Jimmy’s Colorado Politics Column | Five questions for next GOP chief
Written by Jimmy at the Crossroads on February 3, 2021
I have been plugged into Colorado Republican Party politics since the ripe old age of 13. My first experience was attending the Arapahoe County Republican Men’s Club breakfasts. A few months later, I was making phone calls on behalf of George W. Bush’s reelection campaign.
Over about 17 years — whether just an activist, leader of the Regis College Republicans or a talk show host and columnist — I have seen politics in this state transform dramatically. And I’ve watched the GOP lose significant ground. The party has not held the governorship since Bill Owens left office in January 2007. Republicans have held the state House for only two years since 2007 and the state Senate for four. Democrats now control all but one statewide elected position — an at-large CU Regent slot.
Frankly, the COGOP is in perpetual wilderness. Republicans can discuss and debate what led to this point — I’ve offered thoughts before — but for the moment, there is a three-way leadership race underway for the next state party chairman. Former Secretary of State Scott Gessler, current COGOP Vice Chair Kristi Burton Brown and political consultant Jonathan Lockwood are running.
This race will help determine whether and how the Colorado GOP will attempt to mount an effective comeback. To that end, I thought I’d offer five guiding questions each candidate ought to answer.
1. Why are you running and what do you bring to the table? This is the most obvious question. Anyone who has ever run for any position must explain what their motivations are and why they feel compelled to seek the position. Do you bring unique experience, insights or demographic groups? Is there something that sets you apart from the competition?
2. What are the top three responsibilities of the chairman? When running for U.S. Congress, the role is pretty clear. But different people have different ideas of what the main priorities are for a party leader. Fundraising is fundamental, but identifying and cultivating candidates, building a bench (which is sorely lacking in the GOP), building up a new generation of campaign operatives and communicating the party’s vision are also critical, among other things. Any leadership candidate must clearly define their view of the role.
3. How do you think Coloradans view the GOP brand, and what will you do to improve it? Colorado Republicans have gotten shellacked in the past two cycles. You have to be living under a rock to think the GOP brand is not on shaky ground here. But why? Is it because Trump is unpopular in Colorado — and do you agree he is unpopular? Is it rooted in demographic shifts thanks to the influx of new residents, especially younger residents? Is it a messaging problem, given the propensity of Colorado voters to approve more-conservative ballot measures even while voting against Republican candidates? Answers to those questions are fundamental to building up from here.
4. What is your view of how the 2020 elections were conducted in Colorado? Do you think there was widespread malfeasance, and if so, what is your evidence? This is a question that shouldn’t hold nearly as much weight as it does for many Republicans. Yet here we are. There are doubts in some corners about the very legitimacy of Colorado’s elections, particularly with the use of Dominion voting tabulators.
Certainly, we need reforms that boost election integrity in several areas, but I have seen no viable evidence supporting the overt claims that Colorado’s elections were “stolen.” Our system is imperfect but solid; as far as mail-balloting goes, Colorado’s system is an example for the rest of the country. Moreover, most Coloradans outside right-wing bubbles have understandably tired of this discussion, to the point where it is a drag on the GOP brand. So, it is important to know where the next party chair stands on this issue and why.
5. How do you view party independence vis-à-vis outside organizations? The GOP answers to Republicans, not outside groups. There are several non-party organizations that may have considerable influence on intraparty business, yet independence is critical. The Republican Party is the Republican Party. It is expressly and solely to elect Republican candidates — not to carry out the direction of any third-party organization.
To accede to the will of others is a betrayal of trust of a party’s purpose and its members. Where party leadership — whether state or county — stands on party independence and relationships with outside groups will be critical moving forward. Each candidate for party leadership should disclose their relationships with other organizations and explain their view of party and personal independence.
The Colorado Republican Party is at a crossroads. A viable future demands dynamic and innovative leadership that is responsive to the needs of the moment. These questions are clarifying and critical ones every party leader must answer honestly.