Non-candidate Wadhams defends himself in GOP state chair candidates free-for-all

The Colorado Statesman

If the current campaign for GOP state chairman is any indication, the battle facing Colorado Republicans to resurrect their wounded party may take longer than anyone thinks. The race to succeed Chairman Dick Wadhams, who decided not to run for a third term just last month, has turned into an ugly mess, and the ultimate victor — to be decided March 26 at the Republican state central committee meeting — will have his hands full trying to unite a party split along not only ideological lines, but with major crevices at its very foundation.

The latest salvos fired by some of the candidates in this shortened — yet frenetic — campaign season have been explosive. Others fail to pass the muster. We’ll touch on a couple of the most recent charges here — the bulk of our coverage will come in a couple of weeks in a special focus issue for the Republican state central committee meeting.

The five candidates for chairman — state Sen. Ted Harvey, party legal counsel Ryan Call, party vice chair Leondray Gholston, activist Matt Arnold and newcomer to Colorado, Bart Baron — gathered for a forum at the the Arapahoe County Republican Men’s Club meeting last Wednesday morning. It was a fitting venue considering that members of this sometimes raucous group have been well trained in the art of political combat. You do not enter this early hour battleground without proper armor. Members typically are not shy and usually require that one’s arsenal contain bullet-proof statements of fact.

This was the first meeting of all five candidates together and after opening rounds where each offered up their particular attributes, the question and answer segment provided the most fodder in which to differentiate the dueling fivesome.

On this morning, however, a few of the statements made by the candidates for state chair were unsubstantiated; others left more questions than they answered. And as longtime Republican activist Lynne Cottrell and a few others wondered outloud, with all the talk about the importance of vetting candidates, how come the process didn’t work so well at this particular function? Why were some of the candidates allowed to get away with not fully answering questions? And, why weren’t more piercing questions asked of all the candidates?

“All the state party candidates agree that they can’t vet candidates, that it is up to us to do it, but how in the heck can we do it when we can’t ask pointed questions!” Cottrell mused.

“These forums just lend themselves to all responding in platitudes,” she added. “There are some serious questions that should be asked publicly to ‘vet’ them but then (they) won’t let us do it.”

Cottrell’s comments are grist for the mill for another time. For this week we’ll let the protagonists speak in their own words.

The first exchange comes from Chairman Wadhams in the form of a letter he sent to members of the state central committee on March 10.

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Setting the Record Straight
(from Dick Wadhams letter)

I have remained neutral in the race for state chairman but recent false and irresponsible statements by two of the candidates raise serious questions about their capacity to serve. These statements cannot go without a response.

As most of you know, I inherited a $600,000 debt when I was first elected chairman in 2007. It took us nearly two years but we paid off that debt shortly before the 2008 election.

Ted Harvey asserted this week that I was not responsible for getting rid of that $600,000 debt because it was paid off as a result of $3.7 million sent to the Colorado Republican Party from the Republican National Committee over the past four years.

Harvey is either telling an outright lie or he is demonstrating how profoundly ignorant he is about how state and national parties work.

One of the most important functions of the RNC is to help fund the “Victory” voter identification and turnout program in every state. Indeed, because Colorado has been a targeted, competitive state the past two election cycles and the RNC had tremendous confidence in the professionalism of the Colorado Republican Party — including 2008 Victory Director James Garcia and 2010 Victory Director Chuck Poplstein — we received $2.5 million in 2008 and $1.2 million in 2010.

Every dime of those RNC transfers in 2008 and 2010 was budgeted and fully committed for Victory specific offices, staff, equipment and mailings before that money ever arrived in Colorado. RNC transfers do not fund day to day operations of Colorado Republican headquarters nor are they used to defray previous debt.

In 2010, the RNC transfer helped fund 17 full-time staff members who worked in 14 Victory field offices across the state that operated seven days a week from July through Election Day and it helped fund more than 2.6 million pieces of mail and door hangers supporting Republican candidates.

The success of the 2010 Victory operation is in the numbers. Registered Republicans outnumbered registered Democrats by only 8,000 on Election Day 2010 but 106,000 more Republicans voted than Democrats in the general election. We essentially gave our statewide candidates a 106,000 Republican voter head start before they made their case to the critical unaffiliated voters who determine elections.

Victory contributed greatly to the statewide election of Attorney General John Suthers, Secretary of State Scott Gessler, State Treasurer Walker Stapleton and CU Regent at-large Steve Bosley along with newly elected Congressman Cory Gardner and Congressman Scott Tipton and our new majority in the Colorado House of Representatives.

Harvey also asserted his ignorance when he said none of this RNC financial support went directly to state legislative candidates. RNC transfers are federal dollars and legally cannot be used to directly fund state candidates. But more important, Victory Legislative Director Ben Engen’s responsibility was to work directly with Republican legislative candidates across the state to get out the Republican vote in their respective districts. Victory funded Republican “slate” door hangers which featured the names and photos of state legislative candidates in addition to congressional and statewide candidates.

Beyond the Victory program, we conducted intensive campaign schools for legislative candidates and their staff and volunteers with some of the most respected experts in the nation in organization, fundraising, research, communications, and campaign finance law compliance.

