Silverii: Colorado Republicans gather and select the worst of the worst

The Colorado Republican Party is beset with deepening internal fissures, wild conspiracy theories, criminal records, and public conflict. Last weekend’s state assemblies showed that Republicans could squander their 2022 opportunities — Biden’s low approval rating, inflation, a pending war. So embarrassing were the assemblies, I almost feel bad for them.

At the Douglas County Republican Assembly on March 19, GOP candidate for governor, perennial loser Greg Lopez (who has admitted to a 1993 domestic violence charge), said, “I think it’s time we had a real first lady, don’t you?” Leveling an anti-gay smear at our proudly and openly gay Gov. Jared Polis and his partner, Colorado’s First Gentleman Marlon Reis, is disgusting, but not surprising.

Later in the day, the crowd gave a standing ovation to the four members of the Douglas County School Board who a judge recently admonished in an injunction for violating open meetings laws in their unceremonious firing of former superintendent Corey Wise. Wise’s termination drew parents, teachers, and students to the streets in protest, but the Republican base treated the school board members like conquering heroes.

In the other right-wing stronghold of El Paso County, more shenanigans were afoot. First-term incumbent state Rep. Mary Bradfield will not be appearing on the ballot after being defeated by Karl Dent, who was convicted in August of felony trespassing, and is currently facing charges for animal cruelty and violating a protection order. Dent originally ran for county sheriff, but his criminal history made that impossible. So much for the “party of law and order.”

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El Paso County GOP Chairwoman Vicki Tonkins also faced criticism from fellow Republicans over “[demonstrating] bias and favoritism in contradiction to the bylaws and duties and responsibilities of her office,” according to Karl Schneider, her own vice-chairman. Tonkins has been accused of putting her thumb on the scale for her preferred candidates by withholding delegate lists from their opponents, including Rep. Bradfield, who claimed that she received the list after her primary opponents.

That same day, House Minority Leader Hugh McKean was kept off the ballot by a challenger backed by the previous minority leader, Douglas County state Rep. Pat Neville, who Rep. McKean defeated in leadership elections in 2021. Rep. McKean has submitted petitions to the Secretary of State, so he still may appear on the June primary ballot. Still, it is unheard of for a member of legislative leadership to face a primary challenge, let alone fail to make the ballot at their own assembly. Oddly enough, state Sen. Paul Lundeen, who has positioned himself as the next in line for Senate GOP caucus leadership, lost his assembly to little-known Lynda Wilson. Unlike Rep. McKean, Sen. Lundeen received enough votes to make the ballot, but it’s astonishing that he had to struggle this much to get there.

Also last week, a member of the Colorado Republican State Central Committee – who happens to be a right-wing talk show host – used his platform to call for the removal of state party chairwoman Kristi Burton Brown. The reason? Burton Brown tepidly suggested that disgraced Mesa County Clerk Tina Peters suspend her campaign until her legal troubles are resolved. Peters recently spent a night in county jail after being indicted on 13 counts of election tampering and official misconduct for stealing election equipment and breaking into her own office to try and prove the Big Lie that the 2020 election was stolen from Donald Trump, despite the former president winning Mesa County with nearly 63% of the vote. There’s that “party of law and order” again.

Politics is a pendulum, and Colorado has been one of the swingiest of all.

In 2010 and 2014, the last midterms with a Democratic President, Republicans performed fairly well — but not as well as they should have given the political environment. 2022 should be the best chance the GOP has had in two decades to win some meaningful elections and prove that Colorado is still an electorally-competitive state … if only they could get out of their own way.

Ian Silverii is the founder of The Bighorn Company and the former director of ProgressNow Colorado. His wife Brittany Petterson is running for Congress as a Democrat in House District 7. Follow him on Twitter @iansilverii.

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