El Paso County GOP allows dissident Anderson to stay on as party secretary — at least for now

Special to The Colorado Statesman

COLO. SPRINGS — An emotionally beaten Sarah Anderson emerged from a closed-door four-hour meeting of the El Paso County GOP executive committee meeting late Thursday night, her eyes red from shedding tears over a fight about her future with the county party.

“No comment,” said the 22-year-old normally outspoken secretary of the El Paso County Republican Party.

While only the 33-member executive committee knows exactly what really took place behind closed doors, party leaders did ambiguously signal that Anderson would be allowed to maintain her position with the party. Details of the proceedings are being kept confidential.

But Kanda Calef, an occasional host at Grassroots Radio Colorado on a Denver station — who along with several dozen supporters of Anderson had gathered at party headquarters in hopes of attending the meeting personally — reported on air the following night that the hush-hush conclave at times dissipated into a shouting match amidst calls for Anderson to resign.

Self-described liberty activist Calef, like the other non-executive committee members, wasn’t allowed inside the meeting, but she told The Colorado Springs Independent that she took diligent notes after being told what transpired by at least one of the attendees, whom she declined to identify except to say it was not Anderson herself.

At one point, according to Calef, local District Attorney Dan May, a member of the executive committee, interceded to “represent” the embattled Anderson during raucous party proceedings that reportedly resembled a witch-hunt.

And what, exactly, has Anderson done to so incur the wrath of party officials?

Anderson has become, some GOP detractors say, a microcosm of the current state of the Republican Party nationwide, with Colorado being ground zero for what some describe as a “revolution.”

Young Republican activists and liberty loyalists have become disenfranchised with the party, arguing that “good ol’ boys” are holding the future of the party back with archaic beliefs and directives.

Anderson has been vocal, in some instances making inflammatory comments in an attempt to compel party leaders to change course. The catalyst was a piece of legislation this year by House Majority Leader Amy Stephens, R-Monument. Senate Bill 200, which established a health care benefits exchange in Colorado, was considered by many conservatives to be aligning with Democrats and federal health care reform. Conservatives who mockingly refer to President Barack Obama’s health care reform as “ObamaCare,” immediately began referring to SB 200 as “AmyCare.” Anderson helped brand the term.

But some in her party didn’t like the spunky young Republican’s approach.

County party Chairman Eli Bremer, for one, has been saying privately and publicly that if Anderson won’t support the party, she should step down in her official capacity as secretary.

The drama culminated on Thursday when the party held an emergency executive committee meeting to discuss a “personnel” matter. It was the first emergency meeting held by the El Paso County Republican Party in four decades, according to longtime members. The matter on the agenda was Anderson and whether the executive committee should recommend that she be removed from her party position.

That’s where the line was drawn.

Young Republican supporters and so-called liberty leaders showed up in droves beforehand to support Anderson. A Facebook page started by her friends (Support Sarah Anderson!) encouraged people to rally. And that they did on Thursday night. Some carried signs and chanted in a megaphone outside of party headquarters. One man walked around with a gun openly in sight around his waist; another handed out homemade sodas branded with Ronald Reagan punching out Mikhail Gorbachev. “Now contains 11.2 percent more conservative tears,” read the label. “Same damn ingredients since the 80s!”

Torrential downpours didn’t deter the group from herding together in support. Even when party leaders — and a deputy county sheriff manning the door to the local party’s headquarters — turned them away from the overflow public meeting, they simply waited outside. They were frustrated; they were angry, but they waited. Reps. Marsha Looper, R-Calhan, and Janak Joshi, R-Colorado Springs, were briefly held at the door before being allowed to enter the standing room only meeting.

The El Paso County sheriff’s deputy maintained peace, but frustrations continued to grow over the closed-door proceedings about Anderson’s future. Despite at least two state lawmakers in attendance — including Rep. Larry Liston, R-Colorado Springs, and Sen. Keith King, R-Colorado Springs — party officers insisted that the meeting be conducted in secret. Some, including Looper, raised concerns over violating Colorado open meetings laws, which state that government proceedings must be open if two or more elected officials are in attendance. The rest of the crowd simply argued that the party’s secrecy went against promises of transparency made on the campaign trail.

Outside the meeting, however, a story of frustration with establishment politics was told over and over again.

“She has been called on the carpet for standing up and saying Republicans didn’t stand up for Republican values,” said April Meyers, a former precinct leader, about Anderson. “When you can’t stand up and say, ‘Hey, you didn’t do what you should be doing for the party,’ and then to get your hand slapped for that — no, that doesn’t cut it.”

“The real problem we’re having is with the candidates themselves. I don’t think they are conservative enough,” complained Theresa Nielsen, a precinct leader. “Our country is dying every second that is passing.”

Republican Party leaders in Colorado and nationwide are trying to dispel the notion that there is disharmony within the party. As they mount efforts to defeat President Barack Obama in 2012, Republicans will need complete unity to claim victory, say party leaders. Chairman Bremer spoke of unity several times during the meeting. Even in the invocation at the beginning of the July 7 conclave, a woman spoke to God during the prayer, “We do need unity in this party… Unify us tonight in the name of Jesus.”

Colorado Republican Party Chairman Ryan Call, speaking on the phone with The Colorado Statesman prior to the meeting, was careful not to weigh in over the Anderson matter. But he says the true values of the Republican Party remain, even over a “broad spectrum.”

“What this party has stood for and has always fought for is limited government, personal responsibility and opportunities,” said Call. “That is something that is a proud tradition that our party will continue.”

But others, especially some of the younger Republicans in the party, believe there is more of a rift than party leaders acknowledge. Conservative Tisha Casida, 29, says Call asked her not to run for Congress as an independent candidate in the 3rd Congressional District in 2012 because he doesn’t want to lose Republican votes. Freshman incumbent Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Cortez, will be facing his first reelection campaign next year, and already is being targeted by state and national Democrats. Casida says there is support for anti-establishment Republican politics and that’s one of the reasons she officially announced her candidacy on May 13. As for the El Paso county GOP secretary, Casida says she applauds Anderson for her honesty.

“There’s a great alliance for what she is doing to stand up for liberty,” Casida said of Anderson. “She’s standing up to these good ol’ boys.”

Anderson did not speak with the media following the meeting, suggesting that party leaders had directed her to refer questions for comment to Chairman Bremer. But Calef, during her comments on the radio station in Denver, did her part to fill in the gaps.

According to Calef, the executive committee passed multiple resolutions in their executive session, including one that would require Anderson to abide by the bylaws of the party. Another purported resolution is that Anderson write a public statement by Monday which outlines her willingness to comply with party rules.

Also approved, Calef reported, was a resolution calling for mediation among the local party officers to be conducted by state Chairman Call.

Prior to the meeting, Anderson told The Statesman that what is happening with her in Colorado is only a symbol of a larger issue facing the Republican Party in America.

“It’s happening all over the place… it’s happening everywhere within our Republican Party,” she said. “We have an opportunity now, particularly because people are watching us nationally, to do the right thing and lead those other counties and those other states in the direction we should be going in.”

— Reporter Ashley Chase Sinclair contributed to this story.