Colorado Republicans meet this weekend to elect a state chairman in the wake of last November’s resounding losses at the polls and both announced candidates say the GOP needs to undergo a massive overhaul in order to compete with what they both acknowledge is a superior Democratic organization.
Republican state central committee members — county officers, elected officials and bonus delegates, awarded by county based on the vote received by GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney — will chose between incumbent state chairman Ryan Call and Douglas County GOP chairman Mark Baisley at the biennial reorganizational meeting on Saturday morning at Cherry Creek High School in Greenwood Village.
The two state chair candidates shared a stage for the first time on Wednesday night in Highlands Ranch for a forum attended by about 50 Republicans, including a smattering of bonus members empowered with casting votes in the race. It’s a stark difference from the contest two years ago, when five candidates traipsed around the state attending nearly a dozen debates and forums for what was then an open seat.
“There’s no question that we had a tough election,” Call said, resulting from “a significant shift from a reliably Republican electorate” in the state. “Our electorate is shifting, demographically, politically, and we can’t keep doing things the way we’ve been doing it the last four or five years”
Describing a set of “bold and dramatic moves” he hopes to take if he wins a second, two-year term, Call said the state GOP must build “an ever-present and year-round campaign operation,” including voter registration drives, neighborhood canvases and coordinated town hall meetings. “We can’t just prop up that campaign in the final few months and think that’s going to be successful,” he said, noting that he recently hired the state party’s first permanent field operative.
“We have to become a lot more sophisticated about recognizing a more nuanced and different ways we have to reach out and persuade people to our cause,” Call said, later contending that the Romney campaign’s “one-size-fits-all” voter contact operation failed the party last fall.
Contending that Republicans must win control of the legislature in time for the next congressional and legislative redistricting process after the 2020 Census, Baisley distributed a chart outlining his vision for managing the state party.
“What we need to do is build an infrastructure that is worthy, that will be capable of defeating the Democrats, and that is not a light duty,” he said.
Among Baisley’s proposals: building a voter database that’s administered by the state party but that counties can easily use, and hiring the pros to help Republicans compete with Democrats when it comes to communicating a clear message. “We need some smart branding, messaging folk, professionals, who will help our candidates to not get beat up,” he said.
“We need to think more in terms of chess instead of checkers, where we make a move, they make a move. We need to think two, three steps ahead, where they come to bloody us with their ‘War on Women,’ we can play the video of Joe Salazar,” he said, referencing remarks made earlier in February by the House Democrat during floor debate over gun control measures when he suggested that women might not accurately assess whether they’re about to be raped and shoot someone when no threat exists.
Baisley also stressed the importance of cultivating coalitions in communities. Traveling the state, Baisley said, he encounters plenty of “folks that just feel left out, they don’t feel like they’re part of the party across the state. They want to be, but they don’t feel like they’re connecting.”
Republicans had mixed results in 2010, when Republicans gained control of the state House by a single seat, ousted two Democrats from Congress and also defeated the incumbent secretary of state and state treasurer, while losing the races for U.S. Senate and governor. But by 2012, Democrats were again on an electoral romp in Colorado. Although Republicans maintained their four-to-three advantage among the state’s congressional delegation — incumbent U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman, an Aurora Republican, held his seat by just 2 points — Democrat Barack Obama won Colorado’s nine electoral votes for the second presidential election running, and Democrats seized back control of the state House by a wide margin.
Still, after the last few elections’ volatility, Colorado’s political landscape is nearly a mirror image of the situation that prevailed a decade ago, when Republicans held both U.S. Senate seats, the governor’s office and majorities in both chambers of the General Assembly. Those offices and majorities all belong to Democrats these days.
And that reality, both said, is what demands a more aggressive and smarter GOP, because it won’t be sufficient to recreate the structure and organization in place when Republicans reliably ruled the state.
The two candidates differed on the appropriate role of state chairman when it comes to enforcing GOP principles, though both acknowledged that candidates in different parts of the state might differ from one another on specific issues.
“When our elected officials are not behaving in a way that is supportive of (the GOP) platform, I think it’s the party boss’s prerogative and duty to point that out in an effective and respectful way, and an assertive way as well,” Baisley said in response to a question from a bonus delegate.
Call took a different stance.
“I don’t believe it is my job as party chairman to impose or enforce litmus tests on candidates. That is the job of the voters,” he said, asserting that the platform is broad and that sometimes candidates or legislators have to balance competing principles.
“It is important that we be cautious using the chairman’s bully pulpit saying ‘you’re a good Republican, and you’re not,’” he added.
Claiming the endorsement of the state’s entire Republican congressional delegation, as well as statewide office-holders, Call says he has the backing of a strong majority of county officers, while Baisley touts the support of Republicans he says are fed up with the party’s poor performance in recent elections, including numerous newcomers to GOP positions across the state.
