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April 23, 2019 09:28 AM UTC

Republican Training Exposes the Naked Truth About Recalls

  • by: Colorado Pols

TUESDAY UPDATE: The internet is forever, folks–as Constellation Political is learning belatedly:

You’re welcome (see below).


UPDATE: David O. Williams picks up the thread for

Eagle County is indeed a very blue county these days, with Sheriff James van Beek the only elected member of the GOP currently serving.

Still, that clearly won’t thwart Republican efforts to regain power. But instead of moderating and trying to win over independents, the state GOP, which recently inducted Eagle County Republican Party Chairwoman Kaye Ferry into its hall of fame (despite that record of just one elected party member), is going the recall route…

…Extremism and recalls taking precedence over moderation and reaching out to the state’s growing electorate of registered independents. That’s the modern Colorado GOP approach. How’s that working?


[mantra-pullquote align=”right” textalign=”left” width=”50%”]”People are going to be traveling for Christmas. They’re not going to care. They’re not going to know that there is an election happening because they probably just turned a ballot back in a month earlier.”[/mantra-pullquote]

We’ve demonstrated at length in this space about how Republican efforts to recall freshman Rep. Rochelle Galindo (D-Greeley), Gov. Jared Polis, and other Democrats are as much about political grift as they are about legitimate policy gripes. For those who don’t stand to profit financially off of recall election “fundraising,” the real motivation for these recall efforts is about trying to win seats that Republicans can no longer defend in a regularly-scheduled election.

This may seem like a cynical view of Republican politics in Colorado, but it is not merely an opinion. Behind closed doors, Republican operatives are completely open about the real reason for trying to recall Democrats across the state.

Republicans first started talking openly about recall elections in November 2018 — just days after the General Election took place. The current legislative session was barely a week old when House Minority Leader Patrick Neville threatened recall elections in an interview with 9News.

The video below was posted to Facebook by someone who attended a recall election training seminar on April 11 in Buena Vista, Colorado. The “recall training” is conducted by Ben Engen of Constellation Political Consulting, a Republican political consulting firm with clients that include the Colorado Republican Party and the GOP-led Senate Majority Fund. This is the full version of a video that was later redacted by Engen over concerns about what might happen if regular folks happened to get a glimpse behind the curtain. The frank discussion that takes place is almost unbelievable.


You can watch the entire 90-minute training session at your leisure, but let’s start by jumping ahead to the 37:30 mark where Engen explains why recall elections are the best chance for Republicans to steal a few seats while most Colorado voters aren’t paying attention:

ENGEN: Recalls are uniquely powerful because they change the dynamic of the electorate. You know, people are generally aware of midterm elections. They’re very aware of Presidential elections – everyone shows up and votes in those. They aren’t as aware, you know, of a special election like a recall that just comes out of nowhere and blindsides them. [Pols emphasis] That was one of the things that really helped us in 2013. We aren’t going to be able to count on all of those advantages again, so we have to be extra cognizant of the timing and executing things in a way that will preserve that power.

Opening screenshot from recall campaign training conducted by Constellation Political Consulting

Engen references a pie chart on a screen at the front of the room showing the voter makeup in Senate District 11 (Sen. John Morse) during the 2013 recall effort:

So, what you’re looking at here is the difference between the electoral mix in a midterm and in a recall. So this is Senate District 11. In a typical midterm for a Republican, to win Senate District 11, they would have to get 65% of the Unaffiliateds to break their way. I mean, that’s huge. Republicans in the Metro area are never going to be able to do that. [Pols emphasis]

But in the recall, in 2013, a Republican would have only had to get 46.3% of the Unaffiliateds to break their way. That is supremely doable. That’s, like, right on the cusp of what Republicans do in the Metro areas without really trying. So, the fact that people weren’t really as aware of this election – there was a differential in the motivation [that] made a big difference…

This next section is particularly damning:

…So, it’s changing this makeup of the electorate that allows us to be successful in recalls, and for Republicans to carry seats that traditionally would not break our way. Or, in the case of, you know, these seats in 2013, we’ve NEVER been able to hold. So, as you’re moving through this, that’s the thing you want to keep in mind. What you’re really trying to achieve is this re-weighting of the electorate, and there are some more points here about timing to make that happen. [Pols emphasis]

A few minutes later, Engen walks the audience through forming official committees in order to start raising money for their recall efforts. Take a look at how Engen responds to a question about whether these committees can accept donations from businesses:

Yeah, so this just happened up in Weld – that Weld recall that just started. The whole reason they kicked off right now is because they had a business cut a $100,000 check to get them started.

