County parties undergo biennial reorganization

New party leaders could affect state chair races in both parties
The Colorado Statesman

It’s February in an odd-numbered year, which means Republicans and Democrats are meeting county by county to pick officers, name bonus delegates and otherwise conduct off-year business in advance of state central committee meetings next month.

Both major parties will pick new state chairs in March — along with other less-contested officers — and the races are being vigorously contested on both sides of the aisle, making the county “reorgs” all the more important.

The snow and cold have hampered some of this week’s county reorgs (short for reorganizations), but with the exception of a few postponements, most have gone on without a hitch. We checked in with some of the larger counties to see what happened and report results below.

Every two years, county parties are supposed to gather county central committee members — precinct committee people, elected officials and county party officers — to set things up for the next two years. In addition to electing a county chair, vice chair and secretary — who then sit on the state central committee — county Democrats and Republicans pick district captains, other officers, and name vacancy committees.

Counties also get to select so-called bonus delegates to the state central committee, which is the governing body for the state party. But the diverging fates of the Democratic and Republican gubernatorial candidates in the last election spells very different situations for bonus delegates between the parties.

Those delegates are allotted by county based on each party’s turnout in the governor’s race — basically, each county gets two delegates for every 10,000 votes cast — so the historically low vote for Republican nominee Dan Maes means there won’t be very many bonus delegates to the GOP state central committee. In fact, only five of Colorado’s 64 counties — Arapahoe, Douglas, El Paso, Jefferson and Larimer — get to pick state bonus delegates on the Republican side, and between them they only get 18. Democrats, on the other hand, will be seating as many as 244 bonus delegates from across the state, based on votes for Gov. John Hickenlooper, the Democratic nominee.

The low number of GOP bonus delegates could swing influence in the Republican state chair race to smaller, rural counties, since every county — no matter what the size — gets to send its chair, vice chair and secretary as voting members of the central committee. (Other members are current state party officers, Colorado’s two Republican National Committee delegates, congressional district chairs and elected officials, from district attorneys and legislators to statewide officials and members of Congress.)

County reorgs wrap up by Feb. 15 for Democrats, who convene to elect state officers on March 5 in Denver, and a week later for Republicans, who gather on March 26 in Castle Rock. (The Arapahoe County GOP has the latest scheduled reorg, moved from a frigid Feb. 8 to Feb. 22, closer to spring.)

Arapahoe County Democrats met Feb. 5 at Rangeview High School in Aurora. In addition to the 155 Arapahoe County Central Committee members, U.S. Rep. Ed Perlmutter showed up, along with the three announced candidates for state party chair, Polly Baca, Adam Bowen, and Rick Palacio.

Incumbent party officers didn’t seek additional terms, so an entirely new slate was elected. None of the races were contested. Todd Mata is the new chair, Pam Gail is 1st vice chair, John Buckley is 2nd vice chair, Mary Pritchard is secretary and Matt Salek is treasurer.

“Despite a bruising U.S. Senate primary battle just six months ago between U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet and former House Speaker Andrew Romanoff, there was little sign of any remaining friction in the auditorium,” Mata reported. He said Arapahoe Democrats are “fiercely united” for next year’s elections.

Nearly 100 Boulder County Republicans braved a terrible storm the night of Feb. 3 to convene at the Longmont Public Library. State Party Executive Director James Garcia showed up to thank outgoing county Chairman Scott Starin — who also mounted a campaign against Democratic U.S. Rep. Jared Polis — and state Party Chairman Dick Wadhams told Republicans the 2012 election could be the most important election yet, one that could determine the future direction of the country.

All the new officers were elected unanimously. Joel Champion is the new chairman; Gregory Carlson, Ellyn Hilliard and Chad Rathbun are all vice chairs; and Al Kolwicz was named secretary. Among district officers, former state lawmaker Betty Swenson was named vice chair for House District 11, along with Chair Cathy Jarrett.

El Paso County Democrats met Feb. 5 at the Hillside Community Center in Colorado Springs and had a few contested races for party officers. County Chair Kathleen Ricker ran unopposed for chair. Incumbent 1st Vice Chair Judi Ingalido survived a challenge from Dave Bryan. The 2nd vice chair spot was also a race, with Chuck Bader winning over Robert Nemanich. Treasurer Bob Dyer ran unopposed. Incumbent party Secretary Carolyn Cathey will be serving another term, besting Nancy Jo Morris in the vote.

Mesa County Democrats got together on Feb. 5 at the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers hall in Clifton and picked a set of fresh faces to run the party. Karl Castleton and Arn McConnell were named co-chairs; Claudette Konola was elected treasurer; Laura Fowler becomes secretary; and four Democrats will be vice chairs, in descending order: Rick Baer, JoLynn Phillips, James Milligan, and Judy Hegge.

“I feel the new central and executive committees are a good mix of new volunteers and past committee members,” Castleton told The Colorado Statesman. His co-chair, McConnell, had this to say: “The new officers are smart and technologically savvy. We see real opportunities to grow the party during the coming years.”

Denver Republicans elected a new chairman on Feb. 5 at Hill Middle School. The previous chair, Ryan Call, didn’t seek a second term but announced this week he’s in the running for state party chair. Past state House candidate Danny Stroud defeated Bob Lane, who also ran for a House seat in last year’s election, for chairman. The county will have three vice chairs: Michelle Lyng, Jeff Krump and Pauline Olvera. Brett Moore was elected secretary.

Adams County Democrats picked new officers — and a few assistants — on Feb. 6 at the county fairgrounds in Brighton. Marty Wisniewski is chair; Richard McCutcheon is 1st vice chair; Larry Pace is 2nd vice chair; Michael Scanlon is secretary; Tove Forgo is assistant secretary; Diane Christner is treasurer; and Aurita Apodaca is assistant treasurer.

Broomfield Democrats spent the morning of Feb. 5 at Sill-TerHar Ford. Matt Gray is the new chair, Judy Enderle is 1st vice chair, Dottie Rawsky is 2nd vice chair, Mike Byrne is treasurer, and Jim Holitza is secretary. Democrats also named Tom Parsons to be publicity chair and Mark Snook to run the county party’s website.

Larimer County Democrats gathered on Feb. 5 at Boltz Middle School in Fort Collins. William Russell was unanimously re-elected as chair; Linda Bersch was elected as 1st vice chair; Nathan Morimitsu was elected as 2nd vice chair; Anne Wilseck was re-elected as secretary; and Martha Coleman was elected as treasurer. The county is sending an enthusiastic group of 18 bonus delegates to the state Democratic meeting next month, in part because one of the candidates for state party chair is a former county chair. “We have a lot of people excited about going to Denver to elect Adam Bowen as state chair,” Russell said.

Boulder County Democrats had some contests for party officers when they met on Feb. 6 at New Vista High School in Boulder. Dan Gould won the office of chair over Harry Hempy. Laura Spicer was elected vice chair in a race against Alan Rosenfeld. Tricia Olson ran unopposed for treasurer. Linda Cornett overcame a couple of hopefuls for the secretary job.

Ernest@coloradostatesman.com