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    Democrats set to choose: Feeley or Thomas?

    By LeRoy Standish
    Sentinel and Transcript Newspapers

       There are two men running for the Democratic nomination in the newly created 7th Congressional District: 1st Judicial District Attorney Dave Thomas and former state Senate Minority Leader Mike Feeley.

    Feeley, according to his opponent, has filled a hefty campaign war chest with dollars invested from political action committees. Thomas, according to his opponent, chose not to serve in the U.S. military as a young man and thus lacks experience a new member of Congress needs in a time of war. The Democratic primary is Aug. 13.

    Ühe 7th Congressional District was created by the state Legislature earlier this year after the U.S. Census showed the state's population had grown so much that it warranted another congressional seat. It encompasses most of Lakewood, Golden, Arvada and Wheat Ridge. It also takes in parts of Adams and Arapahoe counties, including a fraction of Aurora. The winner of the Democratic primary will face one of four Republicans vying for voters' interests in the new district.

    Ťoth Democrats hold similar views on subjects ranging from water conservation to homeland security. But both offer a difference in background for voters to choose from. Thomas, 53, has been in public service for 29 years as a prosecutor, six of them as the state's director of public safety.

    Feeley, 48, on the other hand has worked 20 years in the private sector as a tax attorney and has served as a state senator representing Lakewood for eight years. Six of those years he served in a leadership position.

    Feeley also was a U.S. Marine for three years. "We came of age in the same generation and I had the opportunity to serve in the military for three years and Dave didn't serve," Feeley said. "And frankly, in this day and age, a little military experience is very helpful."

    Money also is helpful in a political campaign. Thomas said he has collected less money than Feeley, but he has collected what he has from a large cross section of the 7th Congressional District.

    "I have a huge number of individuals that have contributed to my campaign," Thomas said. To date he has collected an estimated $135,000.

    "That's probably half as much as he has, but the flip side of that is he has a limited number of contributors," Thomas said. "He has a large number of special interest groups and I have a large number of people. I'd rather be in the position I'm in. I think people win elections."

    Feeley, who estimated he has raised $285,000 so far, lists his top supporters as: Senate President Pro Tem Ed Perlmutter, D-Lakewood; Colorado firefighters; Colorado teachers; the Adams County Latino PAC; Arvada Mayor Ken Fellman; Sen. Deanna Hanna; a Lakewood Democrat who represents Senate District 21, House District 26 Rep. Betty Boyd, D-Lakewood; and the Mayor of Commerce City, Casey Hayes.

    Thomas has a different list of supporters. They include state Sen. Joan Fitz-Gerald, a Genesee Democrat who represents Senate District 13; Sen. Sue Windels, an Arvada Democrat who represents Senate District 19; Sen. Bob Hagedorn, an Aurora Democrat who represents Senate District 29; House District 41 Rep. Suzanne Williams, D-Aurora; House District 24 Rep. Cheri Jahn, D-Wheat Ridge; and House District 34 Rep. Lois Tochtrop, D-Aurora.

    The job of being a congressman is to be an "advocate for citizens of the 7th Congressional District," Feeley said. Taking it a step further, that means to serve on a multitude of federal levels, dealing with the legislative end of business, dealing with the federal government's notoriously thick red tape and maintaining consistent communication with his constituency. "I really want to be an advocate for people in the seventh," Feeley said.

    Thomas said the first order of business is "to represent the people in this district." There are two ways to do that: by voting in their best interests in Congress and helping constituents with problems, he said. "And third, I think it is being a member of this community and staying involved," Thomas said. "I will continue to be involved in my community and frankly, that is one thing that separates me from the others that are running."

    On the issues, there are few differences separating the two candidates. When asked about the economy, Thomas referenced the recent turbulence in the stock market, whereas Feeley targeted the national debt.

    "It's a serious issue, because so many Americans have their pension plans tied to the stock market," Thomas said. The corruption, which seemingly is running rampant in the corporate world, is something Thomas said he is uniquely qualified, as a district attorney, to deal with.

    "I fully support Congress's action to correct that and hold people accountable," Thomas said, adding he wants to see oversight and accounting rules adopted by Congress.

    Feeley spoke to the economy from a background developed in tax law over the last 20 years. "It is an abomination that we have gone from a projected budget surplus to a deficit in the last 18 months - that's crazy," Feeley said. "We need to get back to the balanced budget because any time we are out of balance it drains the economy."

    He also wanted to make it known that he does not favor the Republicans' efforts to permanently eliminate the estate tax or the so-called "death tax."

    "The death tax does not need to be made permanent," Feeley said. The death tax would only benefit the wealthiest 1 percent of the population, he said. The effect of removing those taxes permanently from the federal budget would hurt many more than it would help, according to Feeley. "These people (Republicans who favor making the tax permanent) just don't understand fundamental tax questions," he said.

    Water is another hot-button topic this year and massive improvements to the state's retention capacity could require federal aid, Feeley said.

    "Water is going to continuously be a problem in Colorado because we are the rooftop," Feeley said. Excess runoff to other states will have to be cut back and the state will need to lay claim to its fair share, but that process could demand a fight. "I think the federal government over the next couple of years will be involved in the renegotiating of the interstate water compacts and we better fight like crazy for Colorado water," Feeley said.

    In the state, there are also squabbles to be dealt with. Inner-basin transfer problems are the main problem, Feeley said. By way of example, he noted the city of Aurora's recent failed effort to purchase water from the Southeast Water Colorado Conservatory District. But the city of Pueblo fought the idea and vowed to never let water leave the Arkansas Valley.

    Thomas said conservation of water along with education and the expansion of existing reservoirs could meet the state's growing water needs. "The real issue is how do we manage scarce resources?," Thomas said. "I think the federal government has a role in that financially, at least."

    Though saying he is unsure if more water storage is actually needed, he was sure that conservation will be a large part of the solution. "I don't like rate increases as a means of increasing conservation," he said. Education could suffice, this also applies to the depletion of the aquifers in the foothills.

    "I am concerned about the depletion of the aquifers because they are not immediately replenishable," he said.

    On homeland security, Thomas said he had concerns about protecting civil liberties from some of the powers the federal government is currently empowering itself with in reaction to the war on terror.

    "I am a prosecutor and this might sound strange coming from me," Thomas said. "I am a bit concerned about overreacting to security issues in terms of our civil liberties, while we have to protect our country and neighborhoods that we don't do that by giving away what makes our country great, and that is protecting civil rights and civil liberties."

    Feeley said as citizens we are going to have to give up some luxuries and put up with long lines in airports and searches of handbags and the like at events. But that is not to say Americans need to compromise their civil rights.

    "In the United States we have to be very careful to preserve our constitutional protections because if we don't the terrorists have won," Feeley said.


    He criticized President George Bush's proposed TIPs plan to have utility workers, postal workers, and neighbors keep an eye on each other, and called it an "abomination. It's absolutely ridiculous to have untrained persons spying on ourselves and our neighbors," he said.

    Yet the attack must be refocused when it comes to foreign policy. "Partisanship stops at the water's edge," Feeley said.

    Published Aug. 1, 2002

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