[mantra-pullquote align=”right” textalign=”left” width=”50%”]“What you’re really trying to achieve is this re-weighting of the electorate.”[/mantra-pullquote]

Engen is likely referencing Steve Wells, the businessman/rancher who donated $100,000 to one of the Galindo recall efforts. Engen then explains the importance of creating a website for your recall effort — or, rather, that the only reason to have a website is so that you can collect donations. Engen even recommends a specific platform for fundraising and wonders openly about the cost of other recall fundraising efforts (such as those directed by Jon Caldara of the Independence Institute):

What you want to use is a platform called Anedot to raise your money. It’s just a wee bit more expensive than using something like PayPal, but it’s a lot less expensive than whatever the Polis [recall] guys are using for some reason. [Pols emphasis]

At the 44-minute mark, Engen gets a question about how to differentiate between different recall groups. His response is telling:

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: I find it hard to differentiate between which ones are real and which ones are not. There’s a ‘Recall Polis’ and there’s a ‘Resist Polis.’

ENGEN: You and me both. I don’t know how to help you with that (room erupts in laughter)…

…You want to make sure that the committee that you’re giving to is the committee that’s approved for that [purpose]. There are already three separate committees up in House District 50 trying to do this recall. Only one of them has any money. Only one of them actually has petitions. But now these other guys are just sowing confusion. So, for the love of God, people, work together… [Pols emphasis]

…Try not to get yourself in that trap that they are [caught] up in Weld. Granted, they’re well-funded already, so they’ll probably still be successful, but it’s going to hurt them because people are giving money now to other organizations that aren’t going to do anything with it. You know…who knows, it’s just up in the wind. [Pols emphasis]

We’ve written previously about these red-on-red recall turf battles that Engen is referencing.

At the 45:50 mark, Engen gets a question about involvement from the State Republican Party:

This question has come up a lot, kind of amongst the Republicans, about how involved the Republican Party can be or should be. At the state level, the way that this used to work – the state party would get involved after petitions were accepted. So, like in 2013, that’s when the State Party really got involved. They contributed money and resources to help get that done.

But the reality is, there is an infinite number of candidates that can be recalled, and the Republican Party doesn’t have the resources to be going around handing out money to recall every single person under the sun. [Pols emphasis]  And it’s too tough to call which ones are going to take off and which ones aren’t, so generally the state and in most cases the county parties just avoid that whole thing. Even if they aren’t formally engaged in it, there’s a couple of things they can do to help you. Like, they’ll have access to the voter file and they can give you access to that. The state party does have a “walk app” that they can probably let you use.

As Engen next tells the audience, they are more likely to get help from the State GOP in Senate District 5, which is represented by Democratic Sen. Kerry Donovan:

Now, if your petitions are successful and you do initiate a recall, the state party will almost always find money to support you – and especially if it’s against Kerry Donovan.

Engen goes on to emphasize the importance of finding an actual Republican candidate to run against a lawmaker targeted for recall, at which point another audience member says this:

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Our biggest challenge will be Eagle County. That’s our biggest problem with Kerry Donovan, because Eagle County is a really blue county, and that’s where the majority of the population is. So, if that county just decides to vote for her in the recall, then she might stay on.

It is indeed quite a challenge to initiate this here recall when you consider that voters in SD-5 actually want Donovan as their State Senator. Donovan was just re-elected to another 4-year term in November 2018 BY A 20-POINT MARGIN.

Before we get to the Q&A section at the end of the discussion, Engen returns to emphasize that the key to winning a recall election is basically to fool the majority of registered voters in a given area:

This is the most important consideration: Do not go out half-cocked. The reason we succeeded in 2013 is because those elections could not be conducted as mail [ballot] elections. So we can’t bank on that this go-round. But we can choose when the election happens. [Pols emphasis]

So you need to think this through and count backwards in time. Once you turn in your petitions, you have 60 days. Once you turn them in for validation, they have 15 days to approve them. After that, the Governor has 30 to 60 days to set the election. So you need to think about that: When is the worst time possible for Kerry Donovan to be dealing with this? Do you want to wait and start this in September so that the [legislative] session is back in and its harder for her to defend maybe? Do you want to try to do this during the holidays, when people are distracted and only your supporters are going to turn in their petitions. Like, start in August and the thing will have to happen in December.

People are going to be traveling for Christmas. They’re not going to care. They’re not going to know that there is an election happening because they probably just turned a ballot back in a month earlier. [Pols emphasis]

Think this through. Don’t run out of the room here and go pull petitions. Give this some thought to when you want the election to happen, because this (timing) is what ultimately determines your success. You can go out and get your petitions validated and approved, initiate the recall, and then get crushed so easily if you don’t have a favorable electoral mix. So, this is the thing, more than anything, that will determine your success – is choosing when you want to have the election and have it happen on your terms. [Pols emphasis]

Colorado voters keep electing Democrats in election after election, so Republicans are focusing their efforts on recall campaigns as a way to get around this pesky problem of Democracy. This isn’t our take on the situation — this is what Republicans are saying to each other. You can see it for yourself.

Click below for more references regarding the recall training and Constellation Political Consulting.



Facebook discussion in mid-April in which Constellation Political Consulting explains the reason for redacting some of the information in the training video.


