Wadhams leads race for state GOP chair

By Leslie Jorgensen
THE COLORADO STATESMAN

The Colorado Republican Party will forge its future with the election of new officers at their party organizational meeting on Saturday at Douglas County High School in Castle Rock.

Republican State Chairman Dick Wadhams faces reelection challenge this Saturday.
File Photo by Tatianna Gruen
The Colorado Statesman

State GOP Chair Dick Wadhams faces challenges from former Eagle County Commissioner Tom Stone and Christine Tucker of Arapahoe County, a devotee of former presidential candidate Ron Paul.

Although Wadhams said he’s had positive feedback from delegates, his biggest hurdle is overcoming Republican frustration over losses in the past three election cycles — two of which were not under his leadership.

“Some people are so upset that they just want change — it doesn’t matter what that change is. Whether the person is qualified to lead or not,” said Wadhams. “I’m optimistic — but I take nothing for granted. I’m not owed a second term — I am asking for another opportunity to lead.”

So what’s on the minds of state GOP Central Committee members? Here’s a sampling:

“I want more than words — I want to see new vision put into action. We need to bring in more young people who can breathe life into the party. Otherwise, it will keep stagnating. We need to get rid of the old, old, old ideas.”
Chrisann Steurer, secretary of the Gunnison County Republican Party.

“The party is only as strong as the county parties. Republicans have forgotten what they stand for. It’s a big tent that includes moderates.”
Brenda Felmlee, Alamosa County GOP vice chair.

“The traditional role of the state party chairman is fundraising. Without money, the party can’t communicate its message or help candidates.”
Holly Williams, former El Paso County Trustee and 5th Congressional District office manager for U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn.

“Energize the party with a compelling message. Why are you interested in the opinions of grassroots folks like me?”Chris Holbert, of Douglas County.

Empowering the grassroots is the neon-flashing trend of the political season. Every candidate for chair and vice chair invokes a pledge to work from the bottom up — good riddance to top down leadership.

A random sampling of voting committee members indicates a huge incentive for change in the party’s operations — but not necessarily the top leader. Some have never heard of Tucker. Others are intrigued by Stone, and many prefer Wadhams.

No one would predict the winner in a field of candidates for vice chair that includes former Arapahoe County Chair Nathan Chambers, Teller County Vice Chair Curt Grina, former Colorado attorney general candidate Marti (Allbright) Whitmore and Leondray Gholston, who ran unsuccessfully for Republican National Committeeman.

These are the known candidates. Nominations also can be made from the floor.

“I’m the underdog in this race,” said Wadhams, who is seeking a second two-year term. “I’m not taking anything for granted. I’m asking for the honor of serving again as state chairman.”

“When you’re the challenger, you can say or do anything you want — whether it’s based in reality or not,” said Wadhams of Stone and Tucker.

He winces when his opponents criticize him for having run a “top-down” political powerhouse and imply that he’s out of touch with rank-and-file Republicans.

Wadhams said he has delivered more than 200 keynote speeches to parties and GOP clubs in 47 counties over the past two years. He’s particularly proud of having empowered counties to credential delegates at party convention assemblies — a responsibility that had been performed by the state GOP in previous years.

“The central committee members understand the magnitude of my having faced a $597,000 debt — the worse in 34 years for the state party — and that it was paid off before the November election,” he said. “They understand that I’ve worked very hard to empower the county parties and reconnect the state party headquarters with them.”

“If the Republican Party’s message is fiscal responsibility, then we have to be fiscally responsible,” said Wadhams. “We now have money in the bank and staff to work on behalf of the party.”

Wadhams listed his goals as improving high-tech communications, registering new Republican-affiliated voters, recruiting and training candidates and continuing to work closely with elected officials.

“I spoke with Mr. Wadhams last weekend, and I extended my support to him,” said Holbert, who hails from Parker. “He’s done great work in pulling our party out of the red. I think he’s the best candidate to lead our party.”

Holbert said Wadhams offers the combined gifts of political strategy and rolled-up-sleeves experience in the trenches.

