According to a story today from the political site of The Colorado Springs Gazette, Republicans in El Paso County — the state’s GOP stronghold county — are complaining again of favoritism ahead of tonight’s caucuses:
Republican candidates and El Paso County GOP volunteers say the county party’s leadership has taken steps to favor four far-right candidates ahead of Tuesday’s precinct caucuses.
While GOP rules prohibit party officers from taking sides in primaries, critics say county Republican Chairwoman Vickie Tonkins and her allies haven’t remained neutral even though they’re responsible for organizing the caucus and assembly nominating process that gives candidates a pathway onto the primary ballot.
Tonkins denies the charges and maintains that the nomination process is fair and open to all Republicans.
El Paso County GOP Chairwoman Vicki Tonkins apparently favors four particular candidates, all of whom express extreme right-wing viewpoints: Todd Watkins for El Paso County Sheriff; Peter Lupia for County Clerk and Recorder; Dave Williams for Congress in CO-05; and Ron Hanks for U.S. Senate. Among other perks, Tonkins allegedly provides speaking opportunities to these four candidates that are not offered to others. If you are at all familiar with Tonkins, this won’t come as a surprise.
Tonkins was re-elected as chair of the El Paso County GOP last February despite credible claims of voting irregularities and a rigged process. Tonkins eventually defeated Peggy Littleton by a vote of 147-140 in an election that some GOP observers called a “sham.” In fact, Tonkins is often at odds with other Republicans in El Paso County; one more than one occasion she has resisted demands for her resignation as Party Chair, and she has often been accused of employing shady fundraising tactics. Tonkins made news last year when she was recruiting ACTUAL MILITIA MEMBERS to the El Paso GOP, working with FEC United, among others (FEC United is the militia group that was led by Kristi Burton Brown before she was elected State Party Chair in early 2021).
Complaints about Tonkins are more than the typical paranoia that has long plagued the Colorado Republican Party. El Paso County GOP meetings get so intense that police have been called to the scene on multiple occasions in the last two years.
According to the Gazette, things have gotten so bad that the El Paso County GOP’s Vice Chairman is speaking out:
The county party’s vice chairman, Karl Schneider, said he was alarmed at how brazenly Tonkins has been tilting the scales toward her preferred candidates.
Noting that GOP rules prohibit party officers from taking sides in primaries, Schneider said the Peyton forum Tonkins moderated was “100% incongruous with neutrality.” [Pols emphasis]
“Had she had three different candidates for a state House district, three for the Senate, it would’ve been one thing,” he said. “But she had a clean slate, one for each office. It was absolutely incongruous with the role of a party chair.”
“We should be careful and should pay close attention to what happens at the local level,” added Schneider, who called on Tonkins to resign last fall amid a controversy over the county party’s involvement in school board elections. “When we continue to support leaders who do not follow the bylaws, we lose our integrity, we lose our republic, we lose ourselves.”
Rebecca Keltie, one of several Republicans challenging incumbent Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-Colorado Springs), claims that volunteers she has recruited have been turned away when attempting to get involved with the caucus process; Keltie says she has elevated her complaints to Burton-Brown and the State Republican Party but has received no response. The Gazette received other anonymous complaints alleging that Tonkins refuses to provide lists of precinct leaders to campaigns she does not personally support.
Many of these problems are related to changes among the GOP base in which Trump-loving “Big Lie” supporters are pushing out others with a different viewpoint, sticking them with the dreaded “RINO” label (Republicans In Name Only). This is why you see candidates who are not as extreme, such as Secretary of State hopeful Pam Anderson, going to great lengths to combat damaging rumors about their campaigns. This is also why Republicans in Colorado seem to spend more time fighting each other than attacking Democrats.
The Colorado Republican Party is less of a “big tent” and more like a crowded sleeping bag. If you’re not part of the MAGA crowd, it’s getting harder and harder just to get in the door.