Client list from the website of Constellation Political Consulting
More on Constellation Political Consulting’s clients, via the Colorado Secretary of State’s website.


15 thoughts on “Republican Training Exposes the Naked Truth About Recalls

    1. This is what I keep saying, unnamed. But we shouldn't just be saying it among ourselves. Say it out loud whenever you see media coverage of these proposed recalls that others are watching. There is no defense against mockery.

  1. Here's an excerpt from a Facebook post (ResistPolisPACRecall) in which the site moderator, (Finley) casually jokes about "breaking Polis' legs".

    Although this is a "Recall Polis" group, Finley also reveals the true purpose of the legislator recalls (GOP power grab)  by writing that they "only need to flip 2 Senate seats".

  2. Just wondering – there isn't any kind of law saying that because this is in Pols that it can't be on the front page of the Denver Post, Greeley Trib, Vail Daily, CS Indy (no hope for the Gazette, I know), a little prime CPR coverage, major-network Denver TV exposure, and so on? This is stuff the public at large has a right to know.

    1. No, there's no law that would prevent wider dissemination.  Typically, other outlets who came to know of this through Pols (as opposed to finding it on their own) would credit them (in an article or broadcast) and link out from something on the web.  Much like Pols does the other way 'round.

      Smart of Pols to download the original video,

  3. This is precisely why I've long said that recalls should be available for extraordinary circumstances only…and they should be much more difficult to achieve than they currently are.  In order for a recall to be successful the vote total to recall should be one more vote than the targeted office holder received in their most recent election instead of the current simple majority of those voting in the recall.  The way it is currently done, those who are recalling are more motivated to participate than those who are content with their representation. 

      1. States that allow recalls sometimes have grounds that include "malfeasance, incompetence, violation of the oath of office, conviction of a felony, drunkenness….etc.

        Still plenty of wiggle room, unfortunately.

        I like Minnesota's – seems pretty narrow:

        Serious malfeasance or nonfeasance during the term of office in the performance of the duties of the office or conviction during the term of office of a serious crime

        And Rhode Island's:

        Rhode IslandAuthorized in the case of a general officer who has been indicted or informed against for a felony, convicted of a misdemeanor, or against whom a finding of probable cause of violation of the code of ethics has been made by the ethics commission (Article IV, §1, Rhode Island Constitution)

      2. Washington does it thusly (section 33):

        …a petition demanding his recall, reciting that such officer has committed some act or acts of malfeasance or misfeasance while in office, or who has violated his oath of office…

        Some other states also have restrictions in place.

      3. I think that each individual voter should be able to define what constitutes and "extraordinary circumstance"…and it doesn't necessarily need to be abuse of the position for which the elected official occupies.  I would say that, for me, simply not liking someone's positions on issues does not rise to the level of "let's undo the past election results".  For instance, I had initially opposed the recall of the Jeffco School Board a couple of years ago based on the fact that, while I opposed their position on issues, they had been very clear on exactly what they intended to do when they were elected.  When I came around to support the recall it was because of the impact of the students walking out, the disruptions to the learning environment, and the loss of control that the board actions had precipitated.  Had those things not happened, I would have voted "no" on the recalls.

        Undoing an election is serious business and should be treated as such.


        1. Agreed.  That said, by the time petitions were pulled and circulated, I was supportive of those recalls.  But, the gravity of these actions were not lost on me, even then.  

  4. I tweeted this story to a few Denver news outlets, including Kyle Clark in the hopes it would get out. Is this something Jenna Griswold could draft legislation for for a future election, making recalls harder so it's not abused by the moral-less rightwing?

  5. Until such time as the state constitution is changed, this is the new normal so we need to adapt or get use to losing.

    1.   Dems need to learn to vote in every election.  (And while they are discovering that, they should get accustomed to voting the under-ticket offices too.)

    2.   The best defense is a strong offense. We need to target the weakest Republican office holder and retaliate. Now after what happened to the CO GOP last November, there aren't all that many vulnerable office holders left. Susan Beckham, I'm looking at you. And Kevin Priola.

    3.   And learn the mistakes of the Giron/Morse recall elections.

  6. If recalls are going to be over policy choices and become more of a usual thing, I would support boosting the threshold for signatures needed for recall. The threshold ought to be more than the 25% of the votes cast in the previous election — perhaps a number equivalent to the winner's total.

    I'd also think there should be a possibility for those seeking the recall and the elected official subject to recall to have a more equal power, so perhaps balancing the initiators starting the process and the elected official having the choice of an election date within some boundaries.

  7. Voters choose the winners, not the other way around.
    The census is due.
    Voter suppression is going to be in full on only-the-right-people-get-to-vote mode.

    And as the right people like screaming at everyone – it's not a democracy it's a republic. Unless the wrong people vote. Then it's about defeating the vote and that's not a republic, that's .. well, it's something else.

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