GOP Chair Wadhams caught in crosshairs

By Leslie Jorgensen
THE COLORADO STATESMAN

If state Republican Party Chairman Dick Wadhams were handed a report card for his performance in the 2010 election cycle, he would be awarded high marks by traditional GOP activists and flunked by several tea party groups. The anti-establishment mood that wafted over tea party rallies — and was intoned by GOP gubernatorial candidate Dan Maes — has drifted into the election of party officers in 2011.

Among those humming the “Anybody but Dick” mantra, the most vocal is Colorado Change the Change that blames Wadhams for not having vetted Maes, failing to promote the GOP gubernatorial candidate and not waging a vigorous defense of Republican U.S. Senate candidate Ken Buck whose videotaped comments became fodder for attack ads aired by left leaning groups.

The losses of Maes to Democratic Governor-elect John Hickenlooper and Buck to incumbent U.S. Senator Michael Bennet appear like a “glass half empty” in the GOP election results. The anti-establishment activists not only want to replace Wadhams, but also restructure the party’s bylaws and propose legislation to cure perceived election pitfalls.

“I am part of an effort to replace the state GOP leadership — Dick Wadhams and crew — with a new team that will take the Colorado GOP in a different direction,” said Jim Courter of Teller County in an e-mail to enlist support from Otero County Republican Party officers.

“The final straw for our group was Dick Wadhams turning his back on the winner in the governor’s primary,” asserted Courter. “When has the Republican Party endorsed a third party (candidate)? It seems somewhat inconsistent with the state GOP bylaws. At any rate it is a betrayal of the party.”

Wadhams’ supporters, however, perceive the election results as the glass nearly full — the GOP won a majority in the state House for the first time since 2004, picked up two congressional seats — Cory Gardner in the 4th District and Scott Tipton in the 3rd District — and seized three statewide offices, Secretary of State-elect Scott Gessler, Treasurer-elect Walker Stapleton and incumbent Attorney General John Suthers.

“I am a Dick Wadhams supporter and hope he runs again. He has been unduly criticized over things which he no control over,” said former Adams County GOP chair and ex-state Rep. Mary Dambman. “He’s done a damn good job.”

Wadhams remains undecided about seeking a third two-year term as state chair. Waiting in the wings for his decision are Denver GOP Chair Ryan Call and Americans for Prosperity leader Jeff Crank, who both applaud Wadhams and said they would support his re-election bid.

Other rumored candidates have included Maes and former state Senator Tom Wiens, who appears to be gaining traction in the tea party movement.

“I have not thrown my hat in the ring for state chairman at this particular time and place. I have no intention to although I have received requests to do so,” Maes said this week.

The only announced candidate is Bart Baron, an industrial engineer who lives in Palmer Lake and previously ran unsuccessfully for Congress in Michigan’s District 12 in 2000, and District 9 in 2002.

Tea partiers swarmed to caucuses last year and won more than 40 percent of the state GOP assembly delegate spots. They flexed their muscle and delivered top line on the primary ballot to Maes over Republican contender from Congressman Scott McInnis, who later lost the primary battle.

Both candidates lost credibility after a series of damaging news media reports — McInnis had plagiarized portions of a water resource report and Maes had paid fines for repeated campaign finance violations, drained an estimated $90,000 from the campaign coffer to reimburse himself and his family members for expenses and gas mileage, and misrepresented his work experience.

“Tom Wiens would be the most formable candidate to run against Dick Wadhams,” declared Crista Huff during a post-election potluck supper on Nov. 20 at the Pike’s Peak Grange in Franktown that drew more than 100 folks. She also talked with The Colorado Statesman earlier this month about her support for Wiens and distrust of Wadhams.

Wiens is favored by Huff, who taught newcomers the ropes to winning delegate slots at precinct caucuses last year, and former Douglas County GOP Chair John Ransom, who was communications director for Wiens’ U.S. Senate campaign. The former state lawmaker abandoned the race after learning that a contractor had failed to obtain the number of petition signatures required to access the ballot.