Wadhams, who was born and raised in rural southeastern Colorado, worked for U.S. Sen. Bill Armstrong, R-Colorado, in the 1980s, and swiftly proceeded to steer campaigns including Bill Owens’ gubernatorial campaign in 1998 and Wayne Allard’s U.S. Senate re-election campaign in 2002.

Perhaps the most headline-snatching campaign coup was in 2004, when Wadhams served as campaign manager for Sen. John Thune, R-South Dakota, defeating then-Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle.

Wadham’s late wife, Susan, who passed away in 2001, had served as chief of staff for former U.S. Rep. Bob Schaffer of the 4th Congressional District. When Schaffer needed a campaign manager in his 2008 bid for the U.S. Senate, he asked Dick Wadhams. That choice caused consternation for some Republicans who said Wadhams was unable to perform well in dual roles as state GOP chair and Schaffer’s campaign manager.

“He needed help,” said Wadhams. “I was a natural choice. It was a seamless operation — Schaffer’s campaign office was on the same floor as the state party headquarters in the same building. I was deeply involved in everything that happened with the party’s operations — and I had contact with staff every hour.”

“I’m supporting Dick Wadhams because of his leadership,” said Williams. “It’s impressive that he got the party out of debt.”

“Dick Wadhams is my choice. The elected officials and the party in Alamosa County love him,” said Felmlee. “We haven’t felt ignored as a rural county party.”

Tucker takes Wadhams to task

One of his critics is Tucker, who ran unsuccessfully last year for Republican National Convention delegate and supported Texas Congressman Ron Paul’s Republican presidential bid. (Former Colorado Treasurer Mark Hillman and Lilly Nunez won the Republican National Committee posts.)

Tucker recently tossed her hat into the ring for state GOP chair.

“Dick Wadhams demonstrated a lack of leadership necessary to move our party forward,” declared Tucker. “He split his time between Bob Schaffer’s campaign and the state party headquarters. Each of those jobs needed someone dedicated to them full time.”

She also accused Wadhams; Michael Britt, state party executive director; and Ryan Call, state party political director and legal counsel, of “creating divisions within the party,” alleging they mistreated Republicans on the Ron Paul side of the spectrum.

“Ron Paul supporters were told to sit down and shut up,” said Tucker, referring to an incident when, she says, a Paul supporter was escorted from a meeting by a security guard. She couldn’t recall the exact meeting or when it took place.

Tucker said the process of disenfranchising “Ron Paul Republicans” began in January 2007 and continued through the state party convention in May.

Wadhams recalls a different scenario — one he said reflects on his dedication to a “big tent” philosophy.

“I met with Ron Paul supporters a month or two before the February caucuses last year to teach them about the process and help them get involved,” said Wadhams. “I not only explained the process, but I showed them how to locate their precinct caucuses.”

He said the “Ron Paul Republicans,” such as Tucker were upset because the Texas Congressman was not invited to speak at the state party convention.

“Months before the state convention, (Arizona) Sen. John McCain had won more than enough votes to wrap up the Republican Party nomination,” recalled Wadhams. “We needed to unify the party behind the Republican presidential candidate — and obviously that was McCain. He sent Mitt Romney as a surrogate speaker.”

The McCain campaign chose to send former Massachusetts Gov. Romney because he had won Colorado’s Republican caucus vote.

Tucker said there were other problems at the state convention in Broomfield last year. She recalled a rule against distributing fliers that promoted delegates on the convention floor. In the contest for Republican National Convention delegates, Tucker recalled fliers promoting “traditional” candidates — and others denouncing “Ron Paul Republican” candidates.

“That brand of non-unity created differences in our party,” said Tucker.

If elected state party chair, Tucker would return the party to the principles of “rule of law, liberty, smaller government, stronger national defense and free market.”

She said the “big tent” will not include such social liberals as homosexuals, advocates of same-sex marriage and abortion advocates. Tucker said that she would promote a check-off list to ascertain how “pro-life” a candidate is — based on what they would choose as valid reasons to grant abortions.

Fundraising, Tucker said, will return to the grassroots level with $5, $10 and $20 contributions and affordable fundraisers hosted by county parties.

