El Paso County GOP factions grapple over leadership

By Leslie Jorgensen
THE COLORADO STATESMAN

COLORADO SPRINGS — In the wake of an election that delivered weakened Republican vote totals and handed a third legislative seat to the Democrats, this GOP bastion has gone to war over the chairmanship of El Paso County’s Republican Party.


Photo by Tatianna Gruen/The Colorado Statesman

One team for the El Paso GOP leadership includes Kay Rendleman for Chair, Nancy Meadows for Secretary, and Fountain City Councilwoman Lois Landgraf for Vice Chair.

Cami Bremer and Kay Rendleman are battling for the privilege of leading the GOP troops through this two-year election cycle.

Bremer offers a decade of experience in fundraising, management, communications and public policy, and an ambition to team old-fashioned, grassroots politics with cutting edge electronic outreach.

Rendleman draws on 28 years of Republican activism that began with her work on Ronald Reagan’s 1980 presidential campaign in California and continued through her position as administrative executive for Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Nebraska, in 2006 and 2007.

Both women have managed political campaigns.

Rendleman ran the campaign to elect Rep. Kent Lambert, R-Colorado Springs, in 2004, and designed his campaign strategy in 2006.

Bremer managed Rep. Larry Liston’s re-election campaign in 2008, and the 5th Congressional District campaign of her father-in-law, former El Paso County Commissioner Duncan Bremer, in 2006. He lost in a six-way primary to Doug Lamborn, who went on to win the seat.

Both women call for party unity — but beneath their hopes and prayers are divergent paths.

Bremer lauds retiring GOP chair Greg Garcia for upgrading the party’s operations — from improving the computer database to running the party as a business. However, she views the party less as a business than as a nonprofit organization, and her plans call for balancing fundraising with volunteerism.

Rendleman criticizes Garcia for failing to operate transparently. She cites two examples: failing to give copies of the county party’s financial plan and budget to the executive committee and precinct chairs, and not producing precinct voter lists in a timely manner.

Nathan Fisk, county GOP executive director, accounted for what he called a slight delay in updating the precinct lists by noting that thousands of new voters swarmed to caucuses last year. He said the lists not only were updated, they were e-mailed to precinct-walking volunteers within 24 hours of their request during the campaign season. The budget information — including a 6-year plan — has been updated and posted at party headquarters over the past two years.

Copies weren’t distributed, he said, because the Republicans didn’t want the Democrats to know their financial strategies during the election cycle.

The county party’s chasm is caused in part by the divisive 5th Congressional District races in 2006 and 2008. Rendleman supported Lamborn. Bremer supported her father-in-law in 2006, and Republican contender Jeff Crank in 2008. After Crank lost the primary, Bremer distributed campaign literature for Lamborn.

Bremer and Rendleman both have plans to recapture seats held by Democratic state Sen. John Morse and Reps. Dennis Apuan and Michael Merrifield, who is term limited in 2010.

Bremer, however, wants to go beyond regaining seats held by Democrats to also protect El Paso County’s Republican-held legislative seats.

For Republicans to win, Bremer said that it’s “imperative to unite the party” and make a “strong outreach to women, minority and youth voters.”

Rendleman said the party needs to reach out and convert the unaffiliated voters to the GOP.

Rendleman: Life in California’s “big tent”

“I decided to run because I see so much potential in 2010 to take back those legislative seats,” said Rendleman. “I have experience and knowledge.”

Rendleman was GOP vice chair for California’s Napa County in 1994, and was bumped up to chair when the leader resigned. She recalls that it happened just after she gave birth to her daughter.

“I raised money by charging people $10 to hold my baby daughter,” Rendleman quipped.

“It was a swing county,” said Rendleman, who saw Republicans win seats, lose them in the next election to Democrats, and recapture them in a later election.

One such candidate was U.S. Rep. Frank Riggs, who won election in California’s 1st Congressional District in 1990, lost a re-election bid in 1992, and regained the seat in 1994.

Rendleman served as a legislative assistant in Riggs’ district office from 1994 until 1998, when he resigned the seat to run for the U.S. Senate against incumbent Democrat Barbara Boxer. Riggs lost his primary race.

“I’m used to working in swing districts,” said Rendleman. “We had to make sure that our message was right to gain that swing vote.”

She said that California also presented challenges in working with Republicans who were traditional conservatives, social values conservatives and moderates.

