After the FBI raided the home of former Mesa County Clerk Tina Peters in November 2021, former Colorado state Sen. Kevin Lundberg expressed his thoughts about FBI tactics during a Zoom call with activist Sherronna Bishop and other Peters supporters. (Screenshot from America’s Mom Facebook)
Colorado Republicans faced a choice after a dismal performance in the November elections: They could turn away from the extremism that contributed to humiliating losses, or they could continue down a path of fringe politics and bigotry.
They’ve largely gone with extremism.
This puts the party at risk of further irrelevance and robs conservative Colorado residents of viable candidates to support. It also signals a dark turn for a sizable segment of the state — a development that should alarm every Coloradan.
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The most recent and consequential example of the party’s tendency to indulge its worst elements was on vivid display in the party reorganization meeting in El Paso County. The county party’s far-right leadership has long been at odds with state party officials and more traditionally conservative members, and by the time of the Feb. 11 reorganization election of county executives, the conflict was characterized by cutthroat recriminations. A group of disaffected local party members accused El Paso Chair Vickie Tonkins of condoning acts of physical intimidation and assault.
“Most recently, at the special central committee meeting, we were told we should be put in front of a firing squad and shot,” they wrote in a formal complaint to state GOP Chairwoman Kristi Burton Brown.
They also said Tonkins, an ally of election deniers, couldn’t be trusted to run a fair party election, and during an unprecedented special meeting, the state party’s Central Committee voted to sideline Tonkins and appoint a neutral chairperson to oversee the vote for party officers.
Did county party members choose to put years of acrimony and division behind them and vote Tonkins out?
No. Instead they doubled-down on support for Tonkins and gave her a decisive win. In her last reelection, she won by only about a dozen votes, but this month her margin of victory was 244-193, affirming that a conspiracy theory-friendly extremist has a clear mandate in the state GOP’s biggest county party.
These figures promise to doom the Colorado GOP to even more electoral failure in a state that has repeatedly told the party it's not offering what voters want.
Reality-challenged candidates lost their bids for party leadership in other counties. But not all. In Boulder County, Marine Corps veteran George Tristan is the new GOP chair. His specialty is voluble, brash bigotry.
He made especially ugly anti-trans remarks in a column that appeared in the Longmont Times-Call just days before his partymates elected him their leader. In an email to supporters obtained by Newsline, Tristan wrote that abortion and the existence of trans people were “dangerous lies,” adding, “we need the power of God to help us fight this war on our culture and American way of life.”
He is planning a protest Saturday “to combat queer child exploitation and grooming” during a drag queen storytime event at a bookshop in Niwot. Anti-LGBTQ hate might be Tristan’s defining trait, but extremism also appears in his opposition to climate action and his election denialism — he leads a party task force that was organized to “root out various methods of election fraud.”
By far the starkest sign of the GOP’s slide into madness is the race for state party chair.
The slate of candidates comprises fringe figures, top to bottom, guaranteeing that no matter who wins the March 11 election, an extremist will lead the party for at least the next two years. The candidate with arguably the best chance of winning is former Mesa County Clerk Tina Peters, a national symbol of big-lie lunacy who is facing felony charges over her role in a security breach in her own election office. Given Peters’ popularity among grassroots Republican members, it is not a stretch to imagine a GOP leader conducting state party business from behind bars.
The other candidate considered a frontrunner is former state Sen. Kevin Lundberg, who has long exemplified the far-right impulses of the party. Climate denial and anti-abortion zeal marked his tenure as a lawmaker, and in recent years, he has aligned himself with the state’s most extreme election deniers. After the FBI raided the homes of Peters, right-wing activist Sherronna Bishop and others in November 2021, Lundberg expressed his thoughts about FBI tactics during a Zoom call with Bishop and other Peters supporters.
“We cannot respond in like, but we need to respond in such a way that it will be unmistakable that we won’t go along with this type of tyranny,” he said, adding that the raids, related to Peters’ election security case, “smacks of the stuff that happened in the Soviet Union, that we hear of happening in China and other tyrannies like that.”
As Colorado Politics noted this week, “there isn’t a single Republican state chair candidate who hasn’t promoted unfounded claims that the 2020 election was stolen from former President Donald Trump.”
These figures promise to doom the Colorado GOP to even more electoral failure in a state that has repeatedly told the party it’s not offering what voters want. Democrats are now in their fifth year of trifecta control of state government. Democrats in fact increased their majorities in the state House and Senate during the midterm elections. As of this year, not a single Republican serves in a statewide office.
It doesn’t take a seasoned party strategist to see that a GOP revival requires a rejection of extremism. But zealotry is what Republicans are choosing, and they will continue to pay for it at the polls.
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