“We are in it to win it,” Arapahoe County Republican Party chair Joy Hoffman told delegates at the county GOP assembly on Saturday in Centennial to their enthusiastic approval.
Despite the suburban county’s move from a once-reliable reservoir of Republican victories — several speakers observed that not a single Republican won county-wide in the last election — it’s still a vast sea of Republican votes and candidates who face primaries and those that have clear shots to the November ballot trooped through the gymnasium and surrounding classrooms at Arapahoe High School to fire up the faithful.
In a break with the tradition of passing the hat — or buckets or giant boots — to raise money for the county party, Hoffman reminded delegates of the shooting that had taken place at the high school in December and urged donations instead to the Arapahoe High School Moving Forward Fund, established to help the school and members of its community recover.
Arapahoe Republicans convened on what has been dubbed Super Saturday, the same day as GOP assemblies took place in larger counties Adams, Boulder, El Paso, Mesa and Weld, so statewide and multi-county candidates put in some heavy highway time, with some arriving in Centennial after the efficiently run assembly had already broken into legislative and commissioner district meetings.
Senate candidate U.S. Rep. Cory Gardner, who gave up a reelection bid for his safe House seat and dove into the statewide race last month, drew some of the most thunderous applause of the day when he addressed the assembly. (The other loudest cheers erupted when Hoffman told delegates that sheriff’s deputies were standing by to eject anyone who tried to disrupt the proceedings.)
As term-limited state Rep. Spencer Swalm, R-Centennial, and Arapahoe County GOP chair Joy Hoffman look on, state Sen. David Balmer, R-Centennial, asks veterans to stand at the Arapahoe County Republican Assembly on March 29 at Arapahoe High School in Centennial.
Opening with his by-now familiar joke that he’s from “the place that goes by on the bottom of the television screen, ‘Hail storm coming, take cover,’ ” the Yuma Republican swiftly launched into a pointed attack on U.S. Sen. Mark Udall, the Eldorado Springs Democrat whose election looked like a cakewalk until Gardner upended the race.
“My opponent Mark Udall has voted 99 percent of the time with Barack Obama,” Gardner said over howls of disapproval. “He voted against the Keystone Pipeline, he’s voted against our Second Amendment rights, he’s voted to increase taxes, he cast the deciding vote for Obamacare, he’s voted to cut military pensions. He’s got to go.”
Gardner said he often thought of his 90-year-old grandfather, who worked all his life selling farm equipment. “He’s going to leave big shoes to fill,” he said.
“But right now I’m worried about the shoes that our son and daughter are wearing,” he continued. “What’s going to happen to them if we hand them a nation that has 17 1/2 trillion dollars in debt and growing, what happens to them if we hand off a nation that is ignoring the constitutional rights and individual liberties that we have fought so hard to preserve. The shoes that we have to worry about — it’s the generation to come. And what we’re going to do in Arapahoe County is to stand up for every single one of those rights, to fight and make sure our truly exceptional nation remains the greatest nation on the face of the earth.”
Gardner added that he looked forward to standing with Republicans from Arapahoe County on election night when the news breaks that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, has lost the gavel.
“Arapahoe County, let’s get it done!” he concluded.
Gardner has just two potential primary opponents — state Sen. Randy Baumgardner, R-Hot Sulphur Springs, and perennial Adams County candidate Tom Janich — following this week’s withdrawal of Glenwood Springs businessman Mark Aspiri, who ended his campaign on Tuesday. Since Gardner’s entry, the previous three front-runners, 2010 U.S. Senate nominee Ken Buck, state Sen. Owen Hill, R-Colorado Springs, and state Rep. Amy Stephens, R-Monument, have all stepped aside.
But the field of seven candidates vying for the chance to run against Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper hasn’t thinned one bit in the month since former U.S. Rep. Bob Beauprez entered the race the day before precinct caucuses, and four of the hopefuls made it to Arapahoe County to pitch their cases.
The Senate and gubernatorial candidates will learn who makes the June 24 primary ballot at the Republican’s state assembly on April 12 in Boulder. (Democrats hold their state assembly the same day in Denver, although all of the top statewide candidates are unopposed for their nominations.)
Gubernatorial candidates former U.S. Rep. Tom Tancredo, Secretary of State Scott Gessler, former Senate Minority Leader Mike Kopp, R-Littleton, and state Sen. Greg Brophy, R-Wray, all hammered Hickenlooper and got in digs at the Democratic-controlled Legislature for last year’s ambitious law-making session. (Candidate Steve House was occupied running the Republican assembly in Adams County, where he is county chairman; Beauprez attended other county assemblies but not Arapahoe; rancher Roni Sylvester is also running.)
R-Littleton, and volunteers Alex Bolton and Alyssa Khamma greet Republicans at the Arapahoe County Assembly on March 29.
Saying that the state has a firm duty to “establish standards,” Tancredo called it a problem that Colorado schoolchildren “couldn’t begin to pass a civics and literacy test if it killed them.”
“One standard I absolutely will force our Legislature and our school boards to deal with, and hopefully implement,” a bubbly Tancredo told the crowd, “is this: all children graduating from a school in this state, must be able to articulate an appreciation for Western Civilization, for the uniqueness of America, and for the Constitution of the United States of America.”
“What can our society expect?” he asked. “If you do not know what makes America great, and you literally talk, in fact, the opposite, then we should not be surprised when the Republic is in danger.”
He also vowed: “This state will never be a sanctuary state for illegal aliens as long as I am governor of Colorado.”