Call began his remarks on Wednesday by cautioning “overzealous supporters” of either candidate from slinging mud at their adversary, calling the run-up to the election “the crazy time, where Facebook and emails start blasting around.” Instead, he said he hoped the contest stays “focused on the issues, on the record that we’ve had in terms of party leadership, focused on the vision we have for leading the party forward, and not on personal attacks. I hope that all of us will maybe think twice or even three times before we do things that later we will regret in terms of personal attacks.”
Baisley made a similar point in his remarks, calling “decorum” a key concern when Republicans consider candidates for any position.
“We need to appreciate folks that are putting it all on the line, that are running for office, that are stepping up and making themselves public — they need to be respected. It’s never the party leadership’s position to pick and chose who ought to be running. Anyone who steps up and says, ‘I feel the calling to run,’ we need to encourage them, equip them, give them good management and resources, and guide them towards the success. We never want to discourage the next Ronald Reagan and say, ‘Not your time.’” he said, adding, “We do a lot of shooting of each other and we end up with someone limping to the finish line getting beat up by the other side.”
Both candidates told The Colorado Statesman that they denounced emails that had recently been circulated by their supporters, including one sent that night by a Gilpin County GOP officer that pointed to Call’s arrest in Idaho Springs on a failure-to-appear warrant for a speeding ticket two years ago. (Call resolved the matter in May 2011 after posting a $1,500 bond following his arrest on April 28 for failing to show up for a court date on a March 5 ticket for going 74 mph in a 55 mph zone in Chaffee County.)
“How does a lawyer forget his own traffic ticket court date (the ticket itself isn’t a big deal), get his license suspended, get ARRESTED for driving without a license after being elected State Party Chair,” wrote Bonnie Solan in an email sent to central committee members. “We need new leadership, for this is a huge embarrassment for the Colorado GOP. Share as you like,” she added.
Earlier in the week, a widely distributed email from a past Douglas County GOP officer “sounded the alarm” over a recent foreclosure action against Baisley, which has since been rectified.
“Everything being distributed about Mark Baisley’s ‘success story’ should be questioned,” wrote Patricia Nohavec-Fink. “Do you really want someone to have access to our State Party funds that has had his own house in foreclosure almost every month for the last 3 to 4 years?”
Baisley said it was old news that he’d faced financial difficulties during what he termed “the Obama economy,” adding, “If you’ve been paying attention to the news lately, a lot of folks have been struggling, especially small business entrepreneurs who put their house up to fund their company. We pulled out of that, thank God, and the future looks bright.”
But he blasted his own supporter for bringing Call’s court record to light.
“That is the very reason why good, good people do not run for office, and it’s one of the most shameful things of all,” said Baisley after learning that a supporter had circulated the CBI report. He added that someone had shown the report to him a few months ago and he’d ignored it, and, in fact, wished he hadn’t seen it at all.
“It’s that shameful thing we do, especially within the party — we hurt our own folk and make it tough for them to be more effective. The reality is, we all have a big red letter A on us somewhere, everybody in the room does, and you avail yourself of that exposure when you step up for higher office. So doggone it for me, and now, as I’m understanding it, doggone it for Ryan as well. It’s too bad,” he said.
For his part, Call declined to comment specifically on the CBI report and said that he hoped it wouldn’t distract Republicans from the decision at hand.
“We are all imperfect people, we’ve all made mistakes,” he said. “But what’s important is we’re looking at what we can do moving forward, the track record I can point to being the state party’s chairman, the confidence we’ve inspired in terms of our operation, our fundraising efforts, and, most importantly, I think the vision we have for the future of our party is what the state chairman’s race really ought to be based upon.”
Asked about the email campaign citing his opponent’s woes, Call shook his head.
“There are challenges, I’m sure, in both of our backgrounds, we are imperfect people. But I believe the message we need to carry, the principles that are embodied in our party — that is a great message, and we’re going to focus on that,” he said.
The race for state GOP vice chair has incumbent vice chair Don Ytterberg, who also chairs the Jefferson County Republican Party, facing challenger Lori Horn, one of the founders of the conservative R Block Party organization. Three candidates are running for state GOP secretary: El Paso County Treasurer Bob Balink, Lana Fore-Warkocz, also from El Paso County, and Douglas County party veteran Chuck O’Reilly.
At press time, state Democrats didn’t anticipate contested elections for party officers. Chairman Rick Palacio, 1st vice chair Beverly Ryken and secretary Carolyn Boller have all announced that they are seeking another two-year term in office. Barbara Jones is running for 2nd vice chair and Christopher Ott is running for treasurer, both open positions. Democrats hold their biennial reorganizational meeting on Saturday ahead of the party’s annual fundraising dinner at the Marriott City Center Hotel in downtown Denver. The keynote speaker is U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri and the dinner also includes a tribute to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, a former U.S. senator and Colorado attorney general.
State Republicans are gathering for the annual Centennial Dinner, featuring a tribute to former U.S. Sen. Hank Brown by former U.S. Sen. Wayne Allard, on Friday night at the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel in Greenwood Village.