Republican vice chair race is wide open

Candidates split between rural and urban delegates

By Leslie Jorgensen
THE COLORADO STATESMAN

If Colorado Republicans are seeking a path out of the political wilderness, they may get the map from Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele, who will speak at “Blueprint for tomorrow” dinner at the Denver Marriott South.

His appearance sold out pronto — more than 700 conservatives reserved their $50 to $100-a-plate dinner tickets well in advance. The dinner — billed as “en-route to the Republican Revolution” — is being held Friday, March 20, on the eve of the state party leadership elections.

It’s not clear what guidance Steele will give to the state GOP — but considering his comments over the past few weeks, be assured it will have “big tent” vision.

Shocking to some, Steele has said that abortion is an “individual choice” and homosexuality is not pro-choice. The national GOP leader was less tolerant of radio “conservangelist” Rush Limbaugh — he was deemed as an “incendiary” political rabble-rousing entertainer.

For those who are a bit confused about the direction of the Republican Party, the choices for the state party’s vice chair race offers four compass directions.The party leaders will be selected at the party central committee meeting in Douglas County High School in Castle Rock.

The vice chair candidates include Arapahoe County Chair Nathan Chambers, Teller County Vice Chair Curt Grina, former Attorney General candidate Marti (Allbright) Whitmore and Leondray Gholston, who ran unsuccessfully for Republican National Committeeman.

Chambers, an attorney and 2008 delegate to the Republican National Convention who made a national
news splash on the Daily Show, said he’s running for vice chair because “the stakes are too high to do nothing.”

The job of vice chair is to basically do what the state party chair asks — from raising megabucks to lowering your presence (vanish). Chambers said he’s worked with state GOP Chair Dick Wadhams in the past and “did specific jobs” for him.

Wadhams is hoping to get the nod for a second two-year term, but faces two challengers — former Eagle County Commissioner Tom Stone and Christine Tucker of Arapahoe County.

“I look forward to serving as a liaison between the state party leaders and the county chairs,” said Chambers. “They need someone who has felt their pain — I’ve been there.”

The former chairman of the Arapahoe County GOP said he’s fund raised, grappled with budgets and recruited candidates.

The one constant in politics, Chambers said, is change.

“I bring a different background, having run for statewide office,” said Whitmore, an attorney who ran unsuccessfully against Democrat Ken Salazar in the 2002 Attorney General’s race. “It will be helpful to the party in winning races and running candidates with a broader appeal.”

Whitmore would also like to broaden the base to grow the “big tent” to include young adults, minorities, women and independent voters.

“I’m pro-choice, but I’m anti-abortion,” said Whitmore. “This issue is not a priority to government — it’s a priority to individuals and churches. From my perspective, it’s not an issue to divide Republicans. We can unite on the more pressing issues of fiscal responsibility and spending our tax dollars wisely.”

Right now, Whitmore said, voters are unaware of how local, state and federal governments are “raising taxes and fees” which do not resolve the economic crisis and burden citizens who are struggling.

“Republicans agree on fiscal responsibility and practical solutions,” she said. “As a minority party, we can’t get anything accomplished right now. We have to unite for change.”

Whitmore served as state chief deputy attorney general under former Attorney General Gale Norton in 2002. Whitmore was a Colorado co-chair of Arizona Senator John McCain’s presidential campaign and delegate to the Republican National Convention last year.

The mother of two children, ages 20 and 23, said she’s got an inside track on the message to draw young adults to the Republican Party — lower taxes and greater job opportunities.

She also hopes to bring diversity — as a woman — to the state party leadership.

Curt Grina, vice chair of the Teller County GOP, decided to run for state vice chair after six months of “gripe sessions” with fellow Republicans at Costella’s Coffee House in Florissant, a small town south of Woodland Park.

“Instead of complaining, we decided it’s time to make change happen,” said Grina, a member of the 2008 class of the Leadership Program of the Rockies. “It’s time to win elections.”

Grina is a high tech whiz who created and sold a multi-million dollar international company. With spare time on his hands, he spearheaded the Pikes Peak Regional Hospital in Woodland Park that serves Teller County. He is also chairs the Colorado Committee of the Heritage Foundation.

He’s campaigning on the concepts of developing high tech communications, advocating of core conservative party values and recruiting viable candidates.

“I’m a reformed socialist,” confessed Grina with a laugh. “I voted for George McGovern in the 1972 presidential campaign. I was so mad that he lost that I swore I’d never vote again. Years later, after running a business, I changed my mind — and I left that fantasy world behind.”

Leondray Gholston is the father of seven children who spoke to Republicans at the state GOP convention in his bid for Republican National Committeeman last year. He lost to former state Treasurer Mark Hillman — but his speech was memorable.

Gholston has never been a precinct leader or party officer, although he has attended the Arapahoe County Republican Men’s Club meetings. He is a close friend of Aurora City Councilman Ryan Frazier, whose campaigns he has managed. Frazier is an up and coming GOP star and potential U.S. Senate candidate.

Gholston did not respond to requests for an interview.

So how do the candidates rate with GOP Central Committee members?

Brenda Felmlee, vice chair of Alamosa County GOP, said that she was unimpressed by an email from Gholston, awed by Grina’s impressive mailer and surprised by Chambers’ phone call and his goal to “turn the party upside down.”

“I’m interested in hearing more about Whitmore, but Grina sounds like a successful businessman and he’s from outside of Denver unlike the other three. That is a plus to those of us who might feel forgotten in the rural counties,” said Felmlee.

“I’ve known Nathan Chambers for a long time and I’m pretty impressed with his leadership and values,” said Holly Williams, former El Paso County Trustee and manager of Congressman Lamborn’s district office.

“I’d like to see Leondray Gholston be elected vice chair and travel the state to speak and energize the party,” said Chris Holbert of Douglas County. “I’m supporting him — not because he is an African American like President Barack Obama and Republican National Party Chair Michael Steele — but because he’s the best candidate.”

Several Republicans said they were undecided, and will make up their minds after speeches at the central committee meeting.