Folks like Dambman said Maes would be a long shot because the gubernatorial candidate won 11.1 percent of the general election vote and topped American Constitution Party candidate former Congressman Tom Tancredo in only six of Colorado’s 64 counties. Hickenlooper won 51.1 percent and Tancredo trailed with 36.4 percent of the vote, 912,005 to 651,232 votes.

Chuck O’Reilly, who served as Maes’ campaign organizational director, doesn’t disagree with Dambman’s assessment.

“Like most of you, I’m angry about what happened with the governor’s race. First, I’m angry at Dan for being less than I thought he was. Then, I was angry at Tancredo,” O’Reilly told Republicans at the Colorado Change the Change supper last month.

“I became angry at the leadership of the state Republican Party leadership and the action and lack of action that they did. They created a mess,” declared O’Reilly. “After much therapy, free counseling (and) alcohol, I have dealt with my anger.”

To improve the party’s performance in elections, O’Reilly said, “We must first change the leadership of the state Republican Party. That will not be meaningful until we also eliminate the puppeteers that are pulling the strings of the state leadership. Then, we must change the bylaws of the Republican leadership to have transparency, accountability and do the things that we think should have been done like vetting our candidates instead of selecting them.”

O’Reilly said the way to remove Wadhams would be to court support from the chairs, vice chairs and secretaries of all 64 counties.

The fact that Maes won just 199,034 votes has reduced the number of state GOP Central Committee bonus members who, along with county party officers and Republican elected officials, will elect the state party chair in March. Heavily populated Republican counties, such as El Paso, Jefferson, Arapahoe, Larimer and Douglas counties, overwhelming supported Tancredo over Maes. Consequently, the rural counties are estimated to have 53 percent of the vote for state GOP chair.

Wadhams and unnamed state GOP leaders were verbally pummeled for not having vetted Maes, allegedly selecting the gubernatorial candidates to exclude state Sen. Josh Penry, who had abandoned the race last year for personal reasons.

“They’ve gone from beating the hell out of me for being a so-called kingmaker or powerbroker to now attacking me for not (vetting Maes),” said Wadhams. “They’ve come full circle in their hypocrisy. They can’t have it both ways.”

“They decided they wanted a nominee with no track record of experience and they got it,” said Wadhams of Maes. “They’re totally embarrassed by this fraud who they elected. So now, they need somebody to blame.”

The state GOP Chair said he believes the majority of members of the tea party movement understand what happened in the gubernatorial race and the problems with Maes and his campaign. Wadhams clarified that Penry chose to withdraw from the race, state GOP assembly delegates chose their nominees and the primary Republican voters embraced Maes.

“We had a fair and open process to the nomination,” said Wadhams. “The governor’s race was a total aberration.”

Colorado Change the Change has issued a multifaceted party reform plan in courting tea party groups to join their effort — and win support from party officers in the counties.

That said, there are a number of proposals that indicate the newcomer activists are unfamiliar with state party bylaws and election laws.

In the “Preparation for 2012” report, the group proposed changing the bylaws to have the state party treasurer elected by the central committee instead of being appointed by the chair — and require treasurer candidates to have a degree in accounting and 10 years of professional experience.

Ryan Call, legal counsel to the state GOP, clarified that the chairman appoints the treasurer, which is actually an attorney, to review and validate the party’s audits and accounting reports which are public record and available on the websites of the Federal Elections Commission and Colorado Secretary of State’s office. The position is currently held by Richard Westfall, an attorney with Hale-Friesen and former Solicitor General for the State of Colorado, who was appointed by Wadhams in 2008, and reappointed in 2010.

The report proposes a vetting process that would require each potential candidate to submit a copy of their birth certificate, a history of marriages and all children, personal and professional references and a detailed resume of education and work history. If the information is not provided to the state party’s credential committee, the candidate “will not be recognized by the Republican Party as a viable candidate.”

The group proposes posting the candidates’ documents on the party website — and passing legislation to force other political parties to follow suit.

Call said the proposed requirements exceed state and federal election laws and conflict with the party’s goal to be inclusive and not impede candidates from accessing the ballot.

Wadhams agreed with Call, and suggested that if Colorado Change the Change is truly committed to this vetting process — it is free to do so own independently of the state party.

Leslie@coloradostatesman.com