Steamboat Springs Muhammad Ali Hasan stopped short of declaring his candidacy for state Senate District 8 at a Steamboat Springs event Wednesday and suggested that he and state Rep. Al White - a fellow Republican who has declared for the seat - may end up working "as a team" rather than clashing in a primary.
Hasan, owner and CEO of an Avon land development company, filed paperwork last month with the Colorado Secretary of State's Office to make him an eligible candidate for the state Senate seat, but has said he did so only to keep his options open, and that he has not made a final decision. He hinted toward a candidacy Wednesday, saying "I believe very strongly in the paperwork I filed."
Term-limited Sen. Jack Taylor, R-Steamboat Springs, will vacate Senate District 8 - which includes all of Moffat, Routt, Jackson and Rio Blanco counties, as well as parts of Eagle and Garfield counties. White, Taylor's ally in the state Legislature, is term-limited in House District 57, where he has served since first being elected in 2000.
Hasan acknowledged Wednesday that White would be a formidable opponent and that White has the backing of the state Republican Party. While noting that he thinks White is a good person and representative, Hasan said he has reservations about whether White is the best candidate for Senate District 8, which Hasan called the most important state Senate seat not just in Colorado, but the entire country.
"The state party is asking me not to run," Hasan said. "But I feel like we're at a moment when the Western Slope issues are transcending the Republican Party."
Specifically, Hasan said he doesn't believe Western Slope oil and gas interests are receiving enough attention. He spoke at length about oil shale, which he thinks may soon become an economically viable energy source.
"We've got more oil in our Rocky Mountains than all of Saudi Arabia in our oil shale," Hasan said. "We're very unprepared for it. : I'm definitely not happy that no one is addressing oil shale."
As some of the 21 members in the audience at the Hampton Inn pointed out, oil shale drilling has been talked about for decades, but the technology has never progressed to a point to make it profitable. Hasan agreed, but said Colorado shouldn't be caught unsuspecting if and when that changes.
"My point is it's on the horizon, and we need to start preparing for it," Hasan said. "The oil companies have plenty of money to figure out this problem."
Despite his hesitations about White, Hasan said he would be willing to step down and not run against him if White and state party leadership sign pledges that they will embrace the issues important to Hasan.
"We might come to an understanding," Hasan said. "That's possible. And if we do, I'll be kicking my (butt) to help him. If we don't come to understanding, I'll be kicking my (butt) to defeat him.
"I don't care if I win or lose. My top priority is to change the debate. If the debate changes, I don't need to run."
Matt Johnston, Al White's campaign manager, attended Hasan's event Wednesday evening. When asked what Hasan meant when he said the two candidates might end up working as a team, Johnston said, "He's speaking of possibly running for another office, which is the only way we would ever work as a team."
Johnston and Hasan spoke after Wednesday's event to discuss the possibility of such an arrangement, which may involve Hasan running for House District 56, which was recently vacated by Dan Gibbs, D-Silverthorne, who was recently appointed to fill the Senate District 16 seat vacancy left by Sen. Joan Fitz-Gerald's resignation.
"I would strongly consider that," Hasan said.
Hasan's event was billed as a presentation on the war on terrorism, and he began with that presentation. By his own admission, however, the presentation was merely a prelude to discussing Senate District 8.
"This was something just to hook a few more people in," Hasan said. "As long as people are here, we can convince them to come to our side."
In his initial presentation, Hasan, a devout Muslim, discussed the war on terrorism and misconceptions about Islam as well as answered questions from the audience. He said that to him and 99 percent of Muslims, Islam is "a religion of peace and love." For terrorists, it is a "religion of death," he said.
Hasan has been holding similar events for Republicans throughout Senate District 8. He said the reception he receives at the events will be a critical factor in his decision to run for office. He was pleased with the reception he received from members of the Routt County Republican Party on Wednesday.
"I thought it went great," Hasan said. "This was an opportunity to test the campaign issue of oil and gas."
Hasan acknowledged that there were probably many Al White supporters in the crowd. He said he didn't mind them supporting White, but he challenged them to change the debate. Former Steamboat Springs City Councilman Paul Strong was among the White supporters in attendance. He said Hasan's presentation was "OK."
"It's interesting to have the debate," Strong said, "but I think Al's done a really god job for our district and he's going to continue."