Guest Columns

PENRY: I’M SICK OF HEARING ABOUT GILL, STRYKER, CODA, ETC.

Republican Party leadership election should be about completing the comeback

Congressman Cory Gardner. Speaker Frank McNulty and Majority Leader Amy Stephens.

Attorney General John Suthers, Secretary of State Scott Gessler, Treasurer Walker Stapleton. Representative Libby Szabo. Senator Ellen Roberts. Congressmen Mike Coffman, Doug Lamborn and Scott Tipton.


Republicans who are still crying in their beer over that which was lost in 2010 would do well to remember the monumental gains that were won, and these are their names.

Can’t bring yourself to see the bright side? OK, let me give you a four-word pick-me-up: former Congressman John Salazar.

Or how about four-more: former Treasurer Cary Kennedy.

For those who stubbornly insist that the November just past was Waterloo, think about it this way: we whipped a Salazar and Kennedy both on the same election night.

It’s true. Conservatives are alive and breathing again in this state, and far from a moment to despair, this weekend’s leadership election should be a diligent discussion about how we sustain what we’ve gained — and more, how we complete the comeback in this state.

I for one am tired of all the commiserating about Tim Gill and Pat Stryker and CODA and the unions and the liberal infrastructure. And all the wailing and moaning about Dick Wadhams is as stale as a two-hour episode of Jersey Shore.

Please Dear Lord, please make it stop.

Dick Wadhams is one of the nation’s elite political operatives who served his state and party well. His defiant defense of his tenure as party chair over the last several weeks is a reminder that Republicans are at our best when our sleeves are rolled up, our back is bowed and we’re fighting back.

And as for all the talk of CODA and Gill and the indomitable Democratic infrastructure, tell it to Libby Szabo and a conservative wunderkind you’ve likely never heard of, Andy George.

After narrowly losing a hard fought and brutally long state senate race in the tidal wave 2008 election, suburban super mom Szabo picked herself up off the mat, and ambled back into the fray, challenging popular incumbent Sara Gagliardi in the political jungles of northern Jefferson County — the same political jungles littered with the electoral carcasses of GOP candidates aplenty.

Szabo isn’t a personally ambitious political type and, truth be told, she really wasn’t that enthusiastic about running again. She isn’t looking to climb the ladder; she doesn’t want to be Governor or U.S. Senator, at least not that I know of. And when she was approached about running, she was less than “giddy-up” at the specter of another 40 negative mail pieces and a couple thousand points nasty-grams on local television telling the world that she hates puppy dogs, children and the elderly too. But Szabo, ambitious to rescue her state and nation, took the plunge anyway, pushing aside her personal reluctance long enough to run a brilliant door-to-door campaign that more than matched the union goons and the environmentalist buffoons who were engaging in the same.

But the efforts of Team Szabo and her many loyal supporters alone wouldn’t have been enough to beat Gagliardi, herself a proven campaigner. No longer is it enough for our candidate to match the effort and know-how of the other candidate. Conservative 527’s, C-4’s and other independent groups have to do the same.

That’s where that wunderkind that you've never heard of — Andy George — enters this saga. Thanks to an unprecedented fundraising haul by Frank McNulty, Rep. Amy Stephens and the statehouse GOP team, Andy had a flush bankroll to launch a whole lot of precision-guided 527 assaults of his own. This is the obligatory point at which I point out that no one likes negative campaigning, but in equally obligatory fashion, remind everyone of what they already know: that negative campaigning works.

Ask Michael Bennet and the Democratic Senatorial Committee. In my view, Bennet is a U.S. Senator today, not for brains, charm or agenda (all of which he has), so much as for the brutal and effective campaign tactics that he and his emissaries deployed last year. Bennet smashed Andrew Romanoff at the tail end of their primary just as the upstart Romanoff started closing in, and the attacks launched on Ken Buck by Bennet and Democratic Senatorial Committee were epic and outrageous — and tragically effective. Those looking for a high lesson from our defeats in 2010 can draw at least one: Republicans need to be at least as tough (and mean) as our adversaries if we are going to win the big ones.

Andy George knows this. And Sara Gagliardi does too. George orchestrated his own 527 blitz that tied the incumbent Democratic Representative to the incumbent Democrat Governor Bill Ritter, and all of the taxes, fees, and reckless economic policies that marked their terms in office. Acting independently of one another, Szabo and George more than matched Gagliardi, Gil, Stryker, Labor and the rest, and Szabo swept to a crushing 9-point victory, leaving behind a different variety of electoral carcass in those once treacherous north JeffCo jungles.

Szabo’s story is illustrative and not isolated. Cory Gardner and so many others fought and won the same grueling fight last year.

These stories are important because they remind us that conservatives can win in Colorado, yes, even against the vaunted liberal infrastructure in this great state. And win we frequently did in 2010.

So as the GOP faithful settle in and decide the important matter of who will lead our party into the pivotal 2012 cycle, all involved would do well to acknowledge these crucial gains, even as we grapple with our disappointments and defeats.

Whoever turns out to be the next chairman of our Grand Old Party, he will inherit a conservative party in Colorado that is again alive and breathing — and winning too. It will be his charge to protect these substantial gains, and provide the leadership required to continue the comeback march.

Josh Penry is the former Senate Minority Leader, and Senior Vice President for a Colorado-based consulting firm.