GRAND JUNCTION — Embattled Republican State House District 54 candidate Jared Wright made a last-minute decision not to attend the politically critical Club 20 annual fall meeting and candidate debates on Sept. 8, opening the door for Libertarian candidate Tim Menger to speak at the event.
Club 20 policy bars Libertarians and other third-party candidates from participating in their biennial debates unless they represent at least 1 percent of the registered voters in the district. That wasn’t the case in HD 54, so Menger was initially not invited to participate.
But when Wright — who faces controversy over allegations of lying as a former Fruita police officer and filing for personal bankruptcy after campaigning on a platform of fiscal conservancy — dropped out of the debate, Club 20 officials decided to allow Menger to speak.
The move ended a public outcry from Libertarians, who had originally blasted Club 20 for not allowing Menger and other Libertarians to be included in the candidate forums. But Menger himself had remained calm and collected, issuing an open letter on Sept. 4 that offered empathy to Club 20 for their original decision not to allow him to participate.
“Club 20… is a club. It is a non-profit club. The Club 20 has every right in the world to invite or not invite whomever they please,” Menger wrote in his letter. “As a Libertarian, I stand up for these rights. As a Libertarian, I would be hypocritical to denounce their right to choose who enters their clubhouse doors.”
“When I was a boy, my friends and I had a clubhouse with a sign on it that said, ‘NO GIRLS ALLOWED.’ It was our right to do so, however, now I can’t for the life of me understand why we did that,” the letter continued. “It was a club thing. But it’s all the same thing, not any less childish, but the same thing.”
Steve Reynolds, chairman of Club 20, said the 11th-hour decision to allow Menger to speak at the debates had less to do with pressure from Libertarians and others, and more to do with the circumstances surrounding Wright’s decision to drop out.
The Club 20 board did not fully learn of Wright’s decision to not attend the debates until Friday, Sept. 7, according to Reynolds. By that time, brochures with Wright’s picture in it had already been printed for the scheduled event.
Wright was scheduled to give a 20-minute solo speech since he does not have a Democratic challenger. But Reynolds said executive members had to scramble to come up with an alternative, given Wright’s sudden decision. That’s when they decided to invite Menger to give a five-minute speech.
“Our basic philosophy behind the debates is to allow the voters to meet the legitimate candidates who have an opportunity to win, but in this particular race, because Jared Wright didn’t show up, the voters aren’t getting an opportunity to see any candidate…” Reynolds explained. “If we can encourage our voters to become more aware and familiar with their elected officials, we can start making better decisions at the voting booth.”
Menger gets his five minutes
Menger received a call from Club 20 at 8 p.m. on Friday night inviting him to give remarks the following day. The Libertarian gladly accepted, adding, “How about that,” when he heard the news.
During his speech, Menger acknowledged the last-minute invitation, joking, “I almost turned down your late invitation because I didn’t want to show up to a place I had shamed into letting me in.”
The policy parts of his speech mirrored that of the Libertarian Party, including limited government and maximizing freedoms. He said that he would oppose any new tax, increase of existing tax, or “taxes disguised as fees,” alluding to moves by Democrats in recent years that have included raising vehicle registration fees.
“I want you all to know that I am not a Republican, although I lean that way often. I am not a Democrat, but I side with them at times,” he told the Club 20 crowd. “I will listen to all viewpoints and make my decisions with
fiscal responsibility and our rights first in mind.”
Following his remarks, Menger said that with each passing day, he believes more and more that he has a shot at winning the race to become the first and only Libertarian to join the Colorado Legislature.
“What I need is about 2,500 of the 12,000 registered Republicans in my district to say, ‘Hey, I don’t want to send a dishonest person to the state Legislature. I’m going to jump over for this election, and I’m going to vote Libertarian, get that guy in there, and see what he does,’” Menger explained about his district, which includes Mesa and Delta counties.
“Ever since my opponent got into trouble… it became real to me,” Menger acknowledged. “I’ve put it in my mind that, ‘I can do this. I can do this.’”
Critical of Wright
Meanwhile, Club 20’s Reynolds went on to criticize Wright for dropping out of the debates, stating that his decision does not serve the electorate well.
“I think that anyone that says they want to run for public office, or be an elected official, takes on a responsibility to be accessible to their voters and to their constituents,” Reynolds said. “Whatever the circumstances are —
if it’s somebody that has personal issues like Jared probably has in his life… — Club 20 always believes that our elected officials owe us an answer…”
Wright has refused to withdraw from the race, despite cries from within his own party for him to step aside.
He has also stopped talking to the press.
He simply told The Colorado Statesman on Tuesday, “I don’t have any comment.”