In the heart of liberal Boulder County, grassroots Republican politics are alive and well.
On Tuesday night in Longmont, more than 200 voters funneled into the auditorium of Heritage Middle School to participate in the Colorado Republican caucuses.
Residents from 14 local precincts gathered around tables to vote their presidential preference, as well as to discuss and vote on party resolutions.
As the crowd filed in, caucus-goers had a chance to meet their neighborhood Republicans. Many were surprised by the number of people there.
The voter turnout of 241 tripled 2010’s attendance and was just short of the turnout for 2008, the last presidential election year.
To signal the start of the event, site leader Walter Engelhardt walked onto the stage and led the crowd in prayer.
“Father, thank you for this opportunity to get together and decide on who we want to run for president,” Engelhardt said. “We thank you for the opportunity that this country has provided us. We ask your presence here tonight to guide us and direct us in what we’re about to do here to keep this country great, as it always has been.”
The prayer concluded and was followed by the pledge of allegiance. Afterward, Engelhardt introduced himself to the crowd and outlined the caucus procedure. He then told the crowd to “have fun and make new friends.”
The precincts were organized along their respective tables. Each precinct elected a chairperson and secretary, as well as two vote-counters and someone to collect the small fee from attendees who wish to be delegates at the county assembly.
On caucus night, the first order of business for each precinct is the presidential preference poll. Before the poll is taken, time is allotted for anyone who wishes to speak on behalf of a candidate.
At the Precinct 646 table, a caucus-goer stood up and read a printed statement provided by the Mitt Romney campaign website.
The statement began with “What a great day to be from Colorado,” and heralded Romney’s achievements as a businessman.
Then precinct resident Jim Murry gave a more personal endorsement for Ron Paul.
“I’ve been considering different candidates, and my kids starting getting to me about Ron Paul,” Murry said. “So I looked at his ideas and what he had to say. He is headed back to a conservative position for government that I really agree with. So, I am personally voting for Ron Paul, and I would urge everyone else to vote for Ron Paul.”
After the two men gave their endorsements, Precinct 646 Chairperson Linda Champion — wife of Boulder County Republican Party Chair Joel Champion — handed out the presidential preference ballots to the precinct attendees.
Francine Cronin-Brown and Tim Monnhan-Mitchell counted the ballots by hand. In Precinct 646, 13 voted for Mitt Romney, eight for Rick Santorum, six for Newt Gingrich, and one for Ron Paul.
For all 14 precincts in attendance, the final tallies were: 97 for Santorum, 76 for Romney, 41 for Gingrich, and 27 for Paul.
Although the results in the room were similar to the statewide results, Boulder County as a whole preferred Romney to Santorum. The county results were: 1,106 for Romney, 904 for Santorum, 555 for Paul, and 373 for Gingrich.
After the presidential preference ballots were cast, the momentum of the precinct meeting was temporarily held up as Precinct Leader Champion attempted to recruit two people to serve as precinct committee persons. The precinct committee persons are chosen to represent the district for the next two years and attend monthly meetings.
No one volunteered for the positions, so the meeting moved on to selecting delegates for the county assembly, which takes place on March 24. County delegates have the opportunity to go on to the state and national Party conventions later in the year.
County Chairman Champion, a resident of Precinct 646, took the opportunity to chime in, describing the experience of being a delegate as “the most fun part of the political process in Colorado.”
Based on the number of people in the precinct, nine delegate spots were available, as well as nine spots for alternates. Six people paid the $10 fee and signed up to serve as county delegates.
Once the delegates were selected, caucus participants in the precinct went on to vote on resolutions, which were described by the county party document as “the purest and simplest form of grassroots politics.”
Any member of the Boulder County Republican party can propose a resolution. They serve as a starting point for caucuses to discuss and identify issues of importance to them. The resolutions have no official status until passed by several caucuses.
A member of the precinct volunteered to read the resolutions aloud, starting with Resolution 1, which expressed the party’s desire to repeal “Obamacare.” It was passed with a unanimous vote.
The precinct ran into some difficulty on the language of the second resolution, which confused at least one person who asked, “Could you repeat that in English?”
Despite the confusion, the resolution calling for Boulder County Republicans to support the Enumerated Powers Act passed unanimously.
The third resolution was more straightforward and demanded a balanced budget, which prompted the caucus-goer who was reading aloud to say, “Boy, do I love this one.”
After the resolution was read, the previously ‘confused’ attendee affirmed her support. “That one I understood,” she laughed.
Resolutions one through seven passed unanimously, but the eighth resolution concerning full opposition to all forms of gun control met resistance from two precinct members who felt that some gun-control laws were necessary, such as restrictions on heavy firearms.
The precinct ran into more confusion after the eighth resolution was approved. Precinct members were unsure if the resolutions introduced by outside groups had to be voted on or not. Chairman Champion clarified with the precinct why the additional measures were being brought up.
