Arapahoe County GOP splintered by controversy in guv’s race

By Marianne Goodland
THE COLORADO STATESMAN

Dave Kerber, the chair of the Arapahoe County Republican Party, has a problem.

The local political leader has to contend with calls for his resignation because he won’t allow support for non-Republican candidates — in this case the former GOP congressman from the area, Tom Tancredo, who is currently the standard bearer for governor for the American Constitution Party.

Five precinct leaders have quit in recent weeks over the controversy, Kerber acknowledges.

And this week, he’s dealing with a rogue precinct volunteer who placed Tancredo flyers into the literature packets containing the party’s official county voter guide.

The Tancredo flyer was found in the literature packet provided to voters in Precinct 114, which is the northernmost part of the county and is part of Congressional District 1.

The lit drop, which showed up in homes in the precinct on Oct. 9, included a county GOP-produced voter guide that listed all the party’s candidates, from county level to Congress and U.S. Senate, and a request for a “no” vote on the three Supreme Court justices up for retention. The guide included photos of the candidates, including a 2x2 photo of Republican gubernatorial candidate Dan Maes, who was dissed, by the way, by the state Republican Party when it listed its official endorsements after the August primary.

Kerber said all of the Republican candidates were given an opportunity to provide materials for the lit drop. The party printed 180,000 voter guides and the drop began on Sept. 25. As to what got into the package, Kerber explained that the rules specified, “if you’re a Republican, your stuff goes in.”

The packet also had flyers from some of the other candidates, such as county assessor, coroner and Congress, as well as a flyer from Clear the Bench Colorado, which had provided the info for the voter guide. The packet also had a Maes flyer that was placed right next to one from Tancredo.

Kerber told The Colorado Statesman that the inclusion of the Tancredo flyer is a clear violation of party rules. However, he also said he would not make presumptions about its inclusion and would investigate how it got into the lit drop. “We can’t use our system to promote a non-Republican,” Kerber said.

The flyer for Clear the Bench is a different issue. Kerber said the county party “doesn’t do issues” and that how to deal with Clear the Bench “has been a problem for us.” Kerber explained that Matt Arnold, the director of the campaign to oust certain judges, is a district captain in the county, and had gotten the party’s executive committee to officially support the campaign. Including the flyer is not an endorsement of Clear the Bench, Kerber said; it was a resolution passed at the county assembly, and the executive committee on “a very close vote said to help him out.”

“It’s not any secret” that many Republicans support Tancredo, acknowledged state GOP Chair Dick Wadhams. “Where it gets murky is when party officials, like a committee-
person, takes it upon themselves to distribute non-Republican candidate literature.” Wadhams said state bylaws don’t address such problems and that it is up to the county GOP to deal with it.

Wadhams also pointed out that the Tancredo flyer situation is “yet another result of the very unique situation we have in the governor’s race.” He pointed out that Republicans have united behind Senate candidate Ken Buck and the party’s congressional candidates but are split on the governor’s race. “It’s messy but every county will just have to figure out how to deal with it… I wouldn’t get involved in it and don’t want to.”

While Wadhams maintains that Republicans are united behind their down-ticket candidates, he did not call for that same unity for Maes.

Kerber’s rogue precinct person is but the latest in the messy political situation in Arapahoe County over his leadership and the division produced by the Tancredo-Maes candidacies. On Sept. 17, Tory Brown, a longtime party activist and committeeman in Precinct 517, called for Kerber’s resignation in a letter to the editor of The Colorado Statesman. Brown said Kerber had called for the resignation of party officers who endorse Tancredo. “I have a better suggestion: I hereby request the resignation of Mr. Kerber and all other Republican Party officials who blindly support our current Republican gubernatorial nominee.”

Brown, a former Arapahoe County GOP chair, called Maes “unsupportable” and said he would compromise his conservative principles and fundamental beliefs “just to please our bumbling Republican leadership.”

Kerber replied on Oct. 1 that party officers are required by bylaws to publicly support Republicans; as to who they vote for, that’s up to them. Kerber said he was appealing to Republicans’ “sense of integrity” to either resign their party positions or not publicly support Tancredo. “You can’t stay on the team when you’re cheering for the other side,” he wrote.

Assistant Minority Leader Sen. Spence, R- Centennial, told The Statesman this week she was surprised to hear about the Tancredo flyer and said it was not something she supports. “We’re a Republican Party and we support Republican candidates.” She said she thought Tancredo was a “fine” individual who would make a better governor than Maes or Hickenlooper, but “I won’t support him because I support Republicans.”

