver Post's Lynn Bartels

The political ramifications of the plagiarism charges against GOP gubernatorial candidate Scott McInnis that came to light earlier in the week have begun to build as the results of new polls, mounting denunciations in state news editorials (including his hometown paper), and criticism from fellow politicians demonstrates a move to abandon the erstwhile Republican frontrunner.

Following perceptions that McInnis badly mishandled the self-described "mistake", which he initially called a politically motivated charge and a "non-issue", the former congressman subsequently appeared to exacerbate his difficulties when his attempts to lay blame for the omitted attributions to a 20-year-old article on water rights on his 82-year-old former research assistant were accompanied by a letter that McInnis hoped would absolve him of responsibility for the alleged plagiarism. Rolly Fischer refused to sign the exculpatory letter admitting any blame, calling McInnis a liar.

Even ameliorating evidence in a second purported incident of plagiarism, this time involving a Washington Post column and its subsequent use by McInnis in his own op-ed and House floor speech, did little to mitigate the furor over the earlier allegations.

McInnis even drew comparisons to disgraced former CU Ethnic Studies Professor Ward Churchill from two Democratic CU Regents who voted for the professor's removal in 2007 after a faculty panel had moved for dismissal. Public officials, according to former Rocky Mountain News Editor John Temple, should not be held to different standards from other professionals when it comes to the issue of plagiarism.

The Hasan Family Foundation called for an investigation into the allegations of plagiarism leveled at McInnis earlier in the week over the 150 pages of water-related "issue papers" he had written as part of a foundation fellowship for which he was paid a hefty $300,000 sum. In a press release issued earlier today, the organization called on McInnis to repay the fellowship fees in full:
It is the finding of the Hasan Family Foundation Board that the work Congressman Scott McInnis performed under the Senior Fellowship was only a fraction of the work he was obligated to perform under the terms of his Fellowship. Of the little work that he did, he has admitted it was neither fully completed by him, nor fully original. In view of the public disclosure by Mr. McInnis as well as by Mr. Rolly Fischer, it is clear that Mr. McInnis has not fulfilled the terms of our agreement, and there is no need for any further investigation by the Foundation.

The Foundation demands he repay all monies paid to him under the Fellowship. The Foundation shall be making no further comment on the matter and will immediately return its full attention to the worthy causes it proudly funds and oversees.

Dr. Aliya Hasan, in an interview on KHOW's Caplis and Silverman show earlier today, indicated that the Foundation's intent was to offer McInnis a competitive, full-time fellowship. McInnis quickly responded, promising complete reimbursement:
"I have said since this matter was brought to my attention that the articles provided as part of the Hasan Family Foundation fellowship were faulty. I explained how this problem arose, and I accepted responsibility.

"I apologized to the Hasans for this mistake, and I expressed my determination to make it right with my dear friends. I will be in contact with the Hasan family to make full payment arrangements. I agree with the Foundation that this brings this matter to a close, and I look forward to continuing to speak on the campaign trail about the critical issues facing all of Colorado, including jobs and economic recovery."

The matter, however, is far from coming to a close.

Canceled appearances on Thursday in Erie and Friday at a prominent fundraising dinner for Denver and Arapahoe counties featuring Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty have also set tongues wagging, coming on the heels of snap polls indicating the McInnis campaign hemorrhaging support as those surveyed showed eroding confidence in their preferred candidate and, more importantly, from voters in both registered Republicans and "likely voters" categories.

Calls to McInnis spokesperson Josh Green about other possible canceled appearances by the campaign in coming days went unanswered.

In both polls, each conducted Thursday, numbers show a staggering loss of support for the embattled Republican. Sixty-four percent of registered Republicans in the Denver Post/SurveyUSA poll who claimed to back McInnis before the plagiarism row indicate a willingness to leave their top choice for an alternative list of speculative GOP gubernatorial replacements, including former Congressman and conservative firebrand Tom Tancredo, current US Senate candidate and former Colorado Lieutenant Governor Jane Norton, outgoing State Senate Minority Leader and former gubernatorial candidate Josh Penry (who is currently the campaign manager for Norton's senatorial bid), and current University of Colorado President and failed former Colorado gubernatorial candidate (1994) Bruce Benson. Only when asked if they would switch to "another candidate"--ostensibly the other name on the already-printed August 10 primary ballots, businessman Dan Maes--did McInnis appear to hold some ground. Overall, 37 percent believed that McInnis should simply drop out of the race, with just under half urging him to soldier on to the primary.

The Western Slope Republican also retains a measure of strong support in his base centered around Grand Junction.

