[meeting with] Skeletor,” he said, referencing the Masters of the Universe cartoon arch–enemies. “I am impressed by her vision. She convinced me that the Democrats will work to protect and further the interests and opportunities of minority Americans. That matched with the politics of Reagan for me. He was a champion of the American dream, the idea of America as a shining city on a hill. He expanded opportunities through small business credits and amnesty for immigrants. It was all about opportunity.
“I have three top political heroes: Ronald Reagan, George W. Bush and now Nancy Pelosi. She has such a spine, like Reagan and Bush, they all have that in common: a spine of steel that comes from conviction.”
Major financial backers of conservative causes and candidates in the state and friends to national GOP leaders and successive Republican presidential administrations, the Hasans have publicly struggled with the post–Bush Palin–era GOP. Matriarch Seeme Hasan during the “Ground Zero Mosque” debate said she didn’t recognize the party. Ali Hasan’s defection comes in the wake of news that state GOP lawmakers will introduce tough Arizona–style immigration legislation and held a high profile hearing on the topic with a slanted roster of experts that featured almost no immigrant rights groups but several with ties to white supremecist organizations.
A hardline fiscal conservative and champion of Constitutional equality, Hasan says Republicans have merely paid lip service to the former and have effectively come to oppose the latter.
“Look at what the state Republican party thinks of Doug Bruce,” he said referring to the controversial anti–tax crusading author of Colorado’s Taxpayer Bill of Rights. “And there is no record of fiscal conservativism on the federal level. So that’s one side and then I think ‘I believe in the American dream for everyone and which party is fighting for immigrants, gays, Muslims?’ The GOP has attacked them. Democrats want to work for them.”
State convention whisper campaign
Hasan said he felt alienated between national Republican leaders on one side railing against the so–called “Ground Zero Mosque” and gays and illegal immigrants and, on the other, state Republican delegates convinced that as a candidate for treasurer he was angling to install sharia finance laws. He said the GOP convention in May was a low point.
“You experience bigotry sometimes but I often just think it’s probably my personality that the person doesn’t like. At the convention, though, that was the first time I felt the real thing. It was the worst experience of my life.”
Hasan suspects a whisper campaign swept the convention, sounding a warning against placing a Muslim in charge of investing the state’s revenues.
“Some goons were telling people that there’s a passage in the Koran that encourages Muslims to lie, that lying is considered a good thing in the service of advancing a Muslim or sharia agenda. I don’t know who was behind the rumor, but I’ve read the Koran, and I don’t know what they were talking about.”
Hasan said in the run up to the convention he personally called the 3,500 delegates and talked to roughly 1,500 who said he could count on their vote.
He said he ran this “informal survey” through his pollster and the numbers made sense because Hasan was getting heavy support from the Western Slope where he lives and has been active while his opponent, J.J. Ament, was pulling well from the eastern Front Range districts.
“In the end, we guessed we’d get 40 percent support at the convention as a basement estimate.”
That didn’t happen. Hasan drew roughly 20 percent of delegate support, missing the cut off to make the ballot by 10 percent.
He said the weekend of the convention he watched hundreds of supporters fall away. Delegate after delegate approached him and mentioned the Koran and said in so many words that they weren’t sure they could trust him.
“It hurt. People who had said they were voting for me were now coming up to me and saying ‘You know, I hear you could be lying to us.’ I was shocked. I got the courage to approach some of them, people I had talked to and who said they were voting for me. Here they were wearing J.J. Ament stickers. I was like, you know, wow, and they said ‘But how do I know you’re not going to assert some form of sharia law against Colorado?’”
Hasan said he was deflated after talking to one woman at length.
“I told her I started Muslims for Bush. I’m proud of that. I told her I have been a vocal fiscal conservative for years. I said I’ve given to Republican candidates on the federal and state level. I helped get Republican candidates elected to House seats in 2008 when Democrats were winning everything … Finally I asked her ‘There’s nothing I can say to win your vote because my name is Muhammad, am I right?’ and she said ‘Yeah, that’s probably right.’”
Hasan said he met time and again with Republican voters and leaders across the state in campaigning for treasurer and that “in groups of 20, the fact that my name is Muhammad was never a bad thing, but at the convention, there were 5,000 people who were all suddenly suspicious of Muslims.”
As the Colorado Independent reported at the time, the Ament campaign clearly traded on anti–muslim sentiment or at least on domestic fears of Muslim rule in the Mahgreb. Ament claimed in campaign literature, for instance, that Hasan would lift Colorado overseas invest restrictions and put taxpayer cash to work for the “genocidal regime in Sudan” and to further Iranian nuclear ambitions.