“The trickle down effect doesn’t work anymore for the party,” said Tucker, accusing the state GOP of allocating too much to the U.S. Senate campaign and races in the Denver metro area.

“We also need to embrace the youth of our party,” said Tucker, who, with her husband, Victor Tucker, raised two adopted sons, ages 15 and 22. A member of Catholic Home Educators of Colorado, she home-schooled her sons and earned certification in secondary and post-secondary education.

Few of the interviewed committee members had heard of Tucker, who is seeking her first political position in the party. Several said their vote may hinge on the speeches at the meeting.

Stone soars on cyberspace ships

“The Republican Party suffers from old-style, command-and-control, top-down leadership,” Stone tells folks on the campaign trail and on his Web site. “Our party bosses have failed to realize that effective leadership is not about controlling from the top. It is about unleashing the power of the people.”

The cure, he said, is to think “bottom up.”

Stone, a real estate agent and former Eagle County commissioner, said the party also needs to utilize high tech communications to their maximum potential — a lesson culled from Barack Obama’s presidential campaign.

“Voters can no longer be expected to simply believe what we tell them to believe. Our leaders must be personally empowered by technology,” he said. “They need to understand and embrace the many new dimensions of cyberspace.”

Stone said an example of the potency of “high tech” communication is the fast media reaction when he posted his campaign announcement on a Web site.

“I didn’t call the media, they called me,” he said.

From Stone’s “cyber-poliscience” point of view, future political successes will be measured by a move away from door-to-door encounters and phone-to-phone exchanges to the tally of e-mails dispatched and responses to Web site postings.

“We won’t be boasting about how many phone calls our volunteers made or how many doors they knocked on unless it led to success,” he said.

In the deluge of cure-alls for the GOP, one thing that Stone doesn’t embrace is the notion that the party needs to revise the substance of its message.

“Liberal elements outside our party suggest that our values are a thing of the past. They want us to become ‘Democrat Light’ and desert our conservative philosophy,” said Stone, who vociferously disagrees. “The majority of Americans agree with our conservative principles.”

Stone would like to revamp the fundraising methods — a la the Democratic Party — but believes that can’t be accomplished without a compelling message and commanding candidates.

“Our candidates should reflect the wide range of age, gender, race and ethnicity differences found in our state,” he said, adding that the party must also train and adequately support candidates.

The state party’s future course, if Stone is elected chair, would be determined through input from regional summits of county parties within congressional districts, followed by a statewide meeting.

This idea is gaining popularity. Tucker proposed the same plan — and so did 3rd District Congressman Scott McInnis and his former staffer and political consultant, Mike Hesse, three months ago.

Stone, who attended Denver’s East High School, resides in Vail with his wife of 35 years, Henri-Karen Stone. The couple, both real-estate agents, has two children.

If elected, Stone may be offering Coloradans a “two-for-one” political deal — Henri-Karen Stone serves as a Colorado Federation of Republican Women third vice president and is an outspoken critic of liberal politics. Last fall, the Vail Board of Realtors nearly snatched her cyberspace soapbox because of her anti-Obama communications.

One of her e-mails warned, “Obama is coming from a Marxist background and philosophy perpetuated by [community organizer] Saul Alinsky’s radical teachings. That is what Black Liberation Theology promotes.”

“Tom Stone intrigues me,” said Gunnison County’s Steurer. “I like his high tech communication ideas, but I’m leaning toward Dick Wadhams.”

Felmlee said that Stone’s mailer “sounded like a control freak.”

“I don’t support Mr. Stone for chairman, but I have encouraged him to stay involved in the party on the statewide level because he has a lot of good ideas,” said Holbert.

Avon Mayor Ron Wolfe blames Tom Stone for repelling Republicans and enabling Democrats to steal the November elections.

“If anything, he’s the Rush Limbaugh of Eagle County,” the Republican mayor told RealVail.com. “I don’t think Tom had a history here of working well with anyone who was anything but super-, super-conservative.”

Leslie@coloradostatesman.com