GOP governor candidates take aim at Polis at conspiracy-fueled Western Conservative Summit
Heidi Ganahl, Greg Lopez blast Colorado Democrats’ policies ahead of June 28 primary
Donald Sweeting, president of Colorado Christian University, takes the stage at the Western Conservative Summit in Aurora on June 4, 2022. (Chase Woodruff/Colorado Newsline)
With just days remaining before voters start casting their primary ballots, the two candidates in a head-to-head battle for the Republican nomination for Colorado governor didn’t so much as acknowledge each other in separate appearances onstage at a conservative conference in Aurora on Saturday.
Instead, Greg Lopez and University of Colorado Regent-at-Large Heidi Ganahl reserved their attacks for Democratic incumbent Gov. Jared Polis, echoing the ominous warnings and conspiracy-laden rhetoric delivered by other speakers at the two-day Western Conservative Summit.
“Colorado has seen some of the most extreme, most harmful and most oppressive legislation and executive orders in recent history,” said Lopez, a former mayor of Parker who secured the top ballot line in the June 28 primary at the GOP’s state assembly in April. “A dark agenda of government overreach and elitist control is destroying our Colorado way of life.”
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Hosted annually by the Centennial Institute, a think tank at Lakewood’s Colorado Christian University, the Western Conservative Summit returned as an in-person event in 2022 for the first time since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Hundreds gathered at the Gaylord Rockies convention center for speeches, workshops and a slate of candidate forums that also included Friday appearances by U.S. Senate candidates Joe O’Dea and state Rep. Ron Hanks.
Ganahl, who was elected to a six-year term on the CU Board of Regents in 2016 and is currently Colorado’s only statewide Republican elected official, assured the crowd that she can defy expectations and pull off another statewide GOP victory in 2022.
“We are suffering. Jared Polis has been an out-of-touch failure for our state, and we’ve got to stop him,” Ganahl said. “And if Jared Polis and the liberal media doesn’t think I’m a fighter, they haven’t seen anything yet.”
Ganahl said her plans as governor include reducing the state income tax to zero, cutting the gas tax in half and an effort to “reduce bureaucracy” by 40% in her first term. But as she invoked grim visions of Colorado’s rural areas “decimated” and of a Denver “filthy and filled with needles and crime,” Ganahl distilled much of her agenda into a reversal of many of the policies pursued by Polis and Democrats in the General Assembly over the last four years.
“As your governor, the most important thing I can do is undo as much of the damage as possible,” she said. “On day one, I will undo as much I can.”
Far-right conspiracy theories
Lopez and Ganahl were preceded on stage by Frank Gaffney, a far-right activist long criticized for Islamophobic and anti-immigrant rhetoric, who warned summit attendees of the threat posed by “the enemy within our own country” — people and organizations that he said are agents of the Chinese Communist Party.
Predicting a war with China in the near future, Gaffney told summit attendees that the United States will “need something like a national unity government,” composed not of the “clowns we’ve got now, but of people … who have taken and will fulfill the oath of office to protect and defend our constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic.”
National unity governments have historically been formed by countries around the world in times of invasion, civil war or constitutional crisis. The term has most recently been adopted by the National Unity Government of Myanmar, a coalition of exiled and imprisoned lawmakers formed after that country’s 2021 coup d’état.
In another speech earlier Saturday, Peter Kerr, a Colorado Christian University business and marketing professor, compared current events to the fall of the Roman Empire, accusing the Biden “regime” of plotting to undermine the American financial system to aid China.
“The Romans finally realized, as we have finally realized, that the real threat is from within,” Kerr told the crowd. “If you want a world government, what you’ve got to do is to take down the United States’ military and economic dominance.”
Exhibitors at the summit included The Epoch Times, a far-right newspaper described by the New York Times as a “global-scale misinformation machine,” and New Tang Dynasty Television. Both outlets are part of a media consortium tied to the Falun Gong religious movement and fierce critics of the Chinese government. Through its print and digital media network, The Epoch Times has become a leading purveyor of a wide range of right-wing misinformation and conspiracy theories, including baseless claims of widespread fraud in the 2020 presidential election.
Ahead of Saturday’s opening session, displays directed summit attendees who were “tired of feeling powerless when something fishy happens with an election” to an “election integrity” effort run by a conservative activist group. Several speeches and workshops at the conference were devoted to the topic.
Jenna Ellis, a former CCU legal studies professor who helped lead former President Donald Trump’s effort to overturn the results of the 2020 election, took the stage Saturday and urged the crowd to be “culture warriors” and committed Christians.
Responding to recent media coverage of the rising influence of Christian nationalism in the GOP, Ellis said she rejected the label, but nonetheless insisted that the Founders intended the U.S. to be a “Christian nation.”
“We have to answer that question of ‘Christian nationalist’ by saying, ‘Of course I’m a Christian. Of course I’m a nationalist’ — meaning America First, meaning I care about my country,” said Ellis.
“That is what makes this country great — it is not our tolerance, it’s not our diversity,” she added. “The only reason that America is great is because our Founders recognized God first.”
In brief conversations onstage with KNUS radio host George Brauchler following their speeches Saturday, both Ganahl and Lopez affirmed their belief in five “strategic priorities” identified by CCU leadership: “sanctity of life, traditional family values, free markets, limited government and a commitment to the Constitution.”
“We are all here today to honor God, and family, and our founding principles of this great country,” said Ganahl. “It’s time for all of us to stand up and fight for the things that we hold so dear.”
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