Harvey mounts conservative challenge to Wadhams for GOP state chair

The Colorado Statesman

Charging that two-term Colorado Republican Party Chairman Dick Wadhams has lost the confidence of grassroots Republicans, state Sen. Ted Harvey, R-Highlands Ranch, announced on Monday he plans to challenge Wadhams in next month’s GOP election.

“It's time for new direction, new leadership and new perspective for the state party,” said Harvey, who unveiled a list of legislative endorsements totaling nearly half the Republican lawmakers at the State Capitol. Harvey said if he wins the chairmanship he plans to give up his Senate seat, “roll up my sleeves and take this fight directly to the Democrats.”

The conservative darling from Douglas County has been all over the news in recent weeks — pushing a bill to require proof of citizenship to register to vote, leading a charge against a controversial pick by Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper to run the state Department of Labor and Employment, and introducing legislation to make it easier for new taxi cab companies to operate.

“Liberal Democrats have enjoyed four years of unchallenged success in Colorado, far beyond their party registration,” Harvey said in the statement announcing his bid. “The reason they have been so successful is because they have run better, more strategic and aggressive campaigns than Republicans. I am running to beat the Democrats with better talent, funding and conservative leadership than we have had in the past,” he said, promising to “return the Republican Party back to the majority.”

Wadhams told The Colorado Statesman on Monday that he had no comment on Harvey’s candidacy at the moment but added, “I’m absolutely in the race.”

The other announced candidates for Republican Party chair are recent Colorado transplant Bart Baron, who ran for Congress in Michigan, and John Wagner, who ran the campaign of Republican U.S. Senate hopeful Cleve Tidwell and is running on a ticket with vice-chair candidate Jeremy Goodall.

The GOP central committee meets to pick officers on March 26 at Douglas County High School in Castle Rock.

Former state Sen. Dave Schultheis, R-Colorado Springs, hailed Harvey’s candidacy in an interview with The Statesman.

“I sense that he is the one candidate who truly can bring our party back together. He’s well spoken, he knows the issues extremely well. He’s direct, people know exactly where he stands. I couldn’t have more admiration for anyone than Sen. Harvey, quite frankly,” said Schultheis, who served alongside Harvey in the legislature for nearly a decade.

Schultheis said Harvey’s conservative bona fides point up Wadhams’ “basic weakness.” One lesson the GOP learned in the last election is that grassroots conservatives and Tea Party activists “want the party to move back to its roots and its core beliefs,” Schultheis said. “That is the Achilles heel for Dick Wadhams.” Schultheis added: “I believe the (central committee members) who are going to be elected are going to be very hungry for creating a strong direction for our party again.”

Two years ago, on the heels of President Barack Obama’s 2008 victory in Colorado and Democrat Mark Udall’s U.S. Senate win over Republican nominee Bob Schaffer — whose campaign Wadhams managed while serving as state party chair — Wadhams easily won a second term with 85 percent of the vote against two little-known challengers.

In the last election, Wadhams oversaw historic gains by Colorado Republicans but also took heat from the ranks over how he handled divisive primaries and a third-party run by gubernatorial candidate Tom Tancredo, a former Republican congressman. Republicans ousted two Democratic members of Congress, unseated the state treasurer and secretary of state, and took back control of the Colorado House for the first time since 2004. But Tancredo won more than three times as many votes for governor as Dan Maes, the GOP nominee, although both lost to Hickenlooper. And appointed U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet fended off a challenge from Republican nominee Ken Buck, placing Colorado athwart a GOP tide that swept Republican senators and governors into office across the country.

In his announcement, Harvey pounced on Wadhams’ mixed results.

“Unfortunately, this last election saw the fracturing of our conservative political base, and whether or not it is warranted, Chairman Wadhams has lost the confidence of our grassroots and many of our Republican leaders. We did not raise the money and dedicate the resources appropriately to win the statewide and legislative battles that needed to be won. The Colorado GOP needs a bold new leader that will re-energize our entire party,” he said.