Spence said she is not “deeply divided” about whether to support Maes or Tancredo. “I may not vote for Maes but I won’t jump in someone else’s camp,” she said, because she feels it’s important for Maes to gain at least 10 percent of the vote in order to keep the Republican Party as a major party. Spence said she would wait to vote until the weekend before the election in order to have as much information as possible about that race.

Republicans in Arapahoe County seem “angry and frustrated that the Republican party has come to these bad decisions and bad choices,” Spence said. People in her county don’t like either conservative candidate, and those she’s talked to who aren’t politically active say they won’t vote for either one. “It’s sort of the same position I’m in,” she said. “None of the above.”

Spence also expressed sympathy for the situation Kerber finds himself in, but said she assumes the situation is the same for Republican county chairs all over the state. And Kerber is not likely alone. El Paso County GOP Chair Andy Merritt is facing a high-profile defection in his county over the same problem. Merritt told The Statesman Wednesday that a resignation letter was in the works from Rep. Marsha Looper, R-Calhan, who is a precinct committeeperson in her House district. Looper did not return calls for comment.

State Sen. Linda Newell, D-Littleton, has been walking her district on behalf of other candidates and to get constituent feedback, and has heard the same things that Spence has heard. Voters are conflicted in her district, she said Tuesday. Some have referred to it as a mess, and while some have said they don’t want to vote, others are waiting to see “what happens next” before they vote. “It will be interesting if Maes falls below 10 percent,” she said, adding that she believes the county will remain “purple” after the November election.

The infighting in Arapahoe County’s GOP comes at a time when the county has moved politically from solidly red to at least purple, after years of Republican domination at the ballot box. In 2008, President Barack Obama won the county with nearly 56 percent of the vote to 42 percent for Republican challenger Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.

In 2008, voter registrations for Democrats outnumbered Republicans for the first time in recent memory; Dems showed 119,454 registered, 114,078 for Republicans and 108,283 unaffiliated. The big change? Democrats increased registrations by 19,000 over 2006 while Republican registrations dropped by about 6,000 in the same period.

Newell became the first Democrat to represent SD 26 in at least 20 years, beating Republican challenger and former state Rep. Lauri Clapp by less than 0.5 percent of the vote, or 218 votes out 60,456 cast in Arapahoe County (Her total margin of victory, when votes from Jefferson County were added in, was 187.). Arapahoe County voters also chose to support the Democratic challenger for District Attorney, Kevin Farrell, over Republican Carol Chambers, who won the race with support from other counties in the district.

The county has all or parts of 11 House districts and five are totally encompassed within the district. Three of the five seats are held by Democrats: Rep. Nancy Todd, D-Aurora, newly-appointed Rep. Rhonda Fields, D-Aurora, and Rep. Su Ryden, D-Aurora. The two Republicans are Asst. Minority Leader David Balmer, R-Centennial, and Rep. Spencer Swalm, R-Centennial.

However, Republicans have continued to do well in the district, such as Spence, who won her 2008 re-election bid with 58 percent of the vote, compared to 42 percent for her Democratic challenger. And two of the three county commissioners elected in 2008 were Republicans.

Long-time capitol observer and political scientist John Straayer of Colorado State University said the Tancredo-Maes division is “another chapter in a book that is being written over several decades.” He said that back in the 1970s, the state capitol had the “capitol crazies,” which he said included then-Reps. Tom Tancredo, Steve Durham, Cliff Dodge and Anne Gorsuch. As time went on, that wing of the GOP adopted a more social and religious agenda that created a division in the party. That’s when legislators like Dave Wattenberg and Russ George, and later, Norma Anderson and Ramey Johnson, were targeted within their party as being RINOs — Republicans In Name Only. “This is a train that has been rolling through the Republican Party for the last 30 years,” Straayer observed, adding that the Tancredo-Maes mess is just another manifestation.

Straayer said he thought that after the bath the GOP took in 2006 and 2008 that the party would move a little toward the middle, and yet the opposite has happened — the party has gone further to the right. The conservative wing of the party is the noisiest and most energetic, he said, and as a result moderate Republicans are throwing in the towel and saying, “who needs this stuff?” While it’s pushed many moderates out, he said, there is now internal fragmentation among the more conservative elements in the party who remain.

Marianne@coloradostatesman.com