By Leslie Jorgensen
THE COLORADO STATESMAN
A flurry of Democratic and Republican central committee meetings are being held in Colorado’s 64 counties to elect officers and bonus members — the folks who will meet next month to elect their state party leadership teams. Most of the county party elections — for both Democrats and Republicans — are calling for “change” and “hope” to energize voters.
However, neither party anticipates changing state party leaders; apparently Democratic Party Chair Pat Waak and GOP Chair Dick Wadhams will keep their jobs.
Democrats aim to expand the multilevel outreach initiatives of Barack Obama’s presidential campaign and to keep the enthusiasm alive that spurred large voter turnouts in last year’s election.
Denver Democrats rally with Ritter
More than 400 people flocked to Lincoln High School for the Denver County Democratic Party meeting on Feb. 8, which featured rallying speeches by Gov. Bill Ritter, U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, 1st District Congresswoman Diana DeGette, state Treasurer Cary Kennedy, House Speaker Terrance Carroll, former House Speaker Andrew Romanoff and Waak.
Cindy Lowery was elected new county party chair, Jennifer Jacobson as vice chair, Owen Perkins as secretary and Ed Hall as treasurer.
Lowery, an attorney, ran for House District 8 last year, but lost the primary to Rep. Beth McCann. The recipient of the 2008 Colorado Young Democrat of the Year Award, Lowery also serves on the board of directors for Community Resources, Inc., a nonprofit organization dedicated to increasing parental involvement in K-12 education in Denver Public Schools.
“We had a great election cycle in Denver this past year, which significantly increased our turnout and engaged new voters,” Lowery told the county central committee. “As your next chair, I will focus on harnessing that new energy and continuing to engage the new voters and volunteers in the county party. I plan to implement an Obama-like structured GOTV and outreach plan.”
Adams County Dems feature Perlmutter
Ritter, Romanoff and 6th District Congressman Ed Perlmutter headlined the Adams County Democratic Party Central Committee meeting at the Pipefitters Local 208 Hall on north Broadway.
The county party elected a fresh slate of officers that includes Marty Wisniewski, mayor of Thornton, as Adams County chair; Linda Sand as first vice chair, Julia Hicks as second vice chair, and Carol Neiswonger as secretary. Hicks is a former state party first vice chair.
Denver Republicans call for change
Republicans want a reversal of misfortunes that began in the 2004 election, to unite the party under President Ronald Reagan’s “big tent” legacy and to eradicate vestiges of a family feud between social and fiscal conservatives.
The GOP’s minority-party status in Denver County didn’t dampen enthusiasm as a huge number of Republicans turned out at Hill Middle School to elect county officers. Ryan Call, legal counsel to the state Republican Party, was elected chairman. Call served as vice chair of the Denver County GOP over the past four years and was chair for Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign.
Call won 89 votes and defeated challenger Christopher Maj, who received 15 votes.
Toby Hurd, manager of Restaurant Kevin Taylor in Denver, was elected first vice chair.
Joshua Sharf, who won second vice chair, brings talent and experience in communicating the Republican message — particularly to unaffiliated voters. He is a Web designer, blogger, co-founder of Rocky Mountain Alliance of Blogs, and co-host of KNUS 710’s Backbone Radio show. Sharf is a graduate of the 2006 Leadership Program of the Rockies, a member of the Jewish Community Relations Council and the most recent unsuccessful Republican candidate for House District 6.
Sharf and Hurd ran unopposed.
Sam Freeman was elected third vice chair over challenger Patricia Springer, 78-to-24. A former district captain and current precinct committeeperson, Freeman served as an attorney in the Colorado Attorney General’s office, went on to become vice president of the Denver Rio Grande Railroad and later, vice chair chairman of Concord, a major international corporation.
Kelly Maher was elected secretary by acclamation. A political consultant, Maher has worked on numerous campaigns and served as a constituent liaison in former Congressman Bob Beauprez’s 7th District office.
Douglas County GOP debates direction
In several of the larger Republican bastions, county party chairs did not seek re-election. An exception was Kelsey Alexander’s re-election bid in Douglas County — the party chair touted a 97 percent voter turnout in November and a “red” sweep of the county election, with Republicans taking every race.
John Ransom’s message for change and party unity resonated. In the first round of voting, Ransom and Jeff Wasden each received 75 votes, and Alexander received 58. Alexander withdrew, and the second round delivered 110 votes to Ransom and 87 to Wasden.
Ransom is a freelance writer who ran briefly for Republican National Committeeman last year.
“We’re the party of change — it’s not change for change sake. It’s an American change,” said Ransom. “It’s time for us to shake things up.”
