Quoting one of the Founding Fathers and invoking the arrival of Ronald Reagan on the national scene — just when the country seemed to be floundering in the late 1970s — Secretary of State Scott Gessler told a group of Jefferson County Republicans to stick with their principles and persist trying to educate voters about conservative solutions last week at the county GOP’s central committee meeting at Green Mountain High School in Lakewood.
“As Republicans, these are some tough times, we had a tough election. But we’ve been here before, we’ve been here as a nation before. As early as the late 1700s, Thomas Paine wrote, ‘These are the times that try men’s souls.’ And we’ve got a lot of work to do to take things back,” Gessler said as the Jeffco GOP prepared to elect its leadership, part of the biennial reorganization process Colorado’s major parties are undertaking this month.
Gessler went on to tell the faithful to keep the faith, because, he said, the Democrats in charge are soon going to face reality after “living off credit cards” and “racking up that debt.”
“Eventually the string is going to run out for Obama and the Democrats. And eventually here in Colorado, we’re going to see just how radical their ideas are, whether it’s Second Amendment rights, whether it’s economics, whether they’re using the Colorado government to chose winners and losers,” he said. And when that happens, he predicted, Republicans will be there to provide the time-tested solutions that have made America “the most prosperous nation on earth, the most prosperous nation in history.”
Gessler, who noted that he’s already mounting a campaign for a second term as secretary of state, urged Republicans to write letters to the editor and spend a few minutes each week posting on the Internet, and thanked the several hundred Jeffco residents who turned out on a cold February night to help steer the party’s future course.
“If we do our job, if we do our work, we are going to prevail, and we will turn this state around and we will turn this country around,” he assured the crowd.
Republican state central committee members pick the Colorado GOP’s leadership on March 2, but first each county has had to pick its own party officers in a process spanning the first half of February in reorganizational meetings across the state.
The party is faced with retooling in the wake of stunning losses in the November election, when Colorado voters backed Democrats up and down the ballot, delivering the state’s electoral votes to President Barack Obama and handing control of the state House back to Democrats by a wide margin.
The process could be contentious, if votes at the Denver County GOP reorganizational meeting on Saturday at Hill Middle School are any indication. While the day went relatively smoothly — there was none of the tumult that marked last year’s assembly — Denver Republicans nonetheless made it known that the direction of the party is still very much up for grabs.
By a wide margin, Denver Republicans approved a resolution rejecting changes made last summer to the Republican National Committee’s rules, saying the new rules “create a top-down structure of governance in place of the party’s traditional bottom-up structure” and branding them “antithetical to Republican values.” (One of the rules in question allows national Republicans to change the party’s rules between national conventions, while another changes the way presidential nomination delegates are allocated.)
Denver County Republican Party chair Wendy Warner — who was elected to a second term on Saturday without opposition — said she sympathized with those opposed to the RNC rules, though she noted that she didn’t vote on the resolution because she was presiding at the meeting.
“All of us have some concerns about what happened at the convention,” she told The Colorado Statesman. “There were a lot of things that weren’t quite fair, and across the board, no matter who you were for, didn’t particularly appreciate them. We’ve got an independent streak out here in the West.”
Likewise, Warner said she understood why some Denver Republicans were against proposed changes to the county party’s own bylaws. In what longtime GOP observers said was an unprecedented development, six of the proposed 11 county rules — mostly housekeeping measures — went down to defeat at the meeting.
“There is an element of our party — we don’t like more government and more rules, anything that looks confining, we start worrying about,” she said. “There’s been so much over-reach of government on the federal level and on the state level, that a lot of folks — especially our younger members — are very suspicious of something that looks like over-reach or more regulation. And that’s a good thing.”
Regardless of the arguments within the party, Warner said, Denver Republicans are confident that they’ve figured out a key to boosting GOP votes out of one of the state’s most populous counties, noting that Mitt Romney won 10,000 more votes in Denver than John McCain had in 2008.
“We need more outreach, we need to be more engaged with all of the different, diverse groups in Denver,” she said. “We need to have a lot more dialogue with all of our communities. When we talk to people, we find out we have a lot in common.”
