Briefline

Integrity of Republican leadership in El Paso County questioned by state party officials

By: - January 19, 2023 4:00 am

Election workers process ballots in El Paso County, Colorado, on Nov. 8, 2022. (Carl Payne for Colorado Newsline)

The leadership of Vickie Tonkins, the divisive chairwoman of the El Paso County Republican Party, will be up for discussion during an upcoming special meeting of the state party’s Central Committee.

The virtual meeting, planned for Jan. 31, was called by Colorado Republican Party Chairwoman Kristi Burton Brown in a Monday email, obtained by Newsline, to Central Committee members.

The purpose of the meeting is to determine whether “a neutral party” should step in to conduct the El Paso party’s reorganizational meeting in early February, when the county’s party officers will be elected, and whether state party officials can “ensure that a legally valid list of voters” is used in the election.

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“Too many people from across the state have reached out to me regarding election integrity and questions involving El Paso County,” Burton Brown wrote. “Whatever decision the State Central Committee makes will stand in El Paso County and should provide party stability.”

The El Paso GOP, Colorado Republicans’ largest county party, has experienced years of internal turmoil, including questions about the integrity of the last party reorganization vote in 2021, allegations that party funds have been mishandled, and reports of physical altercations between party members. The conflicts generally find Tonkins, an ally of far-right “grassroots” members such as former state Rep. Dave Williams, at odds with members of the party’s more traditionally conservative wing, such as former Colorado Secretary of State Wayne Williams.

The county party’s vice chair, Karl Schneider, is one of Tonkins’ most vocal antagonists. In late 2021, he filed a campaign finance complaint against the party alleging it failed to file accurate reports. In 2022, Tonkins settled the matter with the secretary of state’s Elections Division, and the party paid a $500 fine.

Schneider has long called on Tonkins to resign.

“The problem is, and rests on the shoulders of, Vickie Tonkins herself,” Schneider told Newsline this week. “Her failure to simply do her job, abide by the bylaws and abide by state law has degraded the standing of the El Paso County Republican Party to a point where the party is irrelevant in El Paso County.”

Republicans far outnumber Democrats in the county, yet Democratic Gov. Jared Polis in November earned 47% of ballots in the county, compared to the Republican’s 51% — a great improvement from when Polis got 40% of El Paso ballots in 2018.

Schneider said voters were “disenfranchised” during the 2021 reorganizational meeting that earned Tonkins her current term as county party chairwoman. State party officials at the time substantiated allegations that the vote was faulty and ordered a new election, only to reverse themselves weeks later.

“There’s just a long history of — I can’t say criminality, but near-criminality on the part of the party chair, Vickie Tonkins, in the conduct of her duties and responsibilities as the party chair,” Schneider said. “I’ve come to the realization that it actually hasn’t been done out of ignorance. It’s actually done out of a fascist ideology, meaning anything goes as long as they achieve what they want to achieve, even if it means violating law, violating voters, disenfranchising voters and the like.”

Tonkins declined to speak by phone, but in a text she said the allegation that the 2021 election was marred by impropriety and voter disenfranchisement is “a total lie and fabrication by those who lost.”

Responding to Schneider’s characterization of her leadership as representing a “fascist ideology,” Tonkins said, “You are not a leader unless you have people following you. I have many following me, no one is following Mr. Schneider!”

Tonkins said she plans to participate in the state Central Committee special meeting later this month.

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