By Anthony Bowe
THE COLORADO STATESMAN
An overflowing crowd of Jefferson County Republicans struggled to find parking spots at their county assembly at the El Jebel Shrine in Denver last Saturday. Delegates arriving thirty minutes after doors opened at 7 a.m. were forced to park blocks away.
The grassy knoll leading up to the entrance had been transformed into a burgeoning garden of political signs, showcasing the myriad political candidates who would be on hand for this important day in Republican politics.
Some were welcomed at the entrance by Isabella Leonard, a 2-year-old girl draped in red, white and blue wielding a yellow sign that said, “Go Daddy Go!” Isabella, with mom Monica Leonard, was rallying for father Tim Leonard, who would be nominated for the state senate in SD 16 later that day.
“At home [Isabella] was saying ‘go daddy go,’ and I thought she needs a sign for that,” Monica Leonard said.
When excited delegates finally made it inside and began streaming down the aisles at 8 a.m., GOP County Chair Don Ytterberg announced they were short about 200 chairs.
“If you know anyone well enough to sit on their lap, now is a good time to accept an invitation,” Ytterberg joked over the PA system.
Instead of rising groans and complaints, the assembly atmosphere remained chipper as candidates engaged delegates, volunteers chanted campaign slogans, and political banter raised the volume in the auditorium.
“It’s a big county and we have a really fired up group of people,” Ytterberg said. “It’s always more fun to work with a group that’s excited and I would say that our team is pretty excited.”
Approximately 1,200 people attended this year’s county assembly, including 897 delegates and more than one hundred alternates. There were eight house districts and two senate districts were represented.
More than 400 delegates from Jefferson County will attend the state assembly on May 22 in Loveland.
As the festivities began, it was obvious the various cookies, donuts, beverages and enticing treats weren’t the main draw to this event. It’s time to vote Republicans back into power, said delegate Keith Grebe, 66.
“Democrats have messed up so bad at the state house and also at the federal level,” Grebe said. “It’s a different attitude this year (than 2008). The federal government is spending way too much money, going in the wrong direction, and we need to turn it around.”
Except for one, all the candidates vying for local seats and were unopposed.
Before delegates in HD 27 voted for either Libby Szabo or Dave Aquino, controversy erupted. During nomination motions, Szabo was nominated by a delegate, but no one spoke up to officially nominate Aquino before nominations were closed by district chair Denise Mund. To alleviate confusion over the procedural controversy and mounting tensions among the delegates, Mund recognized the mishap and reopened nominations.
Aquino, who was attending his first-ever county assembly, said the process was “a little more procedural than I would like.”
Aquino failed to secure 30 percent of required support in a paper vote. The victor, former candidate Szabo, earned 87.5 percent of the vote.
“I’m going to go beat Sara Gagliardi, that’s what I’m going to do now,” Szabo said in an unwavering tone after the vote.
Receiving nominations for county offices were four incumbents: Tim Kauffman for treasurer, Pam Anderson for clerk, Jim Everson for assessor, and Ted Mink for sheriff. Don Rosier is running for county commissioner, and John Graham for coroner.
Around 30 candidates and representatives addressed the assembly Saturday. Weld County District Attorney Ken Buck, running for U.S. senate, gave a speech that earned a partial standing ovation.
Senate candidate Jane Norton greeted Jefferson County delegates in the morning but attended other assemblies later in the day. State Rep. Ken Summers spoke on her behalf.
In the gubernatorial race, Scott McInnis addressed delegates, but fellow candidate for governor Dan Maes only briefly mingled with delegates during the crowded schedule of county assemblies around the state.
Aurora City Councilman Ryan Frazier, a candidate in CD 7, received the largest standing ovation as he stood on stage with family members at his sides.
“We can win the seventh congressional district of Colorado and I want to do it for you,” Frazier said to applause. “I want to fight for the types of free market solutions that create jobs that go to Americans that can work for American jobs.”
Frazier is pursuing the nomination in CD 7 alongside three other Republicans: Mike Sheeley, Lang Sias and Michael Deming. The CD 7 congressional assembly will take place May 20, at the Jefferson County fairgrounds.
U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman, whose CD 6 includes portions of Jefferson County, said the excitement surrounding the GOP this year is at a peak.
“It’s more than I’ve ever seen before in all my years in Colorado politics,” Coffman said.
First time assembly delegate Maggie Fleming, 48, said her participation in politics has increased with the tea party movement. Fleming said she regularly attends tea party rallies and candle light vigils in Evergreen and Conifer.
“I’m here excited to be a part of the process and learning about the process,” she said. “I’m a concerned citizen and very supportive of the grassroots movements.”
Delegates voted on 23 resolutions Saturday. The most popular called for tightening immigration laws by strengthening U.S. borders, penalizing businesses employing illegal immigrants, and requiring an E-verify system to prove citizenship before gaining employment and voting.
The second most popular resolution was quintessential conservative, advocating for fiscal responsibility, a balanced budget and low taxes.
GOP state chair Dick Wadhams made his first stop Saturday in Jefferson County, his home county. He would travel to several other assemblies afterwards. Sporting a wry smile, Wadhams predicted his party’s drive would be successful in November.
“We’re gonna win majorities in the legislature, and we’re gonna elect three new congressmen, and we’re gonna win a governorship and U.S. senator,” he said.