State Republican Party chairman Ryan Call is seeking a second term heading the GOP but is facing a challenge from Douglas County Republican Party chairman Mark Baisley, who doesn’t disagree with Call about much but offers what he terms a more business-oriented management style that he promises will replicate his county’s successes.
The race for vice chair is similar, pitting incumbent vice chair Don Ytterberg — he also chairs the Jefferson County Republican Party — against challenger Lori Horn, one of the founders of the conservative R Block Party organization. Two candidates are also announced for the position of state GOP secretary: El Paso County Treasurer Bob Balink and Lana Wilkins, also from El Paso County.
At an R Block Party meeting in Littleton earlier this month, Baisley told an avid crowd of about 100 conservatives why he believes the party needs new leadership. (Call was invited to the event, which also featured speeches by metro-area county GOP leaders, but begged off because of a prior commitment.)
A decade ago, when he was serving as chairman of the state GOP finance committee, Baisley recalled, Republicans held both U.S. Senate seats, the governor’s office and both chambers of the state legislature.
“And now? We have none of that,” he said, pausing for the crowd to absorb the momentous shift. “We cannot continue doing what we have been doing.”
He said his background running businesses and the aggressive Douglas County GOP give him the tools to turn things around.
“We want to build an infrastructure for this party across the state that will maintain just ruthless, relentless, sustaining wins for freedom, for the Republican Party. We can do that,” he said as the crowd cheered.
Meanwhile, Call recently unveiled a year-round field program intended to “fundamentally change the way the Colorado Republican Party engages with voters” and lead to election victories, the state party announced.
“Over the next two years, Colorado Republicans will direct full-time regional staff and resources toward meaningful outreach and engagement in communities throughout Colorado,” Call said. “We learn new lessons every election cycle, and it is clear that a concerted, year-round effort is needed to connect with our neighbors, persuade the undecided, and build support for Republican ideas and Republican candidates.”
U.S. Rep. Cory Gardner, who has endorsed Call in his bid for a second term as chair, said the GOP plans to spend the next 18 months “wholly focused on preparing for the 2014 elections.”
While both chair candidates are unveiling plans to compete with Colorado Democrats — who have maintained year-round field operations in the state for years, culminating in the massive Obama campaign’s voter-turnout machine — they were also recruiting votes from among active Republicans.
It’s a vastly different electorate than the one that handed Call a majority on the first ballot two years ago, when he was running for an open chairmanship against state Sen. Ted Harvey, R-Highlands Ranch, and three other candidates.
The difference this time is that the central committee should have its large contingent of so-called bonus members, in addition to each county’s chair, vice chair and secretary, and various elected officials. Bonus members are awarded based on voter performance for the Republican at the top of the ticket in the previous election, and two years ago, when gubernatorial nominee Dan Maes barely cleared 10 percent of the vote statewide, even the largest counties only landed a handful of bonus members. This time, presidential nominee Mitt Romney performed well enough that counties again have their usual allotment of bonus members. (Arapahoe County, for instance, had just three bonus members last time but has 26 this time.)
It’s also a much quieter contest than the last one, which saw two-term chairman Dick Wadhams first declare he was seeking a third term, then withdraw from the race blaming Republicans who saw “conspiracies around every corner and who have terribly misguided notions of what the role of the state party is.”
That contest saw nearly constant missives from the various candidates inveighing on one thing or another in emails, op-ed columns, Facebook postings and tweets, as well as nearly a dozen forums or debates between the state leadership candidates. This year, so far, the state party chair candidates have yet to meet in front of an audience, though a handful of organizations tell The Statesman that they’re hoping to schedule debates before the election.
Republicans meet on March 2 at Cherry Creek High School to sort it all out. The GOP’s Centennial Dinner, the party’s chief fundraising event, this year features a tribute to former U.S. Sen. Hank Brown. It takes place on March 1, the night before the state reorganizational meeting, at the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel in Greenwood Village. Tickets range from $60 to $10,000 for a block of tickets and access to a VIP reception.