Assembly activities in full gear in Douglas County GOP stronghold

The Colorado Statesman

Like many of the Republicans gathering around the state for county assemblies this month, Highlands Ranch resident Arvina Barnes hasn’t been a very active participant in politics before this election season.

“I’ve always been interested in politics but haven’t always taken the time to get involved,” she said on the afternoon of March 10 inside a crowded gymnasium at Valor Christian High School in Highlands Ranch, where Douglas County Republicans were nearing the end of their five-hour assembly. “There’s just so much on the table this year that worries me, I couldn’t sit at home and say just my vote is enough. I had to do more.”

State Rep. Chris Holbert, R-Parker, and U.S. Rep. Cory Gardner, whose 4th Congressional District now includes most of Douglas County, visit at the county’s Republican assembly on March 10 in Highlands Ranch.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman

After attending her precinct caucus early last month and winning election as a delegate to the county assembly — technically, it’s also a county convention, which is the term for the confab that feeds delegates tasked with nominating a presidential candidate at the national convention, but it’s the same meeting — Barnes managed to persuade enough of her fellow Republicans within her neighborhood district to elect her as a delegate on to the 6th Congressional District assembly and convention next month in Denver.

House Speaker Frank McNulty, R-Highlands Ranch, catches up with U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman as the Douglas County Republican assembly gets under way on the morning of March 10 at Valor Christian High School in Highlands Ranch.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman

Once there, she’ll be able to ratify the nomination of Republican U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman to run for a third term, as well as help conduct other party business. But the main event will be the chance to vote on delegates to the Republican National Convention at the end of August in Tampa, Fla., where Colorado’s 36 delegates could prove decisive in a presidential race that shows no signs of wrapping up quickly.

Douglas County GOP assembly delegate John Carson, state Board of Education member Dr. Debora Scheffel, and state Rep. Carole Murray, R-Castle Rock, visit on the morning of March 10 at Valor Christian High School in Highlands Ranch.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman

Colorado Republicans moved precinct caucuses ahead a month this year and on Feb. 6 elected delegates to county and other assemblies, starting the process that will eventually determine the state’s slate headed toward the RNC.

The same night, Republican caucus-goers conducted a straw poll for president, handing a surprise win to former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, whose 40 percent of the vote bested former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney’s 35 percent total. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Texas Congressman Ron Paul trailed with 13 percent and 12 percent of the straw poll votes, respectively. (While some precincts voted that their straw poll results should be honored by delegates advancing to higher conventions, it was a distinct process from the votes that picked delegates, who nearly all advanced without stating a preference for president.)

Douglas County Sheriff David Weaver and County Commissioner Jack Hilbert take in the scene at the Douglas County Republican Party assembly and convention on March 10 in Highlands Ranch.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman

Like the majority of delegates elected so far at Republican county conventions — about half the counties in the state have held theirs, though most of the largest counties aren’t convening until this weekend and next — Barnes is going as an uncommitted delegate rather than declaring for one of the four GOP candidates still in the running for president.

Parker Mayor David Casiano and Ed Fox listen to a speech at the Douglas County Republican Party’s assembly on March 10 in Highlands Ranch.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman

“I’m holding my breath to see what happens with the upcoming primaries,” she said. “I have someone I’d like to see in office, but it seems he is not going to make it all the way, so I need to see what happens between Santorum and Romney.”

Her neighbor Aldis Sides will be accompanying Barnes to the CD 6 meeting and was also elected a delegate to the state assembly, set for April 14 at DU’s Ritchie Center, and the 18th Judicial District assembly, where Arapahoe, Douglas and Elbert county Republicans will nominate a candidate for district attorney.

All in the family: State Board of Education member Debora Scheffel, whose brother is sate Sen. Mark Scheffel, R-Parker, talks politics with their mother, Marolyn Eileen Scheffel, a past president of the Colorado Federation of Republican Women, and Douglas County Treasurer Diane Holbert, whose husband, Chris, is a Republican state representative from Parker.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman

Casting her eyes around the gymnasium, festooned with candidates’ banners and filled with enough chairs to accommodate the 500 delegates sent there from Douglas County precincts, Sides smiled and said she was thrilled with the enthusiasm her fellow Republicans were showing.

Douglas County commissioner candidate Randy Reed’s grandson Radley Nance roams in costume as Captain America.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman

“It was wonderful to see the numbers who turned out,” she said. “People are really paying attention. As Obama awakens us each morning with something new that he is doing which is against the principles of our country, they are wanting to get involved. And these people are strong-minded and serious-minded, I think they will get their friends and neighbors involved.”