“We went through a great deal of trouble to make sure those first eight were representative of the Republicans’ views focusing on unification,” Champion explained. “Subsequently, people have submitted other ones for our consideration. There is liable to be a little more discussion on these.”
He continued, “Please understand that I do not have the right, nor does anyone else in the party, to veto ideas that come before you. You can do that with your vote tonight, but I cannot tell you that you can’t submit them. That’s why these have been submitted.”
The ninth resolution proposed was a pro-life resolution that stated, “The Boulder County Republican Party supports respect for human life from conception until natural death.”
After the resolution was read to the precinct, there was a debate over what the language implied. One precinct member suggested the resolution focused on abortion, at which point Chairman Champion clarified, “It has nothing to do with abortion.”
Champion said that the caucus-goers were to vote on the resolutions based purely on their wording and not the implications behind the language. He also mentioned that the vote only concerned whether or not the resolutions would be brought to county assembly.
The resolution then passed 25 to 3.
Precinct Chairwoman Champion explained her opposition. “Only because I don’t want it to go to assembly. It’s not because I’m opposed to it, I just don’t want it to go to assembly.”
The next resolution was a lengthy condemnation of United Nations Agenda 21 and the International Council of Local Environmental Initiatives, an association of local, state, and national governments committed to sustainable development.
The resolution described Agenda 21 as “radical” and “socialist,” and warned that it was being driven into local communities. It expressed concerns over the “redistribution of wealth” and the sovereignty of local governments to dictate their own decisions regarding plans for land use.
After members of the precincts expressed confusion over the language, a supporter of the resolution simplified the issue in her own words.
“If you vote in favor of this, you are voting in favor of the constitution of the United States,” she said. “If you vote against this, you are voting for a one-world government.” The resolution passed unanimously.
The eleventh resolution was similar in language to the eighth, but proposed by an outside group, the Rocky Mountain Gun Owners.
Multiple precinct members expressed concern that the resolution provided too much leeway on gun ownership.
One person remarked, “It sounds to me like if this were approved, that there would be no law restricting criminals or people with a clear record of abusing guns from owning guns. No restriction of any kind for anyone to bear arms; that’s what this is suggesting.”
Other members of the precinct agreed that the resolution was overreaching. It was defeated with 25 opposed and one in favor.
The next resolutions were presented by the Longmont 9-12 Tea Party.
After the first five Tea Party resolutions were voted down, there was a vote on whether to hear the rest of those resolutions. They voted to end the meeting.
The problem was not that the precinct members did not agree with the resolutions, but rather they felt that they were unfit to bring to the county assembly. The desire to end the caucus and go home for the night may have also played a role in that decision.
Presidential politics at the precincts
At the end of the evening, Shannon Moore said he was still undecided about his presidential preference, even after he had cast his ballot.
“Currently, I voted for Rick Santorum,” Moore said. “I was leaning toward Newt Gingrich, and I could move back in that direction.”
Moore said he believes Santorum is the most conservative candidate in the race. He speculated that voters have a hard time relating with Mitt Romney due to his considerable wealth.
“Personally I view it as: people like to demonize the person or entity on top,” Moore said. “Everybody hated Microsoft, yet they used their product. Everybody in the world has a problem with the U.S. unless they need help.”
Allan Anglund — who regularly attends Republican caucuses — said that while everyone in his family had their own preference this year, he supports Romney.
“I was supporting Newt for a while, but I think that he’s demonstrated that he’s a good talker, but he’s not a good doer,” Anglund said.
Anglund also cited Mitt Romney’s handling of the Olympic games in Utah and his “strong moral character” as reasons the candidate earned his support.
Glen Czaplewski is a graduate student of political science at the University of Colorado in Denver, and a teacher’s assistant for a class in American Government at Aims Community College. He offered his students extra credit for going to a caucus and providing proof of their attendance.
Czaplewski did not participate in the caucus and described himself as unaffiliated, but said that Romney was “an interesting guy, but it depends on which Mitt Romney shows up. The governor of Massachusetts was a pretty attractive candidate.”
He said he was not a Ron Paul supporter. “I agree with about 80 percent of [Paul’s] views, and the other 20 percent scare the crap out of me.”
Murry, who advocated for Ron Paul earlier in the night, said he was attracted to Paul because the other candidates were “too tainted with Washington.”
Joel Champion, who has been the Boulder County Republican chair since last year, said the Santorum victory was a “pleasant surprise.” He did not think the victory had to do with Santorum’s time spent campaigning in Colorado.
“I believe that the reason Santorum won last night is because of Gingrich and Romney and their circular firing squad,” Champion said. “Santorum maintained an upbeat, positive, anti-Obama message. He had a smile. He was talking about his record against Barack Obama and that’s what people want to hear. They don’t want to hear the Republicans attack each other.”
The gathering in Longmont Tuesday night was the third Republican caucus Champion has attended.
“The energy in the room last night was really quite good,” he said.