Colorado Republicans understand Faust perhaps better than most.
Faust, of course, is the main character in the classic 600-year-old German legend of a man who makes a “deal with the devil” to turn over his soul in exchange for unlimited knowledge and worldly pleasures. In modern times, a “Faustian bargain” is the term for a person or entity that gives up some moral authority in order to achieve short-term success or power. Even if you are unfamiliar with Faust, you’ve almost certainly come across similar stories in any number of horrible Hollywood movies (we’re looking at you, “Bedazzled”).
It has been widely discussed that national Republicans made a deal with the developer devil in making Donald Trump their nominee for President in 2016. We could easily expand on this narrative here, but we’d rather bore down into a more local level of politics for our Faustian example: State Senator Laura Waters Woods (R-Arvada).
Even in an election year with no shortage of questionable characters, Sen. Woods stands out as a Republican beacon of dope. Woods was at the peak of her powers in her fist-shaking diatribe as a warm-up act for Trump last weekend in Jefferson County. In case you missed Woods’ speech, just know this: She opened with a “lock her up” chant directed at Hillary Clinton.
Colorado Republicans have been spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on Woods’ re-election bid in SD-19 — along with races in SD-25 (Adams County) and SD-26 (Arapahoe County) – after strategists rightly figured early in the summer that the best GOP hopes in 2016 were to focus most of its resources on a handful of legislative seats. Laura Woods represents one of the Republican Party’s best hopes for maintaining control of their one-seat majority in the State Senate…and that’s precisely the problem for the GOP. Whether or not Woods is successful in her re-election bid is almost beside the point; this race is so expensive for Republicans because Woods is their candidate.
Take a look at what we wrote about Woods after her narrow state senate victory in 2014:
This result may prove more important to long-term control of the Senate for several reasons–the biggest being that Sen.-elect Waters Woods doesn’t get a full term. Woods is right back up for election in 2016 to realign the seat with its normal interval, which is being up in presidential years.
This means that for the next two years, all eyes are now squarely on Woods–instantly the most vulnerable member of a brittle Republican majority. Woods’ primary victory over establishment-favored Republican Lang Sias, backed by the hard-right Rocky Mountain Gun Owners, could very easily come back to haunt the GOP in the next election. Woods won this seat by roughly the same number of votes that Evie Hudak did in 2012. Assuming she becomes the fringe-right firebrand most expect her to be in the Senate, she will be a much richer target than Sias would ever have been.
Woods occupies probably the most critical and evenly-divided legislative seat in Colorado in a year when Republicans are desperately clinging to a one-seat majority they fought for 10 years to regain. Woods stands in the way for the GOP as much as Democratic challenger Rachel Zenzinger.
Let’s go back to that speech at the Jeffco fairgrounds from October 29. Said Woods:
“I am a Donald Trump supporter, not just because he is the Republican candidate, but because I believe he will lead our country to greatness once again.”
Woods is certainly not the only Colorado candidate who has played footsie with Trump this election cycle, but you’d be hard-pressed to find another local Republican who has so thoroughly ingested the Trump Kool-Aid. This wouldn’t be nearly as odd if Woods represented a bedrock Republican district; Woods is the right flank in a senate district that is generally fairly moderate. Republican Party elders lost their grip of the steering wheel over their increasingly-unhinged base of supporters long before Trump came along; Woods’ 2014 election to the state senate is a prime example of why Republicans are reeling so much in 2016.
Woods would not be in the Senate today had she not helped organize the recall of then-Senator Evie Hudak in 2013 – a move that was opposed by then-party chairman Ryan Call. Woods later defeated establishment darling Lang Sias in a primary, despite heavy investment from the business community, by out-organizing him among the recall supporters and out-flanking him on abortion.
Once in the Senate, party leaders took the obligatory steps of giving her committee assignments and handing her bills designed to build her relationships with a conservative business wing that was wary of her presence. Meanwhile, the Senate Republican caucus was in the process of ceding control to right-wing Sen. Tim Neville, for whom Woods has been a loyal vote. Woods happily participated in the highly embarrassing anti-vaxxer conspiracy bill in 2015, and she was easily identified in the press as being the most conservative senator in a moderate district in the self-identified “Hateful Eight.”
Even in her plum assignments on the Senate Appropriations Committee, Woods demonstrated that she wasn’t going to listen to any voices that weren’t already inside her head. She inexplicably voted against slam-dunk bills on veteran in-state tuition and job assistance – bills that were sponsored by Republican legislators running in competitive senate districts in 2016. Woods even voted against a bill to give a tax exemption to military service members, legislation the reliably conservative Colorado Springs Gazette editorial board called a “no-brainer.”
For more than two years, Republican leaders have tried to make up for what is widely understood to be a huge problem they have with Woods by relentlessly tearing down her opponent Rachel Zenzinger (nevermind those pesky facts). Perhaps Woods’ 2014 Primary opponent, Lang Sias, would have failed to defeat Zenzinger in the General Election that fall (Sias does tend to lose more often than not). Perhaps not. Regardless, Republicans could no doubt find plenty of other uses for the incredible amounts of time and money they have spent to prop up someone who is more headache than aspirin.