Rendleman, however, viewed the Republicans as a diverse group of people who united for the party.

When her longtime friend Jim Cunneen, a former California assemblyman, decided to run for Congress in 2000, Rendleman gladly contributed $400 to his campaign.

“I didn’t always agree with him on issues,” she said, referencing his votes for gun control measures and against a ban on partial birth abortions.

“Abortion is obviously something that I disagree with — I’m pro-life,” she said.

Cunneen, however, also campaigned against Proposition 22, a California initiative that sought to define marriage as a union between a man and a woman. Cunneen said that although, personally, he was against gay marriage, he believed government should offer civil contracts to all couples, regardless of sexual orientation.

“That’s not a surprise,” said Rendleman. “In California, there were a lot of gay Republicans in the party — a lot were in the closet, and some were out of the closet.”

Rendleman says she has learned flexibility in working for Republicans, including her former employer, Hagel. She said it was a relief to come back to Colorado after working a year as administrative assistant to the senator’s deputy chief of staff in Nebraska.

Hagel, a highly decorated Vietnam War veteran, counted John McCain as one of his closest friends. But in 2007, his criticisms of President George W. Bush and Republican Party appeared to warm the heart of then Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama. In fact, the news media speculated that Obama might pick Hagel as his running mate.

In his book, America: Our Next Chapter, Hagel said the Iraq War is one of the five worst blunders in American history and described Bush’s foreign policy as “reckless.”

“I am so happy to be back in Colorado,” said Rendleman, whose husband is a military reservist and California attorney.

Rendleman gained experience as campaign volunteer coordinator and says she can embrace all Republicans — from the left to the right.

Her leadership team includes Fountain City Councilman Lois Landgraf, for vice-chair, and Nancy Meadows, for secretary.

Key Rendleman supporters include Lamborn, Lambert, Sen. Dave Schultheis and Rep. Marsha Looper.

Bremer: Building unity, calling on community ties

“It’s imperative that the progress made at this point be continued,” said Bremer, in reference to the strides made by the county GOP under Garcia’s leadership. “I can build a coalition, and I also have leadership experience that’s necessary for the party to be successful.”

Bremer said she has worked closely with local leaders on policy issues and candidates over the past decade.

She gained that expertise in her work from 2004 to 2007 as a public communications specialist for the Colorado Springs City Council and administrative staff. Bremer also created and orchestrated several public relations campaigns.

Bremer previously worked with city and county leaders as director of governmental affairs for the Greater Colorado Springs Chamber of Commerce.

Added to that, she’s a successful fundraiser, bringing $670,000 to the American Heart Association when she served as the agency’s regional director. She also garnered thousands of dollars for other entities.

“I’m comfortable meeting with people,” Bremer said. As for courting “heavy hitters,” Bremer said,
“Others could be intimidated in those situations — not me. It’s natural
for me.”

When Bremer managed her father-in-law’s congressional race, her job included developing political strategy, writing communications, raising money and managing 10 employees and interns, as well as more than 130 campaign volunteers.

“Our campaign was regarded as the best for its volunteers — attracting and maintaining their help and enthusiasm,” recalled Bremer.

Bremer plans to bring her skills in fundraising, managing and cultivating volunteers to help build the strength of party.

In addition, Bremer said she wants to create a marriage between traditional and modern methods of political organization.

“Face-to-face outreach is invaluable,” Bremer said. “But technology helps to identify which doors to knock on to talk with the right voters. It’s also a great communication tool. It’s a multilevel approach to managing the county party.”

Bremer — who holds a Master of Business Administration degree from the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs and a journalism degree from the University of Georgia — also offers communication and business management skills to the party.

Perhaps she’ll also bring Olympian talents to win unity in the beleaguered party. Her husband, Eli Bremer, won a bronze medal in the 2008 Modern Pentathlon World Cup Final in Portugal last year.

Bremer’s leadership team includes Colorado Springs City Councilman Darryl Glenn, for vice chair, and Dan Lenotte, for secretary.

Bremer supporters include Garcia, Liston, El Paso County Commissioner Amy Lathen, El Paso County Clerk and Recorder Bob Balink, former state Sen. Ed Jones, Crank, Patrick Davis, Patrick Carter, Fisk, and her father-in-law, Duncan Bremer.

Leslie@coloradostatesman.com