Colorado GOP has no leaders left

Chair front-runners could doom party to further irrelevance

March 5, 2021 11:10 am

(Getty Images)

The race for the chair of the Colorado Republican Party is further indication that the organization is out of competent leaders. Five people are running for the position, and not one of the viable candidates offers the kind of vision, or even sanity, that conservatives in the state need if they value political relevance.

The stakes for the party are high, because its situation is dire. Colorado voters increasingly have found little to like in Republican candidates for public office, and after November there is just one Republican elected by voters throughout the state — that’s Heidi Ganahl, an at-large regent for the University of Colorado.


Both U.S. senators from Colorado are Democrats. The governor is a Democrat. Both state legislative chambers are controlled by Democrats. The attorney general, the secretary of state, and so forth — all Democrats. The state GOP has about a million active registered voters, which is fewer than unaffiliated voters or registered Democrats in the state, and the party lost 4,600 voters after the Jan. 6 insurrection.

Republicans place a lot of the blame on their own current party chairman, Ken Buck, who doubles as the U.S. representative from the 4th Congressional District. What did he do wrong? Perhaps state party chair and member of Congress are each positions that demand one’s full attention. But aside from workload there’s the embarrassing, public infighting that mars Buck’s tenure. He was recorded appearing to urge an El Paso County party official to change a primary election result. And he was accused by fellow Republicans last year of changing precinct caucus results in Weld County.

Those are just the alleged wrongdoings within the party. Buck’s public-service performance is shameful. Buck is a mask-denier and proponent of lies about the presidential election — he joined the nefarious lawsuit brought by Texas in December that sought to overturn President Joe Biden’s win in battleground states.

Colorado Republicans want him out as chair, and he didn’t even attempt to run for reelection. The five candidates seeking to succeed Buck in a March 27 vote are Scott Gessler, Kristi Burton Brown, Casper Stockham, Rich Mancuso and Jonathan Lockwood.

The 2021 candidates for Colorado Republican Party chair participate in a Feb. 25 debate hosted by the Republican Women of Weld. The candidates are, from left, Jonathan Lockwood, Rich Mancuso, Casper Stockham, Kristi Burton Brown and Scott Gessler. (Republican Women of Weld Facebook screenshot)

Gessler, the former Colorado secretary of state, and Burton Brown, current vice chair of the state GOP, are widely considered the front-runners. But all one needs to know about them is that they are Trump loyalists who helped spread the kind of election-integrity doubts that created a crisis for American democracy and the conditions that led to the Jan. 6 insurrection.

This is inexcusable for a former top state election official like Gessler. His Dec. 15 testimony during a now-infamous hearing on election integrity before the state Legislative Audit Committee was just the most visible instance of his contribution to the GOP project of dismantling democracy.

“From what I have seen in some of these other states, a lack of some of the procedures, some blatant violations of other procedures and process, some of the pervasive secrecy and anti-transparency efforts taken by local election officials, and some outright incompetence, to my mind really throw into doubt the outcome of the election in several states in this country,” he told the committee. His testimony immediately followed that of Jenna Ellis, the Rudy Giuliani acolyte and Colorado resident whose reputation as an incorrigible election fantasist was affirmed by her own testimony that day.

But Gessler went further during a Feb. 25 debate of the state chair candidates. Asked by the moderator if the Nov. 3 election had been stolen from then-President Donald Trump, Gessler responded, “The election may have been stolen.”

Let’s pause to state something very clearly. The election was not stolen. There is zero evidence it was stolen. Gessler offered no evidence that it was stolen. Anyone who suggests it was stolen or says it may have been stolen or expresses anything other than full confidence in the integrity of the election results is aligned with insurrectionists and is a threat to constitutional order. That includes Gessler.

Burton Brown, who was a policy advisor for far-right election conspiracist Rep. Lauren Boebert, did little better. “There’s no question that there’s plenty of voter fraud across the nation,” she said during the debate, and she even undermined trust in Colorado election results. “How do we find the answers on election integrity and election security so that voters know and believe their vote counts in 2022?” she said of state election systems. 

This is lunacy. In a nation of sound elections, Colorado rightly stands out for its gold-standard voting systems. Yet these would-be leaders of a major party are out to tear them down. And, hard to believe though it might be, their rhetoric was mild compared to that of Mancuso and Stockham, both of whom said categorically that the election was “stolen.”

Then there’s Lockwood. He’s an outlier who these days often sounds like a Democrat. He was an early supporter of Trump before 2016 but became disillusioned by him amid the former president’s violent response to Black Lives Matter protests last year. Lockwood supported Joe Biden in the election and is outspoken in his criticism of conspiracy theorists among fellow Republicans.

“If Republicans do not accept the fact that Joe Biden won this election and are willing to say it, we’re screwed,” he said during the Feb. 25 debate.

Before you celebrate this rare instance of Republican allegiance to reality, consider that the 32-year-old Lockwood almost certainly has no chance of winning, not least due to his willingness to accept facts. Furthermore, when he’s not going around being reasonable, he goes around being unreasonable. The Denver Post once described his criticism of Sen. Michael Bennet’s support of the Iran nuclear deal as “flat-out deranged.”

Fact-trusting conservatives in Colorado deserve a voice in public institutions. They’re entitled to credible leadership. Democracy in Colorado will become unstable if one side is favored due not to the infallibility of its policies but to the other side’s embrace of lies.

But the race for the state GOP chairmanship suggests that Colorado conservatives are further doomed to a swamp of misinformation and cultish devotion to Trump.


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