We’ve been writing a lot recently about the “Circle of Strife” within the Colorado Republican Party, and particularly the ongoing fight between Republicans in El Paso County that has forced the involvement of the State Republican Party.
This story just keeps getting more and more bizarre, and on Saturday it will reach a new level of insanity: El Paso County (EPC) Republicans will hold TWO separate elections at TWO different locations at the same time, with each presiding group claiming to have selected the only true slate of county party leaders for the 2024 election cycle. These elections will also determine dozens of “bonus members” from the county; all of these positions will be important on March 11, when Republicans from across the state gather to elect a new State Party Chairperson.
Click here for a detailed background of this stone-throwing, finger-wagging, lawyer-hiring debacle. The short(ish) version is this: Republicans in EPC asked the State Republican Party to intervene in Saturday’s election for new county party officers in EPC because of concerns about the heavy-handed tactics of current EPC GOP Chair Vickie Tonkins. These Republicans, who include former Secretary of State and current Colorado Springs Mayoral hopeful Wayne Williams, were worried that Tonkins might try to rig the Feb. 11 elections in her favor (she is seeking a third consecutive term as Chair) and in support of her preferred candidates for Vice Chair and Secretary. This is not a baseless concern, since many EPC Republicans believe that Tonkins essentially rigged the 2021 election for EPC Chair in her favor.
“If you are a member of the El Paso County Central Committee, your vote will ONLY BE VALID if you cast it at the Discovery meeting…
…The meeting Chairwoman Tonkins is leading is not the officially recognized meeting, and anyone who claims to be elected out of that meeting will not be recognized.”
— State GOP Chair Kristi Burton Brown in an email to EPC county voters.
Tonkins and the official EPC GOP filed a lawsuit to stop the State GOP from bigfooting their county reorganization election; one day later, the State Party voted in an unprecedented internal election to appoint a “neutral” arbiter to oversee the elections taking place on Saturday. On Thursday, the EPC GOP learned that their initial lawsuit had been rejected by a district court judge. As Ernest Luning explains for the publication formerly known as the Colorado Statesman:
A district court judge on Thursday threw out a complaint filed by the El Paso County Republican Party that sought to prevent the Colorado GOP from stepping in to run the county party’s upcoming leadership elections.
Colorado law clearly gives state political parties’ central committees the power to resolve county party controversies, leaving the courts without jurisdiction in such disputes, 18th Judicial District Judge Elizabeth Volz said in an order dismissing the county GOP’s lawsuit.
A complaint filed last week by El Paso County GOP chair Vickie Tonkins and six precinct-level Republican officers on behalf of the county party asked the court to block the state Republican Party and its chair, Kristi Burton Brown, from putting in place a neutral team of outsiders to supervise the county party’s reorganization meeting, which is scheduled to take place on Saturday in Colorado Springs.
An attorney for Tonkins and the El Paso County party said late Thursday that his clients are “disappointed” with the ruling and plan to appeal.
That means county Republicans still plan to hold two separate party elections on Saturday at different locations, with each side charging the other’s is illegal and won’t count.
Tonkins and her supporters in EPC say that they are appealing the judge’s ruling, but that appeal won’t be decided before tomorrow’s elections, which will undoubtedly result in more confusion for the GOP faithful and fuel later claims of disenfranchisement from whichever group ultimately loses.
“[This] is the only official call and information regarding the only legitimate meeting…
…[There are] corrupt establishment insiders who are trying to mislead you and steal your vote so there is no reason to go to the fake meeting.”
— El Paso County GOP Chair Vickie Tonkins in a series of emails to EPC county voters.
If you’re still confused, imagine how EPC Republican voters are feeling. Attorneys for Tonkins argue that 18th Judicial District Judge Elizabeth Volz did not actually rule in favor of the State GOP on Thursday but merely pointed out that the court does not have jurisdiction in the matter. Kristi Burton Brown and the State GOP believe that Volz did, in fact, rule in their favor and that Colorado statutes support their ability to oversee county party elections.
This isn’t just a fight among unknown GOP insiders, either. Some of the more recognizable names in Colorado Republican politics have taken sides as either “Pro-Tonkins” or “Anti-Tonkins” (the “anti-Tonkins” group also calls itself “Pikes Peak United Republicans”). Here’s a brief list of names on each side:
♦ State Rep. Scott “There Is No” Bottoms
♦ State Rep. Ken “Skin” DeGraaf
♦ Former State Rep. Dave Williams
♦ Todd Watkins, failed 2022 candidate for EPC Sheriff
♦ Most of the Republican candidates who lost a Primary Election in EPC in 2022, including Peter Lupia; Rae Ann Weber (the self-dubbed “Constitutional Coroner”); Lynda Zamora Wilson; and Karl Dent.
♦ State GOP Chair Kristi Burton Brown
♦ Former Secretary of State and current Colorado Springs City Council Member Wayne Williams
♦ Former State Rep. Lois Landgraf
♦ EPC GOP Treasurer Chuck Broerman
♦ State Sen. Bob Gardner
♦ State Sen. Larry Liston
♦ State Rep. Mary Bradfield
♦ Former EPC Party Chair and failed 2022 U.S. Senate candidate Eli Bremer
In an appearance on Randy Corporon’s KNUS radio show recently, State Rep. Scott Bottoms framed the battle in EPC as the age-old “establishment Republicans” versus the “real” grassroots GOP base:
[Establishment Republicans] don’t like guys like myself and Ken DeGraff in District 22 that have come up and we’re saying, ‘Hey, we’re actually going to be Republicans.’ And that’s that’s very dangerous to them because that’s what the people want and it’s not what they want…[Pols emphasis]
…There’s this mentality that the Republicans have had for so long that if we’re just really nice, everything will work out. And we and they kowtow more to the Democrats than they do the Republicans.
And then you’ve got this group down here in El Paso County that they’ve been used to…[for] so long actually being controlled by Democrats, thinking that when some people in the grassroots stand up and say, ‘This is enough, we’re not doing this,’ and they cannot handle it — they will not let that happen. They’ve got a nice big cash cow. They’ve got this power, they’ve got this control, and they don’t want the average people to have a voice in that. And that’s that’s part of the reason I ran. That’s part of the reason I know that Representative DeGraaf ran because we’re tired of this stuff. [Pols emphasis]
Speaking on KLZ radio’s “Rush to Reason” show, former State Rep. Dave Williams outlined similar concerns, particularly his grievances over the formation last summer of the “Peak Republicans” group that operated separately from the EPC GOP:
But really, the bone of contention here was that for a considerable amount of time, specifically toward the end of the election cycle, this group [“Peak Republicans”] was purporting to be the actual Republican Party headquarters and misrepresenting themselves as the actual apparatus, an organization that you would know as the El Paso County Republican Party.
This dispute won’t likely be settled in time for tomorrow’s elections, which means that EPC Republicans will end up electing TWO county party chairs, TWO county party vice chairs, TWO county party secretaries, and TWO sets of bonus delegates. You don’t need an abacus to understand the calculation that half of those people are going to be pretty pissed off when they eventually learn — once and for all — that they didn’t actually get elected to do anything. It will be equally confusing for the three candidates running for State Party Chair — Casper Stockham, Aaron Wood, and Erik Aadland — who will be trying to rally support from both groups just in case.
The only certainty in all of this is that EPC Republicans aren’t going to be singing “Kumbaya” anytime soon, which is a bad sign in a county that has long been the beating heart of the Colorado Republican Party.