Douglas County GOP Chairman Mark Baisley and James Hunsaker observe the proceedings at the county assembly on March 10 at Valor Christian High School in Highlands Ranch.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman

She was describing another key component — beyond the legally required party business and delegate selection — undertaken at assemblies: rallying party members and setting in motion an election plan to be carried out until November. In Douglas County, she pointed out, the GOP is launching what it’s calling its “Every Republican” effort, to make sure, as Sides said, that the base turns out to vote.

Republican National Committeewoman Lilly Nuñez and Douglas County Commissioner Jill Rapella visit during the Douglas County GOP assembly on March 10 in Highlands Ranch. Rapella is running unopposed for another term.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman

Sides said she’s confident that outrage at the Obama administration will make this an easy sell in the predominantly Republican county. She added that the divisive presidential primary isn’t going to dampen Republican fervor to deny Obama a second term, despite the predictions of many Democrats. Still, she acknowledged that the long slog was wearying to watch.

Nadine Partridge boosts her husband Roger’s Douglas County commissioner campaign behind a papier-mâché elephant she constructed at the Douglas County Republican assembly on March 10 in Highlands Ranch.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman

“We try to be patient with this and say to ourselves, this is America and we need to battle it out. So, it’s just March, and we’re being patient with this, but once that candidate emerges — which should be late spring — you’re going to see the country Republicans absolutely rally,” Sides said.

House Speaker Frank McNulty, R-Highlands Ranch, nominates Randy Reed for Douglas County commissioner as state Rep. Chris Holbert and a young Captain America, Reed’s grandson Radley Nance, look on.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman

“We have to win this thing. Our country is becoming upside-down, and four more years, we believe, would make for a country that would be radically different that the country our forefathers fought for, whichever war one references. Those men and women fought for principles, and those principles are being threatened.”

Other counties hold their GOP assemblies

Randy Reed, a candidate for Douglas County commissioner, accepts the nomination at the county’s Republican assembly on March 10 in Highlands Ranch. Reed made the ballot but only barely, winning precisely 30 percent of the vote from delegates, and will face Roger Partridge in a primary.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman

“We obviously see a very motivated constituency this year,” agreed Grand County GOP chairman Harry Kottcamp, who said his county sent a mostly uncommitted slate to the state assembly. Of the 18 delegates elected, two went for Santorum and one declared for Paul, who also scooped up two of county’s alternates to the state convention.

Harry Saunders collects ballots as a district elects delegates to the state assembly at the Douglas County Republican Party’s assembly on March 10 in Highlands Ranch.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman

In Denver, where Paul delegates nearly brought the proceedings to a standstill on March 10 with repeated procedural challenges, county chairman Danny Stroud — who is also running against Democratic U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette in the redrawn 1st CD — said he hadn’t totaled the delegate results by press time but that Santorum, Romney and Paul “all got lots of delegates,” adding that “the better organized campaigns did better, but it’s not overwhelmingly Romney.” (Romney won the straw poll in Denver, as he did in most of the metro-area counties.)

Despite the Paul camp’s protests — they mostly wanted to elect delegates county-wide rather than by districts — Stroud said the Denver assembly went well. “This is the way it is these days,” he sighed. “We just deal with it. I was making sure it was an even playing field for everybody, not just the loud people.”

Whether they’ve declared for a presidential candidate or not, state and congressional district convention delegates could have a chance to see them again in the flesh at the state assembly, said state GOP executive director Chuck Poplstein, who added that he doesn’t expect to hear which candidates will attend until early April.

The state party announced this week that strategist Karl Rove will headline the annual Centennial Dinner, held the night before the state assembly at the Colorado Convention Center, which is also where most of the congressional district assemblies will take place.

Following is the schedule for the remaining Republican county assemblies and conventions:

• March 17: Adams, Arapahoe, Chaffee, Kiowa, Logan, Montrose, Park and Yuma counties;

• March 20: Washington County;

• March 21: Mineral County;

• March 23: Lincoln County;

• March 24: Boulder, Conejos, Costilla, Delta, Eagle, El Paso, Elbert, Garfield, Jackson, Jefferson, Mesa, Moffat, Prowers, Pueblo, Larimer and Weld counties;

• March 25: Routt and Sedgwick counties.