In this year’s GOP election, because gubernatorial nominee Maes did so poorly — he received 11 percent of the statewide vote, barely clearing the 10-percent threshold to retain “major party” designation for Republicans — the Republican central committee won’t have its usual number of so-called bonus delegates, picked at the county level to augment the party officers and elected officials who automatically sit on the committee. That’s because Republicans award bonus delegates based on how well each county turns out the vote in the governor’s race, and Maes only performed well in a handful of rural counties.

In an interview with The Statesman late last month, Tancredo — who said at the time he did not support Wadhams and hoped Harvey would jump into the race — called it “the greatest irony of all time” that the Maes debacle might ensure Wadhams’ reelection because it will keep non-establishment activists from having a voice in the chairman’s race.

“The disaster we call the Republican governor’s election, the disaster that was for the Republican Party — and to whatever extent Dick Wadhams has any responsibility there is up for debate — will almost certainly ensure Dick Wadhams’ re-election,” Tancredo said in between bouts of laughter. “The insurgents were responsible for putting Dan Maes on the ballot, and that, in turn — his candidacy was a disaster for the Republican party — means they cannot do anything to change it. It’s hilarious, really, when you think of it.”

For his part, Baron said Harvey’s entry into the race increases his own chances of winning. Baron said the choice between the “unacceptable, status-quo” Wadhams and the conservative purist Harvey will highlight his own platform, which involves approaching the state GOP the way a turnaround expert might take on a failing company.

“You’ve got Dick (Wadhams), who’s basically been asleep at the switch,” Baron said. “And the thing is, I believe in Reagan’s big tent. Sen. Harvey is talking about bringing together the Tea Party and conservatives — his supporters say they want to purge the party of moderates and RINOs. But you can’t win elections in Colorado without independents, Blue Dog Democrats and moderates, there aren’t enough conservatives in the state to make that happen.”

Referring to Harvey’s vision of the Republican Party, Baron said, “That’s not a party of inclusion, like what Reagan was trying to do, that’s a party of exclusion.”

Forums for Republican Party candidates are set for Feb. 16 at the Granby Library and March 10 at the Copper Fields event center in Wheat Ridge.

Harvey lives in Highlands Ranch with his wife, Janie, and their two children. He was picked to represent House District 43 in a vacancy election and won reelection to the seat twice before moving up to the state Senate, where he won a second term in November. Early in his career, Harvey spent two years as House reading clerk before taking a job at the Independence Institute and then as district office manager for U.S. Rep. Joel Hefley.

Harvey wanted to take Tancredo’s place representing the 6th Congressional District when Tancredo retired in 2008 but placed third in the Republican primary with 15 percent of the vote, trailing Wil Armstrong and the eventual winner, U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman.

When he’s not legislating, Harvey works as a licensed mortgage broker at Greenwood Village-based American Home Funding. That job made headlines last spring when Harvey clashed with Colorado Division of Real Estate director Erin Toll in a committee hearing over attempts by the state to regulate mortgage lenders.

Toll told the press that Harvey and his company were under investigation for sending misleading mailers, but subsequent reporting by The Denver Post revealed that Toll had announced the investigation before it was formally begun. Harvey, it turned out, wasn’t a target of the probe, which claimed loan advertisements looked too much like official government documents. (Toll was placed on leave during the fracas and ultimately reached a monetary settlement with the state before embarking on another career.)

Across the aisle, three Democrats are vying to take over for state Democratic Party boss Pat Waak, who announced a month ago she wouldn’t seek a fourth term. Those candidates are former state Sen. Polly Baca, who has held nearly every office in the Democratic Party over five decades; former Larimer County Democratic Chair Adam Bowen, who lost a bid for county commissioner this year; and longtime legislative aide Rick Palacio, who lost a primary in Pueblo County’s clerk and recorder race a while back, and has worked for then-House Majority Leader Alice Madden, former U.S. Rep. John Salazar, and former House Majority Leader, now Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer in Washington, D.C. Democrats pick state officers on March 5 at the Colorado Convention Center in Denver.

Ernest@coloradostatesman.com