El Paso GOP chair bucks party post for campaign job with Senate candidate Buck

By Leslie Jorgensen
THE COLORADO STATESMAN

COLORADO SPRINGS – El Paso County GOP Chair Kay Rendleman has agreed to manage Republican U.S. Senate candidate Ken Buck’s campaign. She will officially assume the position on Monday, May 10, but that will leave the party without a chair and vice chair.

The county party will be under the guidance of Ryan Parsell, who was tapped by Rendleman last month to fill the shoes of former county GOP Vice Chair and Colorado Springs City Councilman Darryl Glenn. Parsell’s appointment was to be confirmed by the county party executive committee, but that meeting has not convened.

After the county GOP assembly on April 10, Glenn resigned the party post after learning that he faces Republican challenger Richard Nasby in the race for El Paso County Commissioner in District 1. Glenn won the party’s nomination; Nasby is petitioning onto the primary ballot.

“It looks like we’ll have a special election in June,” said Parsell, who learned Thursday morning that Rendleman was resigning and that he’ll be bumped up to “acting chair” of the county party.

The tentative plan is to convene a central committee meeting on June 5 prior to a party fundraising event at Pikes Peak Regional Building Department.

Rendleman told The Colorado Statesman that she decided to take the reins of Buck’s campaign and resign as county party chair after meeting last weekend with the Weld County District Attorney and key supporters, including state Rep. Kent Lambert, R-Colorado Springs, and Robin Coran, Buck’s El Paso County campaign coordinator.

“I’ve been watching the campaigns and I’ve been impressed by how well Ken Buck has connected with the voters,” said Rendleman. “He energizes people!”

“I’m thrilled that Kay has joined our grassroots campaign,” said Buck in a media release. “Kay’s grassroots leadership and organizational experience will build on our campaign’s momentum. She is one of Colorado’s most respected grassroots leaders.”

Rendleman described Buck as the “grassroots choice” in the Republican race to recapture the seat held by Democratic U.S. Senator Michael Bennet, who was appointed by Governor Bill Ritter after Ken Salazar resigned in January 2009 to become interior secretary. Bennet faces Democratic challenger Andrew Romanoff, former state House Speaker. “I think it will be very exciting to work on Ken’s campaign,” she said.

Rendleman was elected county party chair in February 2009, eking out nine more votes than competitor Cami Bremer.

She touts 30 years of political experience, having worked on President Ronald Reagan’s 1980 primary race in California, managed Lambert’s 2004 and 2008 campaigns for the Colorado House and served as administrative assistant in Sen. Chuck Hagel’s Nebraska district office in 2006–’07.

During an interview last year, Rendleman acknowledged that Hagel is a moderate and that she’d made a campaign contribution to a pro-gay marriage Republican legislator in California in the past, but that she’s long been a fiscal and social conservative.

“It was a matter of defeating a greater evil — a Democrat,” said Lambert of Rendleman’s support of the Republican California legislative candidate.

Lambert, who is running for the Senate District 9 seat being vacated by state Senator Dave Schultheis, has endorsed Buck over Republican competitors Jane Norton, former Colorado Lieutenant Governor, former Douglas County state Sen. Tom Wiens and businessman Cleve Tidwell and patent attorney Steve Barton.

Lambert said the Buck campaign is lucky to get Rendleman because she’s “very, very dedicated and consistent.”

Perhaps also backing up Rendleman’s attested conservatism, but also raising eyebrows, was her recent suggestion to local legislative candidates to hire Jon Hotaling as a campaign consultant. In 2006, Hotaling worked for U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn’s first District 5 congressional campaign and helped orchestrate a negative campaign flyer — featuring two grooms on a wedding cake — that accused then candidate Jeff Crank of pushing a pro-gay rights agenda.

Nothing could have been further from the truth. Yet, the zero-hour mailer turned the tide and delivered enough votes for Lamborn to win the primary contest. Months later, Hotaling and his brother, Mark Hotaling, who worked for the Colorado Christian Coalition, were cited in a complaint to the Federal Elections Commission of collusion between Lamborn’s campaign and a 527 committee.

“I took Owen Hill aside and told him to uphold the honor code he took as graduate for the Air Force Academy,” said a Republican who had worked for former Congressman Joel Hefley. She said that she didn’t want to see Hill, the GOP candidate running against Democratic state Senator John Morse, become entangled in a dirty campaign.

She and others speculated that Jon Hotaling is in the background working to elect Buck.

“No, I can unequivocally say that Jon Hotaling is not working on this campaign,” declared Owen Loftus, Buck’s campaign spokesperson. Loftus said that Hotling is not a staff member, volunteer or consultant.

Rendleman said that a couple of candidates had been approached recently by Hotaling and asked her opinion of him. He was not, she said, recommended by her to them.

“I told them that (Hotaling) does a good job, but that he’s got baggage,” recalled Rendleman. “I want to scotch these rumors.”

Not everyone is thrilled with Rendleman’s decision to leave the county party.

“I’m pretty upset with Kay. It’s the captain abandoning the ship and not telling her shipmates,” said state Rep. Larry Liston, R-Colorado Springs. “It’s a real disservice to the party.”

He said that Rendleman talked about winning races, particularly in House Districts 17 and 18, but didn’t have the courtesy to consult Republican legislators in the county.

“I personally think it makes Ken Buck’s campaign look bad — it’s compromising a top (county) political party in the state for expediency. The timing couldn’t be worse,” said Liston, who is a Norton supporter.

Rendleman said she has called several folks to fill the vacant party leadership positions. Among those contacted are El Paso County Commissioner Jim Bensberg, political consultant Sarah Jack and Schultheis. None were available for comment.

Parsell said that he’s interested in running for chair or vice chair, but that he’ll support whomever the central committee elects.

“We need somebody who can help move us toward Election Day in November — uninterrupted,” said Parsell. “I anticipate a smooth transition in leadership.”

Bremer said that she is “excited for Kay’s career opportunity” and that she’s open to serve the party in any way. Bremer, who is married to Olympic athlete Eli Bremer, is the daughter-in-law of former El Paso County Commissioner Duncan Bremer. In her campaign for county GOP chair, she promoted her experience in public communications, management and fundraising — the latter has been a tremendous challenge for the local party over the past year.

This is not the first time that the county GOP has lost its top officer. Former El Paso County Chair Carley Johnson stepped down in 1993, when she accepted a position to work in the district office of former U.S. Senator Hank Brown. State Rep. Bob Gardner, who was then party vice chair, was elected chair.

Rendleman is the second high profile county GOP chair to join a U.S. Senate campaign in this election cycle. Several months ago, former Douglas County Republican Party Chair John Ransom joined former state Senator Tom Wiens’ campaign for the U.S. Senate. Ransom recently left the campaign.

Leslie@coloradostatesman.com