Colorado Republican Party Chairman Ryan Call easily fended off a spirited challenge from former Douglas County GOP chairman Mark Baisley in a bid to win reelection as head of the state GOP on Saturday at the party’s biennial reorganizational meeting at Cherry Creek High School.
“We have some significant challenges ahead, tough lessons learned in the course of the last campaign,” said Call as he accepted the nomination for a second, two-year term running the state party. “That kind of hands-on learning experience is what I believe is going to be needed moving forward to help lead our party through some pretty challenging times.”
Call won 272 1/3 votes at the state Republican Party’s Central Committee meeting, besting Baisley’s 158 2/3 votes, prevailing by roughly 63 to 37 percent. The GOP central committee consists of party officers, elected officials and bonus members from larger counties apportioned by how well the Republican ticket did in the last election. (Fractional votes were cast because some counties split their allotted votes among multiple officers.)
Vice chairman Don Ytterberg, who chairs the Jefferson County Democratic Party, won reelection over challenger Lori Horn, founder of the R Block Party grassroots forum. Activist Lana Fore-Warkocz defeated El Paso County Treasurer Bob Balink and former Douglas County party officer Chuck O’Reilly for the state secretary position.
Claiming victory, Call sounded a conciliatory note while acknowledging that the state GOP still contains divisions on the heels of a thumping at the polls in November, when Democrats threw Colorado’s electoral votes to President Barack Obama.
“We have some deep challenges that we are facing as a party going forward,” Call said. “Perhaps the most important one is the challenges among ourselves. I believe that if we don’t figure out a way to work together, to make sure that we are on the same team, and remember that this is our team and that is their team.”
Gardner, former state House Speaker Frank McNulty, R-Highlands Ranch, State Treasurer Walker Stapleton and Republican National Committeewoman Lilly Nuñez were among the officials nominating Call, who claimed the endorsement of the state’s entire GOP congressional delegation and its statewide elected Republicans.
“Over the last two years, we have built our party fundraising, we have built our party infrastructure,” said Gardner. “Over the next two years we will make sure that that great Republican idea, the Ronald Reagan notion, that we are a big tent party, will continue to succeed — because what good is a big tent with no chairs in it?”
Gardner was referencing the GOP’s recent poor performances among Colorado’s unaffiliated voters, Hispanics and women, three crucial chunks of the electorate that party leaders have said must be top priorities in future campaigns. (It was also an implicit jab at Call’s detractors, who argue that Republicans lost primarily because the party establishment has stiff-armed more conservative and libertarian voters, including those who supported Texas Rep. Ron Paul in last year’s presidential primaries.)
McNulty — who lost his speakership when Democrats retook the state House by a wide majority in November — said he was backing Call because of a proven commitment to candidates.
“Who is in the trenches with you? Who is the guy knocking on doors, standing with you and fighting for our candidates? I know first hand that man is Ryan Call,” McNulty said.
“I don’t believe Colorado or America needs two liberal parties, or a liberal and a moderate party. It needs an effective, persuasive conservative party,” Call said from the stage, adding that the Republican Party is “defined by its commitment to freedom and opportunity.”
Baisley urged Republicans to switch course in the wake of a complete reversal of fortune in the state over the previous eight years. Noting that prior to the 2004 election Republicans had held the governor’s chair, both U.S. Senate seats and majorities in both chambers of the General Assembly, Baisley said, “In November, we just lost the last of those strongholds. The Democrats have seized every one of those positions.”
Democrats, Baisley said, have been “relentlessly chiseling away at our rights,” and, as strongly as Republican legislators argue in opposition, they can’t sway the majority ready to send bills to a Democratic governor for his signature.
He laid part of the blame at the feet of the state GOP establishment, a frequent target of criticism from frustrated conservatives and tea party activists.
“Without an effective organizational structure, that exhausted approach of carpet-bombing our voters with phone calls and rallies just for the faithful is not stepping up to what the Democrats have put in place,” he said and then expressed what could have been the slogan of his campaign: “We cannot continue to have the same practices and expect to have a different result.”
Baisley was nominated by his successor, Douglas County GOP chairman Craig Steiner, and the county’s board of education president John Carson, who credited Baisley with turning the county party’s resources toward school district races. The move led to the ouster of the teachers union from Douglas County and has cost Democrats $850,000 in union dues that would have gone to the party, he said, drawing sustained cheers.
Denver Republican Richard Poole, however, drew a chorus of boos from Republicans when he opened his nomination of Baisley with an attack on Call.
“The current leader lacks in responsibility, in transparency, in accountability,” Poole said as the crowd voiced its disagreement.
Call and his supporters made light several times of his notorious run-ins with traffic cops — for most of the week, a Colorado Bureau of Investigation report detailing Call’s court record had been making the rounds among Republicans, and a day earlier a Republican activist circulated Call’s mug shot stemming from a 2011 arrest in Idaho Springs two years ago for missing a court date on a speeding ticket.
When a speaker referenced Colorado’s counties, Call added, “As some of you have seen, I probably have speeding tickets in half of them.”
“I have a confession,” said state Sen. Larry Crowder, R-Alamosa, nominating Call. “I heard on the Internet this morning that Ryan had some speeding tickets. I am responsible for that. I have 16 counties in southern Colorado. Ryan Call was at every one of those counties. I apologize for his speeding tickets due to the fact he was in the trenches helping me out.”
More seriously, state GOP executive director Chuck Poplstein delivered a report on the party’s activities and challenges amid a shifting electorate. While Republicans and Democrats have remained in a virtual dead heat among registered voters in the state, the share of unaffiliated voters has soared in recent years, and it’s among that contingent that GOP candidates came up short.
“If you make the assumption that every Republican voted for Mitt Romney and every Democrat voted for Barack Obama, we lost that share of unaffiliated votes 62-38,” Poplstein said, and then repeated the figures. “That’s where we need to look in the future, how we win back those voters in this state.” Colorado Republicans also lost Hispanic voters — 14 percent of the electorate — by 52 points and lost women voters by 11 points (while winning men by 7 points). He said the party intends to win in 2014 by maintaining a year-round campaign, cultivating candidates in local races and keeping after donors so they don’t drop off the rolls.
In other remarks, U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn said he was encouraged to see so many energized Colorado Republicans after his recent time in the nation’s capital.
“I’m going to continue standing up for Christian, conservative, Republican values in Congress,” Lamborn said as the crowd cheered.
Lamborn said that he’d been reminded of some critical issues on his drive up from Colorado Springs that morning, as Air Force planes flew overhead and a 100-car coal train lumbered by. He said he was intent on making sure the Obama administration doesn’t cut key military spending — adding that he’d voted against including across-the-board military spending cuts as part of the sequestration — and that he intends to hold hearings on the administration’s policies on domestic energy, including coal.
U.S. Rep. Cory Gardner cracked one of numerous jokes from the stage about the federal spending sequester, which had gone into effect the day before.
“I have an important announcement to make,” Gardner quipped. “This was just issued from the White House,” he said, a grin widening. “Due to sequestration, the light at the end of the tunnel has officially been turned off.”
Gardner also made a plea for Republicans to set aside their differences after the party elections.
Democrats, he said, “are focused on driving as many splinters in the Republican Party as they can, because they know if they can pick this off, if they can pick that off, if they can drive a wedge here, if they can drive a wedge there — guess what, they can win elections,” he said. He added: “It’s our responsibility — not as Republicans, but as conservatives who believe in the values of the Republican Party — to stand together and avoid those kinds of fractures and to make sure that after today we get together behind the great leaders of this state and win the election in 2014.”