By Leslie Jorgensen
THE COLORADO STATESMAN
COLORADO SPRINGS — Like the munchkins’ advice to follow the yellow-brick road in the Wizard of Oz, Republican delegates were guided by hundreds of campaign signs that lined Austin Bluff Boulevard to the El Paso County GOP Assembly at the UCCS Events Center. And this “Super Saturday’ assembly produced suspense, surprises and political wizardry.
The 1,335 credentialed delegates and several hundred alternates met at 9 a.m. Saturday, April 10, to select candidates and vote on 24 resolutions.
Highlights of the resolutions included support for divestment of assets from insolvent banks that received funds from TARP (Toxic Asset Relief Program), banning abortion, imposing 12-year term limits for Colorado’s members of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, protecting gun rights, asserting state sovereignty with a “Notice and Demand” to the federal government to “cease and desist” imposing mandated programs, and securing the borders from illegal immigrants.
Throughout the day, statewide Republican candidates popped in to woo the delegates. In the GOP race for governor, Dan Maes addressed the delegates early in the morning and state Sen. Josh Penry spoke on behalf of frontrunner former Congressman Scott McInnis.
“Where is Scott? Where is Scott?” shouted several men in the audience.
Some folks said the heckling and booing was from Maes’ supporters; others said that delegates were offended that McInnis didn’t come to the county assembly.
“I’ve heard both views, but I think the shouting came more from the Maes camp,” said delegate Terry Smith. “Scott is strong here, but he probably needs to shore up support in other counties.”
It was a “Super Saturday” for county party assemblies — nearly 30 for Republican statewide candidates to stump.
In the Republican race for U.S. Senate, former Colorado Lt. Gov. Jane Norton thanked the delegates and touted recent endorsements by the Pikes Peak Firearms Coalition and the Susan B. Anthony List, a national pro-life political action committee. Norton was surrounded by more than 50 supporters including state Sen. Keith King, state Reps. Amy Stephens, Bob Gardner, Larry Liston and Mark Waller, and Janet Suthers, both she and her husband state Attorney General John Suthers have endorsed Norton.
A couple of hours later, Weld County District Attorney Ken Buck pitched his campaign for the U.S. Senate — and vowed not to be influenced by the Republican National Senatorial Committee and denounced Arizona Senator John McCain for meddling in Colorado’s race. McCain and Colorado’s former U.S. Senators Hank Brown and Bill Armstrong encouraged Norton to run for office and endorsed her campaign.
Among the supporters joining Buck on stage were state Rep. Kent Lambert, Tea Party leader Jeff Wright and Robin Coran, who managed 5th District Congressman Doug Lamborn’s re-election campaign in 2008.
Of five contested races, the battle between El Paso County Sheriff Terry Maketa and Monument Police Chief Jacob Shirk looked like a sleeper — but it turned into Maketa’s worst nightmare. Of 1,199 certified delegate ballots, 674 were cast for Maketa and 537 for Shirk.
It has been a tough month for Maketa, who stood with his wife Vicki and numerous supporters during his speech to the county delegates. He had declared he wouldn’t run for a third term, changed his mind and then, became the target of personal and professional attacks in a series of weekly news reports and blog comments.
A Colorado Springs Independent news story questioned Maketa’s management because an El Paso County Sheriff’s Department dispatcher, who had been granted permission to do part-time modeling, was photographed nude; a detective was demoted to a civilian position at the county jail after he had been charged with two felonies and five misdemeanors in an incident in Douglas County last year; and a budget analyst was promoted to comptroller — and she received a substantial increase in pay, but it was comparable to the salary paid to a man who had previously held the position.
According to a state legislator, who asked to remain anonymous, her House district assembly nearly turned into a remake of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “The Scarlet Letter” when a woman publicly accused Maketa of sins akin to those of Hester Prynne. Maketa has denied any wrongdoing in regards to friendships with female employees.
Shirk, whose campaign guru is former county GOP Executive Director Nathan Fisk, didn’t miss a beat in taking advantage of Maketa’s bad press. Shirk promised to implement a new code of employee conduct with zero tolerance for substandard or tawdry behavior.
In the Republican battle for El Paso County Clerk and Recorder, county Commissioner and former county GOP Chair Wayne Williams grabbed top spot in his race against county Treasurer Sandra Damron and Charles Corry. Williams ran perhaps the best campaign for a local race — from mailings to robocalls to campaign handouts in bags for the delegates. It paid off — he snared 746 of the 1,236 votes cast.
Damron and Corry, a newcomer, received 268 and 234 votes, respectively. They surpassed the 10 percent vote threshold required to petition onto the ballot.
An interesting side note about this race is that Corry was nominated by “Tea Partier” Wright. Unlike the early 90’s when the party was invaded by “patriot movement and militia” activists wearing camouflage jackets (and traditional GOP assembly delegates worried that beneath the jackets were concealed weapons), the Tea Party activists looked like a business partner or neighbor at the assembly last weekend. The nearly 20 percent delegate vote for Corry was a fairly good indicator of the number of Tea Party delegates.
In the contested District 5 county commissioner race, Peggy Littleton won 140 of the 190 delegate votes and her opponents David Williams and William Guevara received 46 and 4, respectively. Williams, who received 24 percent of the vote, can petition onto the ballot.
The race is just beginning to heat up — Littleton faces Democratic state Rep. Michael Merrifield in the general election. They both have a ton of endorsements and offer elected office experience: Littleton is a member of the Colorado Board of Education and Merrifield has served eight years as a legislator in House District 18. So far, Littleton doesn’t have a slogan. Merrifield is running as the candidate who is “The People’s Voice, the People’s Choice!”
Mark Barker will be the party’s nominee to run against Democratic state Rep. Dennis Apuan in House District 17. Barker delivered bottles of sparkling apple cider and “Congratulations!” notes to delegates selected in precinct caucuses last month. At the assembly, Barker made another impressive move — he was nominated by former HD 17 Reps. Mark Cloer and Stella Hicks.
Ironically, his Republican opponent, Kit Roupe, was under the impression that nominations had to be made by people living in the district. Roupe said that she had to scrap all but Clyde Mitchell on her list of nominators. Apparently the “rules” message didn’t reach Barker — neither Cloer nor Hicks live in the district.
Barker garnered 38 votes and Roupe received 9. He and Roupe had signed an agreement months ago that stated the candidate with the most delegate votes would be the party nominee — and the runner up would drop out of the race.
In Senate District 9, state Rep. Lambert won the nomination without a contest. His Republican challenger, Tom McDowell, decided to bypass the assembly and petition onto the ballot.
In the uncontested races, delegates nominated county Assessor Mark Lowderman, Surveyor G. Lawrence Burnett, and Reps. Mark Waller, Marsha Looper, Larry Liston and Amy Stephens for re-election. They also designated candidates Bob Balink for county treasurer, Owen Hill for Senate District 11, Dr. Janak Joshi for House District 14 and Karen Cullen for House District 18.