Scott Gessler is proud to be nicknamed after a ferocious weasel.
A few years ago, Democrats started calling the Republican secretary of state the “honey badger,” stemming from a viral YouTube video about the tenacious African mammal. The video's narrator says that the honey badger always gets what it wants and “has no regard for any other animal, whatsoever.”
Gessler — a Denver resident who is often at odds with Gov. John Hickenlooper and other Democratic officeholders — wears the honey badger moniker as a badge of honor.
“Because I stand up on principle and people aren't used to seeing that,” Gessler said in a recent interview.
Gessler hopes that Republican primary voters will reward his work as secretary of state and his fighting personality when they head to the polls to select their nominee for governor on June 24. And he believes he's the right candidate for Republicans to put up against the incumbent Hickenlooper.
“Look at Hickenlooper,” Gessler said. “He says he's a moderate, that's what he claims. And yet he signs the most liberal agenda in the history of Colorado.”
Democrats see Gessler as an easy target for attacks in a general election, mainly over his ethics concerns.
Last year, the Colorado Independent Ethics Commission found that Gessler violated state rules for spending about $2,000 of state money for attending a Republican event in Florida.
“The ethics commission is fundamentally corrupt,” said Gessler, dismissing the claims against him. Gessler believes that the commission is made up of Hickenlooper-friendly appointees who pick on Republicans while going easy on Democrats.
Gessler's work as secretary of state has also received criticism. Gessler was accused of disenfranchising minority voters when his office sent letters to some registered voters to show proof of their citizenship. He also wants Colorado to adopt a policy that requires voters to show photo ID.
Gessler becomes particularly annoyed when people accuse him of being obsessed with voter fraud, in spite of evidence that it doesn't occur very often.
“I grew up in Chicago, so don't tell me it's overblown,” Gessler said. “Yes, I know, in Colorado we are so pure it can never happen here. I've got all those arguments. We are just so pure in Colorado. We are superior human beings than anywhere else and nothing wrong can ever happen in Colorado. That's bull----. That's bull----. The fact of the matter is we are human beings just like everywhere else and we have a capacity for good and evil just like anyone else.”
Gessler took over as secretary of state in 2010 after defeating Democratic incumbent Bernie Buescher. He touts that he is the only Republican running for governor who has won a statewide race.
And lately, his electability argument is being backed by money. Gessler has outraised his GOP rivals for two consecutive fundraising periods.
On the issues, Gessler “understands people's concerns” over hydraulic fracturing, known as “fracking,” but supports the practice, saying, “if we didn't have oil and gas in Colorado, we'd be dead in the water.”
On education, Gessler would like to see more school districts adopt pay-for-performance models for teachers — a controversial method that has been taken up by the school board in Douglas County.
And Gessler would like to see students have more choices in the schools they wish to attend.
“When you do have that competition among schools and they have to attract students through excellence, rather than geography, that helps a lot,” he said.
Gessler believes that gun-control legislation that was put in place by the Democratic majority last year “is a lot of money and lot of expense for very little benefit.”
In true “honey badger” style, Gessler isn't afraid to take on fellow Republicans. He believes that selecting Tom Tancredo as the GOP nominee would “spell disaster” for the party. And he recently came out with a TV ad that warns voters against picking candidates like Tancredo and Bob Beauprez, who have lost gubernatorial bids in the past.
Gessler believes his personality and his tenacity will pay off.
“I'm honest about who I am and what I'm about and I explain my principles and I don't back down,” he said.