[Pols Note: This is Part One of a three-part series]
“We were told we should be put in front of a firing squad and shot. We are no longer safe at [El Paso County GOP] meetings.”
— A group of El Paso County Republicans in a letter to the State Republican Party (via Quentin Young)
The Colorado Republican Party is still reeling from devastating election defeats in 2022 that one prominent Republican called “an extinction-level event.” Instead of trying to figure out what went wrong, Colorado Republicans are spending the majority of their time and effort fighting each other and tossing around threats of physical violence.
As Ernest Luning reports for the publication formerly known as the Colorado Statesman, Colorado Republicans on Tuesday evening took another unprecedented step in an effort to deal with their own dysfunction:
The Colorado Republican Party voted late Tuesday to install a neutral group of outsiders to supervise the El Paso County GOP’s upcoming leadership elections in response to complaints from local Republicans who said they don’t trust incumbent county chair Vickie Tonkins to run a fair election.
The 139-123.8 vote came at the end of an unprecedented and often contentious online meeting of the state GOP’s central committee called earlier this month by outgoing state party chair Kristi Burton Brown. The results include fractional votes because multiple people split some offices. [Pols emphasis]
Late Monday, Tonkins and a handful of local party officers filed a lawsuit against the state party and Burton Brown, arguing that the state party is overstepping its authority under state law and GOP bylaws.
The conflict revolves around who will run the local county party’s Feb. 11 reorganization meeting in Colorado Springs, when local Republicans are slated to elect a county chair, vice chair and secretary to two-year terms. Tonkins, who has chaired the county party since late 2018, is running for another term…
…Held on the Zoom teleconference platform, Tuesday’s meeting drew 301 of the central committee’s nearly 500 members, which include county party officers, elected officials and so-called bonus members from larger counties, based on the total number of votes received by top-ticket GOP candidates in the last election.
El Paso County Republican Chairwoman Vicki Tonkins
The El Paso County GOP election in February is actually pretty important for the future of the State Republican Party, since whoever gets elected on Feb. 11 will represent a significant block of voters charged with selecting the next STATE Republican Party Chairperson in March. But before we jump ahead any further, let’s first explain a bit of the more recent background involved in the Colorado Republican Party’s “Circle of Strife.”
A few days before Election Day last November, the El Paso County Republican Party voted to censure a bunch of prominent Republicans for organizing their own field operation outside of the control of the El Paso GOP and Chairwoman Vickie Tonkins. Weeks after the GOP was drubbed on Election Day, a group calling itself the “Save Colorado Project” held a bananas event outside of a “Boot Barn” near the State GOP headquarters in Greenwood Village in which critics lambasted GOP leaders as “whores” and “asswipes.”
The Colorado Republican Party responded a few days later by voting to formally censure Tonkins for failing to effectively support Republican candidates in 2022; at least in part, this was an effort to “censure” Tonkins for “censuring” other Republicans a month earlier. Yes, it’s as ridiculous as it sounds.
In late December, State Party Chairperson Kristi Burton Brown (KBB) announced that she would not seek re-election in March 2023, opening the door to a handful of well-established losers interested in the job (Casper Stockham, Aaron Wood, and Erik Aadland among them). As Colorado Newsline explained recently:
The pool of candidates to replace [KBB], even this late in the process, comprises some of the party’s most dishonest and unserious figures, and it has emboldened a conspiracy theorist-friendly effort called the Save Colorado Project to agitate for an uncompromising extremism in party leadership.
Yeah, not great.
Weld County Sheriff Steve Reams briefly appeared to be the State GOP’s best hope for competent leadership in the 2024 election cycle, but he quickly came to his senses and bowed out of the race in early January.
With a field of candidates for State Party Chair that is, shall we say, not ideal for the GOP, Republicans have grown increasingly worried about falling even further down the MAGA rabbit hole. In mid-January, a group of Republicans sent a formal complaint to KBB and the State Party that included some pretty serious allegations about notorious El Paso County Republican Party Chairperson Vickie Tonkins:
The letter was signed by some notable Republican names, including former lawmaker Lois Landgraf; State Sen. Larry Liston; State Rep. Mary Bradfield; State Sen. Bob Gardner; and Wayne Williams, a former Secretary of State (and current candidate for Mayor of Colorado Springs). These concerns can’t be dismissed as over-the-top rhetoric given the history of El Paso County Republican meetings to get so heated that law enforcement officials have to be called to intervene. As The Colorado Springs Independent explained in December 2021, the El Paso County Sheriff’s office and the Colorado Springs Police Department spend a lot of time attending to concerns about violence at El Paso GOP meetings.
This brings us back to Tuesday’s night’s unusual meeting, which was requested by the same group of Republicans listed above because of concerns about Tonkins’ heavy-handed approach to, well, everything…but particularly her many efforts to get in the way of candidates who aren’t on whatever remains of her “good side.”
“Secret list — corrupt election.”
— Chuck Broerman, El Paso County GOP Treasurer
El Paso County Republicans — including Treasurer Chuck Broerman — have good reason to worry about Tonkins trying to rig the election for herself and her friends. That’s because Tonkins may have done it before. (Tonkins and the El Paso GOP filed a lawsuit against the State Republican Party on Monday over its demands).
Back in 2021, Tonkins narrowly defeated challenger Peggy Littleton (147-140) to win a second term as El Paso County GOP Chairperson. Littleton and her supporters immediately cried foul, accusing Tonkins of denying credentials to certain voters; allowing ineligible voters to cast ballots; and overseeing a dysfunctional “remote voting” system. Littleton appealed to the State Republican Party, but her concerns ultimately went nowhere; Tonkins and her slate of candidates were allowed to remain in office.
As Chase Woodward writes for Colorado Newsline, Republicans are so mad at other Republicans that they are calling EACH OTHER fascists:
The county party’s vice chair, Karl Schneider, has long called on Tonkins to resign, and he describes her behavior as “near-criminality.”
“She’s not doing it out of ignorance. She knows exactly what she’s doing,” he told Newsline last week. “And this is how the fascist regimes start to grow. We’re at the root level here in El Paso County.” [Pols emphasis]
Former State Rep. JoAnn Windholz (center), who now heads up the Adams County GOP.
We won’t know until Feb. 11 whether or not an “independent” arbiter will be able to establish some semblance of order when El Paso County Republicans meet to select new leaders for the 2024 cycle (Tonkins is seeking a third term in office). But we do know that this is not a problem only in El Paso County. Back to Colorado Newsline:
More than a third of the Adams County Republican Party’s executive committee called a special meeting this week in defiance of the chairwoman, former state Rep. JoAnn Windholz, who accused the rebelling faction of trying to “usurp the authority” of the party’s central committee, according to documents and communication obtained by Newsline. [Pols emphasis]
Thomas J. Scovill, a precinct committee person with the Adams County Republicans, told Newsline that some members of the party suspect that Windholz is trying to tip the scales toward favored candidates ahead of the party’s Feb. 4 reorganizational meeting elections.
“The suspicion is that she’s under the thrall” of Mathai, Scovill said, adding that the Save Colorado Project “has put a lot of us off.”
If Windholz is worried about “elephant on elephant” violence, those concerns would come with a heavy dose of irony. Following the deadly 2015 shooting at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Spings, Windholz infamously blamed Planned Parenthood by calling the organization “the real culprit” for violence.
[Next…”Part 2: The Timeline”]