Tancredo turned in petitions bearing some 15,000 signatures two days earlier, part of the two-step process he’s undertaking to make the primary ballot. Candidates who petition onto the ballot must collect 1,500 valid signatures from each of the state’s seven congressional districts and, if they chose to go through the assembly process, must clear 10 percent of the delegate vote at the state meeting. Candidates who aren’t turning in petitions — at press time, that would be Gessler, Kopp, Brophy, House and Sylvester — must clear 30 percent delegate support to make the primary. On Monday, Beauprez turned in petitions with what his campaign estimated were more than 22,000 signatures.
Gessler said that voters were primed to reject Hickenlooper and his “assault on the Second Amendment,” support for tax increases and “giving a convicted mass murderer a temporary reprieve,” he added, referring to Chuck E. Cheese’s killer Nathan Dunlap, who remains on death row after Hickenlooper put an indefinite stay on his scheduled execution last summer.
Noting that he was the only candidate to have won election statewide — Beauprez and Tancredo have both lost bids for governor — Gessler said that Republicans would do best to nominate a candidate who has demonstrated the resolve to stand up for conservative principles.
“We need someone who has the courage to do something,” Gessler said, adding that he has acted again and again in the face of controversy.
Kopp recounted portions of his varied resume, including fighting the Contras as a paratrooper in Honduras, serving as a minister and winning a tough election and going on to lead Republicans in the state Senate.
“Folks, everything rises and falls on leadership,” he said, exhorting delegates to ask themselves, “Who is it that doesn’t just behave conservatively in the things that they say and the way that they vote?”
Noting that saying and voting the right way are important, Kopp continued: “There’s something much more critical than both of those things. Were you able to go beyond just being a conservative and voting the right way? Could you lead? Were you effective as a leader? Colorado needs leadership. We don’t need someone to get into office who’s basically just going to administer what we have but slightly better around the margins than the last two guys have.”
Kopp asked, “Do you feel more free or more in control of your own lives than you did seven years ago?” Over the moans and groans of delegates, he said, “We have to absolutely refuse the notion that that is the new norm in America. It’s a transformational opportunity that we have here, but you need a leader with the courage that will do it. I’ve demonstrated that in the past; I’ll demonstrate it in the future.”
Speaking over a boisterous crowd whose attention proved hard to corral, Brophy opened with his trademark introduction: “My name is Greg Brophy, and I am your gun-toting, bicycle-riding, Prius-driving farmer from Wray, Colorado, and I’m running for governor of the state of Colorado. I don’t know about you, but I think our state is headed in the wrong direction,” he said, listing gun-control measures, renewable energy mandates and “a governor who won’t do the right thing and sign a death warrant for a heinous mass murderer” as evidence, adding, “what a disgrace.” Brophy also pointed to Hickenlooper’s backing of the failed Amendment 66 ballot measure, which would have increased taxes to fund education.
“I think it’s time Colorado has a conservative governor, for a change,” Brophy said. He asked if delegates were ready to “kick Common Core out of Colorado,” referring to controversial education standards, and suggested replacing it “with a little common sense.”
Moments after the assembly convened, U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman, who is locked in what many have described as the closest congressional race in the country, recalled returning to Aurora after serving in the first Gulf War and finagling himself a job as a property manager. (He later pointed out that he’s the only veteran in the state’s congressional delegation.)
As a small businessman, Coffman said, he learned how to balance a budget and meet a payroll, attributes he said were missing in the nation’s capital. He then invoked his campaign’s familiar bogey man, former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and reminded delegates that when Democrats held “all the levers of power” in Washington — Republicans have controlled the House since the 2010 election — they were able to enact legislation, such as the Affordable Care Act, “without a single Republican vote. And we cannot let that happen again.”
Coffman also observed that Arapahoe County swung for President Obama and even gave the margin to his little-known Democratic opponent in 2012, and that he only won reelection due to huge margins in the northern Douglas County neighborhoods that fall within the 6th CD.
There were few contested races decided at the county assembly. In a crowded contest for the House District 37 nomination to replace term-limited state Rep. Spencer Swalm, R-Centennial, Michael Fields and Jack Tate made it to the primary ballot, where Jay Ledbetter could await if petitions he turned in Monday pass muster.
Earlier, Swalm, who endorsed Fields as his successor, made a case that Republican arguments in the Legislature aren’t worth much unless the party holds the majority in a chamber.
“And that’s why this election is so crucial,” he said, rallying Republicans to work as hard as possible to win the gavels. Swalm noted that the one relatively easy election he had was in 2010, “when Barack Obama was so unpopular.” He told delegates that this year is shaping up to be a similar electoral climate. “We have an opportunity to pick up the state House and the state Senate if we’re willing to do the work.
House Minority Caucus Chair Kathleen Conti, R-Littleton, previewed the oft-repeated theme that Democrats went too far last session.
“When even ardent Democrats could call the last session an over-reach, we know it truly was an over-reach. We watched the liberal agenda get crammed down people’s throats,” Conti said. “We’re trying to do everything we can, as House Republicans, to inform people of the negative policies, how they impacted our state and impacted your rights. Stand with me, fight with me,” she told the enthusiastic delegates.
Former Senate President John Andrews — taking a break from duties chairing the HD 37 assembly — told The Colorado Statesman that he was optimistic that this election could turn back a recent steady tide of Democratic wins in Colorado.
“I think we’re headed for a Republican wave election in 2014 because of massive disaffection by the whole electorate — Republican, Democrat and unaffiliated — massive disaffection with Hickenlooper and an over-reaching Democrat-led state Legislature, as well as the failures of the Obama administration, the disaster that is Obamacare, the weakness that America is displaying abroad in places like Ukraine and Syria,” Andrews said.
“The complete bankruptcy of leadership on the part of Barack Obama in Washington and John Hickenlooper in Denver, I think, points to a big opportunity for Republicans this year.” Pausing, he added, “No complacency — they’ve got to work and fight and battle every step of the way to November — but I’m very encouraged.”
See the April 4 print edition for full photo coverage.