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An early start: South Jeffco Democrat eager to face off with Coffman in CD6

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By AJ Vicens

Republican Tom Tancredo represented South Jeffco in Congress for 10 years after first winning the seat in 1998. His successor, Aurora Republican Mike Coffman, has been in office for less than three months — and the potential challengers already are lining up.

One is John Flerlage, a South Jeffco Democrat who says he’s the only one who can go toe to toe against Coffman and win.

“I cede nothing on security or economics as a Democrat,” Flerlage said during an interview at a South Jeffco Starbucks on March 4.

If anyone can battle Coffman on national security issues, an ex-Marine with years of military experience, it might be Flerlage.

He, too, is an ex-Marine. Flerlage served 22 years in the Marine Corps (11 on active duty and 11 in the Reserves) before he retired as a lieutenant colonel in 2000. During his Marine years, he flew the F/A-18 Hornet and A-4 Skyhawk, and was eventually placed in leadership positions to train young pilots in world affairs, strategic commitments and other tactical aircraft at the Marine aviation advanced tactics school. In the 1990s, he flew support missions in support of NATO operations in Bosnia.

After he retired from the Marine Reserves in 2000, Flerlage went to work at Delta Airlines, where he is now a captain and flies long-haul international flights.

In 1995, Flerlage, 51, and his family settled in Littleton. His oldest son graduated from Columbine High School and now attends Columbia University, his daughter is a sophomore at Columbine, and another son attends a local elementary school. Flerlage plays ice hockey and briefly coached at Columbine High School.

After the 2002 elections, he believed that Democrats, locally and nationally, could do better, so he got involved on the grassroots level. He’s volunteered on local, congressional and presidential campaigns, and has served as treasurer for the Democratic House District 28 committee. In the 2008 election campaign, Flerlage worked for Hank Eng, a Highlands Ranch Democrat who lost to Coffman.

Flerlage says he doesn’t want to be a career politician and doesn’t harbor ambitions of rising through the political ranks. He thinks he can be most effective at the congressional level.

“I don’t want to be a politician,” Flerlage said. “I thought about all the levels of government. I’m not into building a political resume.”

Flerlage thinks he can break the cycle of Republican wins in the 6th Congressional District in 2010.

“I think pragmatic Republicans will vote for me,” Flerlage says.

He says his experience in the Marines and interacting with people from around the world frames his perspective on policy issues. He was against the war in Iraq “from the beginning,” but says there are reasons the U.S. should work with allies to protect national interests and stop injustices. The U.S. intervention in Bosnia and Kosovo in the 1990s is an example of appropriate intervention, he says.

Flerlage also says he supports the “second bill of rights,” which was laid out by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in his 1944 State of the Union speech. It identifies things like affordable health care, the right to education, the right to housing and the right to a living wage.

Flerlage supports unions and wants to limit taxes on small businesses. He wants to modify No Child Left Behind and find a better way to hold schools and teachers accountable, by “tracking students through the grades” rather than comparing all students to each other at different schools. He wants to get the “government off the grid” by making large government buildings and military bases more energy efficient.

He said Coffman’s public criticism and skepticism of President Obama’s stimulus package is unfounded.

“It absolutely will work,” Flerlage says. “We should be optimistic. We have to have confidence and optimism.”

Flerlage says he’ll be working hard for the next two years to unseat Coffman. He’ll likely end up in a Democratic primary against Denver lawyer David Cantor and perhaps Eng, who hasn’t said if he’ll run again.

“I’m the only candidate I know of, potential or otherwise, who can go toe to toe with Mike Coffman,” Flerlage says.

He’ll be busy planning meetings with homeowner associations and other community groups starting this summer. He’s not worried about campaign fatigue in the community, even though an election cycle just concluded.

“I need all the time I can get,” Flerlage says. “You can’t win unless you get in at the beginning of the cycle.”

Contact AJ Vicens at aj@evergreenco.com. Do you think it’s too early to run? Can a Democrat win Coffman’s seat? Comment on this story at www.columbinecourier.com.

Learn more about John Flerlage and his bid for Congress at: www.flerlageforcongress.com.