Colorado Republican leaders sideline El Paso County chairwoman in contentious meeting
El Paso County Republican Party Chairwoman Vickie Tonkins on Jan. 23, 2023, wrote an open letter to Colorado Republican Party Chairwoman Kristi Burton Brown. (Screenshot)
Leaders of the Colorado Republican Party on Monday voted to appoint a “neutral” person to oversee the El Paso County Republican Party reorganizational meeting and elections in less than two weeks.
The extraordinary vote signaled that a majority of state party officials do not trust Chairwoman Vickie Tonkins of El Paso County to run the meeting, during which her own position and other county party offices will be up for election.
The vote was 139 to 123.8 to sideline Tonkins in favor of Gregory Carlson, a registered parliamentarian based in Colorado Springs, who will serve as chair for the Feb. 11 meeting.
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The Monday meeting of the state party’s Central Committee, conducted virtually on Zoom, followed years of acrimony between Tonkins, an ally of Colorado Springs-area far-right activists and officeholders, and the party’s more traditionally conservative members. It was prompted when a group of disaffected party members — including El Paso County Treasurer Chuck Broerman, former secretary of state and Colorado Springs Council Member Wayne Williams, and members of Pikes Peak United Republicans — submitted a complaint to state party leaders that contained serious allegations against Tonkins.
The complaint accused Tonkins of mishandling party funds, refusing to produce a list of the party’s central committee members, disenfranchising voters and acts of intimidation.
Tonkins — who is backed by former and current office holders, such as former state representative and former candidate for U.S Senate Ron Hanks, former state Rep. Dave Williams, and current state Reps. Scott Bottoms and Ken DeGraaf — had argued the Monday meeting would violate state law, and she cast the complainants as “election deniers.” Her defenders noted that one of the complainants was Michael Burton, father of state party Chairwoman Kristi Burton Brown, who called the Monday meeting.
In calling the meeting, Burton Brown had written, “Too many people from across the state have reached out to me regarding election integrity and questions involving El Paso County.”
Broerman presented the case against Tonkins during the Monday meeting.
“We believe that based on past action there is no hope for a fair election in the upcoming organizational meeting unless the state central committee votes ‘yes’ today to appoint a neutral chairman to oversee the meeting,” he said.
He cited three party elections overseen by Tonkins that he said were “flawed” — at the 2020 county assembly, at the 2021 county reorganizational meeting, and at the 2022 county assembly, when the election he said “was run illegally.”
“Three elections, three failures,” Broerman said. “This is not just a competency issue. It is also a willful refusal for this administration to be fair.”
Williams spoke in Tonkins’ defense. He said the purpose of the meeting violated party bylaws and state law.
“But what may not be clear is the troubling reason of why we’re debating this at all,” he said. “What’s clear to us is that the complainants want to maximize their chances by hook or by crook of winning our county party elections next month and retaking control of party leadership.”
The El Paso County Republican Party is the Colorado GOP’s biggest county party.
The state party vote Monday is the subject of a legal challenge. Tonkins and the county party filed a lawsuit Monday in Arapahoe County District Court against state party leaders over what they say is an illegal attempt to meddle in local party business.
In announcing the suit, county party lawyers Devin C. Daines and J. Brad Bergford wrote, “We aim to protect their autonomy to make internal decisions, including their determinations of who may represent their precincts and vote for executive committee candidates in the upcoming internal election.”
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