In head-to-head polling with Democratic candidate John Hickenlooper, however, the effects of this week's news is clear. According to Rasmussen, the Denver Mayor has retaken a narrow two point lead (45-43) among "likely voters" for the first time since his post-announcement bounce in February, when current Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter announced his retirement and Hickenlooper's entry cleared the Democratic field.

Pollster.com's Colorado Governor tracking poll

On a more critical front, the McInnis "inner" exodus begins, as members of McInnis' campaign bail on the reeling gubernatorial candidate:
Three key staffers for Republican Scott McInnis quit Friday after a week of plagiarism allegations and accusations of campaign mismanagement battered their boss.

Policy director Mac Zimmerman, political director Dustin Zvonek and regional director T.Q. Houlton packed up and left, according to sources close to McInnis’ gubernatorial campaign.

The disaffected staffers "can no longer defend" the actions of McInnis:
"The turning point in the campaign was the interview with Rolly Fischer," the source said. "Jaws dropped. They couldn't believe Scott tried to pin it on him … It was game, set, match. It was a crusher."

In the meantime, possible scenarios to replace the battered Mcinnis and even his primary rival Maes abound on blogs (also here and  here), in the media, and in the highest echelons of the party. Colorado GOP Chair Dick Wadhams sought to quell questions about possible write-in candidates, vacancy committees, and candidate race-switching, assuring that the primary process had produced two certified candidates, and that the Republican primary voters would have the final decision.

In a video from KDVR Fox 31, calls for McInnis to drop out immediately for the good of the party came from Tancredo, whose name has been widely bandied about as a possible replacement and has given the clear impression of a willingness to run, even as an independent (and who was the subject of much speculation himself last fall when Penry unexpectedly dropped out of the race).

While rumors that the Republican Governor's Association had decided to pull out of Colorado over the plagiarism flap were hastily denied by the group, the Colorado GOP meltdown turned attention to the ongoing US Senate primary for possible replacements. US Senate candidates Ken Buck and Norton remained relatively mum on the subject, saying the decision was in McInnis' hands, and their respective focuses remained on their tough primary battle.

Rampant speculation aside, replacing a candidate (or two, should Maes decide to stay in) with a vacancy committee could be difficult under state law:
The process of trying to get a new candidate is procedurally complicated. First, the Aug. 10 primary ballots are printed and go out by mail Monday. Forty-six of the state's 64 counties are holding all-mail elections. Second, state law is unclear. On its face, it appears to prohibit another candidate getting in the race unless both Maes and McInnis drop out. In that case, a Republican vacancy committee would appoint the nominee.

But Rich Coolidge, spokesman for the Colorado secretary of state, said his office was researching whether it was possible for a committee to replace a second candidate if someone drops out. He expected an answer in the next day or two.

In either situation, there is a strong likelihood that ballots will already be in the hands of voters. It's unclear how votes for a new candidate would be cast.

Even Secretary of State Bernie Buescher (D) declined to issue a "hypothetical" opinion on candidate replacement in a primary race.

Republican activist Nikki Mata, founder of R Block Party, noted that several Tea Party and 9/12 groups had already begun to discuss how much input grassroots conservatives might be able to confer should a vacancy committee become a reality, and possible defections should the process be mishandled:
"In the state where Tea Party and grassroots involvement is the highest in the nation, to go ahead and conduct a closed-doors meeting without outside input and anoint a replacement candidate would essentially amount to political suicide for the party. There is already talk of going to a third party if this happens."

She pointed to the outrage amongst grassroots conservatives last December when a McInnis interview with Neil Cavuto on Fox News dubbed him the "Tea Party candidate" following what appeared to be an establishment-backed clearing of the field as Penry hastily exited the governor's race.

Northern Colorado Tea Party organizer Lesley Hollywood agreed that the political fallout could be disastrous should the Republican party turn a deaf ear:
"If the situation arises where a new nominee will need to be chosen, the Colorado Republican Party needs to tread very carefully. In the year of the Tea Party; the year where one in three Colorado voters belongs to a Tea Party or similar organization; the year in which the energized "base" is not coming from within the GOP, but the pro-liberty movement sweeping the state; it's important for the establishment to bring the grassroots voices to the table.

The ramifications of anything less could be devestating to the gubernatorial race and the 2010 election. Some may lean toward a third party candidate, such as Benjamin Goss of the Constitutionalist Party. There is also the likely possibility of voter revolt, with many choosing to rebel against the establishment choice by not voting at all. And of course, the public outrage could be incredibly damaging to the Republican Party image as a whole."