Ransom said that, although the county party isn’t divided over abortion or gun rights, there is an “angry energy” that percolates in factions of frustrated Republicans. Ransom campaigned for party unity in an effort to transform that anger into positive energy.
“Too often we’ve been slapping each other instead of giving an open hand to help each other,” Ransom said.
The committee also elected Mark Baisley as vice chair, Steve Nielson as secretary and John Fielding as chair. Baisley is a defense contractor who ran unsuccessfully against Sen. Ted Harvey, R-Highlands Ranch.
El Paso County GOP shows split
The El Paso County GOP Central Committee members want change — and that’s what two candidate slates offered. Although the candidates shared similar goals, their supporters were nearly evenly split among the committee members.
The race for the chairmanship became a three-way contest among Kay Rendleman, Cami Bremer, and George Ross. Rendleman won with199 votes, Bremer captured 190, and Ross received 3 votes.
All the candidates vowed to recapture the House District 17, which went Democrat Dennis Apuan in 2008, to defeat Sen. John Morse, D-Colorado Springs, and to reclaim House District 18 in 2010, when Rep. Michael Merrifield is term limited.
“We can win!” declared Rendleman, who expressed concern that “family values are being replaced by social experimentation … We need to stop the nonsense!”
Her supporters filled the Coronado High School auditorium stage, waving handmade signs and chanting, “Kay! Kay! Kay!”
Rendleman was endorsed by Congressman Doug Lamborn, state Sen. Dave Schultheis and Reps. Marsha Looper and Kent Lambert.
She promised a return to grassroots campaigning and less expensive, family-style fundraisers, and pledged to support open records and to bring unaffiliated voters into the GOP.
Rendleman offers 28 years of political experience, having worked on President Ronald Reagan’s 1980 primary race in California, managed Kent Lambert’s 2004 and 2008 campaigns for the Colorado House and served as an administrative assistant in Sen. Chuck Hagel’s Nebraska district office in 2006-’07.
Bremer was endorsed by House Minority Caucus Leader Amy Stephens, Reps. Larry Liston and Mark Waller, former state Senator Andy McElhany, and the outgoing county GOP officers.
“This woman is the face of the new Republican Party!” proclaimed Stephens, of Bremer.
“Look behind or look forward,” Bremer told the Republicans. She laid out a vision of running the county party as a nonprofit with equal emphasis on recruiting volunteers and fundraising. Bremer pledged to enlist active new members, including young adults, women, minorities and unaffiliated voters.
In the vice chair’s contest, Colorado Springs City Councilman Darryl Glenn defeated Fountain City Councilwoman Lois Landgraf, 202-187.
Longtime GOP activist and volunteer Nancy Meadows squeaked into the secretary’s post over Dan Lanotte, 201-196.
Glenn ran on the Bremer team and Meadows on the Rendleman slate.
The committee elected 32 bonus members, which were evenly split between the Bremer and Rendleman slates.
Arapahoe County GOP battles blues
Arapahoe County GOP suffered the erosion of thousands of Republican-affiliated voters and went “blue” for Obama in 2008.
The central committee elected Dave Kerber as chair over Lee Ormiston, 173-30.
Kerber is a Greenwood Village City Councilman who ran unsuccessfully against Rep. Joe Rice, D-Littleton, last year. He is an attorney and a CEO of Absolute Logistics.
“It’s been a tough three election cycles,” said Kerber, adding that it’s time for Republicans to “stop letting Democrats define us in a way that is not accurate.”
“We’ve been described as selfish, mean and intolerant. We’re not!” Kerber proclaimed. “That concept isn’t right.”
However, Kerber is no Democrat-basher.
“I don’t believe Democrats are evil,” he said. “They want the best for Coloradans and so do Republicans. We just see ‘best’ in a different way.”
Kerber defined “best” within traditional Republican tenets — smaller government, more personal responsibility, lower taxes, liberty and efficient government.
The united Republican Party Kerber envisions — regardless of pet issues — would offer more open communication among members and the media.
Republicans must put aside differences to elect Republicans, he said, in order to win the governor’s race and to take a majority of Statehouse seats in 2010.
“If we don’t do that, we will be in the wilderness for a decade,” said Kerber, alluding to the possibility that Democrats would control redistricting in 2011.
Athenia Michel was elected vice chair over Jay Ledbetter, 102 to 100 votes. Michel previously served as county party secretary. Sueyna Duthie, who ran unsuccessfully against Sen. Morgan Carroll, D-Aurora, was elected secretary.
“We are a positive, forward-looking team that wants to reach out a lot more to energize people to the party,” said Michel.
Some Republicans said that Michel had a tough race against Ledbetter, whose speech appealed to those who have been disappointed in the GOP on the local, state and national levels.