Yet Hasan said he doesn’t blame Ament for what happened at the convention. The thing that got him, he said, was that GOP delegates were so willing to believe the ridiculous rumors.
In fact, he said, he shouldn’t have been surprised.
Hasan said that when he was considering running for House District 56 three years ago, an adviser told him that his being Muslim was much less an issue than the fact that he was a filmmaker and not a rancher. “You gotta go work on a ranch to be able to relate to these people,” the adviser told him. So Hasan did. Dressed in a suit, cowboy boots and matching turquoise bolo tie and enormous belt buckle, Hasan said he is proud of the work he did just bringing salt licks out to the animals and watching the weather.
“What I learned is that a cowboy is a person who says the same thing no matter the setting. I also learned that nature is the same way, honest.”
In 2008, Muhammad Ali the Rancher won the support of lots of voters on the Western Slope. He lost to Democrat Christine Scanlan by a few percentage points, and the problem, he said, was Republicans.
“I would have won if not for Republicans. Polling was through the roof with independents and we made huge inroads with Democrats. But we never broke 65 percent with Republicans, who cast between 90 percent and 95 percent for [U.S. Senate candidate Bob] Schaffer and [presidential candidate John] McCain. You need that 90 percent to win.
“Republican voters cost us 56. I should have learned from that.”
The “Ground Zero Mosque”
Hasan said that although his experience at the convention was dispiriting, it wasn’t actually a turning point. He said he’s forever grateful to the 20 percent delegates who voted for him and who wore HASAN tee–shirts around the convention and notes that in the weeks after the convention he enthusiastically endorsed GOP primary winner Walker Stapleton and gave generously to GOP candidates across the state.
It was national politics that set him over the edge.
“When Bush left, it seems like a vacuum opened up and into it rushed bigotry.”
He ticks off topics that have shaped national GOP politics this year: Support for anti–gay marriage Proposition 8 in California; Arizona’s tough SB1070 immigration law; support for repealing the naturalized citizenship granted by the 14th Amendment; and what he calls “the Mosque issue.”
He said he couldn’t believe the way the plans to build the Cordoba Center Mosque escalated.
“I dismissed it as a joke. It was crazy people. Then it was one Republican leader after another looking to strip Constitutional rights out of just bigotry.”
He pointed out the change that had come over leaders like Newt Gingrich and Sarah Palin, onetime Muslim defenders, he said, whom he now sees on this topic as the worst kind of pandering politicians.
“The ‘Ground Zero Mosque’ was never about the mosque, which was really just a health club, a swimming pool … That was all about rallying the base.”
He eventually wrote a popular blog on the topic for the Huffington Post comparing the move to ban the mosque to so–called red–lining racist zoning laws in the pre–Civil Rights era.
“I was okay after the convention. I decided all that was just an aberration and that I would just let it fade. But the 14th Amendment debate, the ugly mosque politics, that just killed my hopes.”
The Polis–Pelosi connection
In the wake of the mosque flap, Hasan said he emailed his friend Congressman Jared Polis, a man he said he has admired for years.
“If you want to convince me to become a Democrat, you have your chance.”
Polis said he had someone he wanted Hasan to talk to and then he set up the meeting with Pelosi.
“I thought to myself, ‘Well, I’m not a socialist, so I don’t think I can be a Democrat,’” Hasan said, joking. “But Nancy Pelosi’s people called me up and said she wanted to meet with me and I talked about it with my mom. She said ‘Baby, when the third most powerful person in the world asks you to join her party, you better think about it.’”
Hasan said his mother said she was committed to the Republican party because she wants to work to change it but she told Hasan that his opportunities lie with the Democrats. “You can’t win office as a Republican,” she told him. “You deserve a chance to win.”
Hasan said he knows he has to put in the same “blood and sweat” for the Democratic party now that he has put into the Republican party over the years. He’s looking at running again for office in six to eight years. He said he’s “thinking in election cycles.” His first step is going to be to form a group to fight to protect the rights of and expand opportunities for minorities.
“If we fight on a Constitutional basis and not on emotion, we will win,” he said. “I don’t defend Muslims because I’m Muslim. I’m not even a good Muslim. I’m a sinner. I’m a political hack and an interfaith practitioner … I defend Muslims because I stand against bigotry, because I don’t want bigotry to exist.”