Perhaps Harvey is trying to divert attention from the debt he still owes from his failed 2008 campaign for Congress in the Sixth District when he finished a distant third with only 15 percent of the vote in the Republican primary.

This isn’t the first time Harvey has made irresponsible statements. Respected Denver Post columnist Vincent Carroll recently took Harvey to task for his comments on “authentic conservative leadership” which I have attached to this memo.

Finally, candidate Matt Arnold has made the absurd allegation that I “sabotaged” the ability of Republican causes and candidates to raise money. Arnold led the failed “clear the bench” campaign last year and was unsuccessful in raising money so, of course, it must be the fault of the state Republican chairman that he was not credible enough to be worthy of contributions from donors. The only “sabotage” that was inflicted on the “clear the bench” campaign was when Arnold declared himself its leader.

It has never been the responsibility of the Colorado Republican Party to raise money for other “causes” nor should it be. As to his absurd allegation I “sabotaged” the ability of some candidates to raise money, I assume he sees other conspiracies swirling around him as well.

I congratulate Colorado Republican State Vice Chairman Leondray Gholston and former Denver County Republican Chairman Ryan Call for running responsible and substantive campaigns for state chairman.

•••

Sen. Harvey told The Colorado Statesman on Friday that he “very well understands how the process works” and that he will not look back at the past and point fingers — rather, his “whole message is to be positive and unite the party and move forward and win elections in the future.”

Matt Arnold answered Wadhams’ allegations with his own letter on March 11, portions which are included here. (And Wadhams’ response to Arnold follows.)

•••

Restoring Integrity to the office of Colorado Republican Party State Chair
(from Matt Arnold letter)

The latest broadside by departing Republican Party State Chair Dick Wadhams demonstrates clearly why the office — and by unfortunate extension, the entire Republican Party in Colorado — no longer enjoys the confidence and trust of far too many Colorado voters.

After dropping out of the race to remain in office in order to avoid a looming referendum on his (failed) leadership of Colorado Republicans, Wadhams demonstrates in yesterday’s open letter to Republican State Party Central Committee members how his personal pettiness and blatant disregard for the truth have undermined confidence in the integrity and accountability of our party leadership. In his letter, he makes some very scathing remarks about two of the state party chair candidates. For someone who is supposed to represent unity and integrity in the party, he has — once again — missed the mark entirely.

First, for a “failed campaign,” Clear The Bench Colorado was able to post remarkable achievements; despite lacking deep financial resources (in which Wadhams played a role), CTBC accomplished something never before achieved in Colorado, putting the issue of judicial retention on the political map (not just in Colorado, but nationwide). Although falling short of achieving a clean sweep, observers credit the campaign with encouraging the resignation of Chief Justice Mary Mullarkey, one of the most actively partisan (and actively hostile to Republicans) presiding justices in state history. Additionally, shifting the vote some 15% to only 60:40% “retain”, the lowest in state history (typical retention rates for the ‘Supremes’ are 75% yes, 25% no) is itself a remarkable achievement; other races achieving the same percentage shifts would have been a GOP tsunami, sweeping almost every Democrat out of office.

More enduringly, CTBC shifted the very terms of political discourse in this state. No longer will state legislators be able to violate the constitutional rights of Colorado citizens by declaring taxes as “fees” without being called to account. Statewide, candidates who highlighted these issues were successful.

Bottom line, Clear the Bench Colorado was, in fact, a successful campaign, if for no other reason than it brought a long-ignored but vital issue to the forefront of the political fight.

What Mr. Wadhams seems to have not understood about the quote from March 4’s edition of The Colorado Statesman (“Unlike Dick Wadhams, I will not actively sabotage the fundraising efforts of any candidate or cause that is out there promoting Republican principles.” — http://www.coloradostatesman.com/content/992629-gop-chair-candidates-dif...) is that Mr. Arnold was referring to a wide range of similar activities, not just himself or his campaign.

High dollar donors to the party have shared with Clear the Bench Colorado that not only did our sitting State Party Chairman tell them to ‘not waste their time or money’, he did the exact same thing with many other Republican candidates for office this year — including candidates for statewide executive offices, Congressional seats, and state legislative offices. It is not the job of the state party chair to pick what HE believes to be winners or losers, but to facilitate support for ALL Republican (and allied) campaigns.

Although I believe that this year’s caucus and assembly processes were run fairly — in large part due to enhanced scrutiny, expanded participation and awareness — the same cannot be said of past assemblies (which has resulted in driving away potential Republican voters, and further eroding trust in our party). Many voters and activists remember how the 2008 State Assembly under Wadhams violated party rules to spurn Ron Paul voters (for the record, I did not support Ron Paul for president, although I respect his contributions in Congress) and longer memories recall similar actions in the 2006 and 2004 assemblies.

Wadhams has consistently abused the power of the office for personal benefit and as a mechanism of retribution against his personal political enemies — of which he has made several. Wadhams seems to default to making personal attacks as a standard mode of operations — undermining our positive message in general elections, and dividing our party in primaries and between elections.

•••

Wadhams’ response: “Matt Arnold is delusional and a liar. He is the epitomy of the kind of conspiratorial nut that I referred to a few weeks ago.”

Jody@coloradostatesman.com