White wins SD 8 seat, McConnell quits GOP

The Colorado Statesman

Jean White, wife of departing Sen. Al White, R-Hayden, was selected Monday by a GOP vacancy committee to fill the Senate District 8 seat from northwestern Colorado.

White won the seat on the fifth round of balloting, according to SD 8 vacancy committee Chair Phil Vaughan of Garfield County.

The Monday meeting, held at the Moffat County Courthouse in Craig, saw challenges from six candidates. A seventh, Claudia Alexander of Gypsum, withdrew her candidacy over the weekend.

The candidates, in addition to White, were: T. Wright Dickinson of Browns Park, a former Moffat County commissioner; Jeff Fry of Hayden, owner of Bear Ears Excavating and a member of the Routt County Planning Commission; Bob McConnell of Steamboat Springs, who last year competed in the primary against eventual winner U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton, R-CD 3; Kay Meyring of Walden, a precinct official in the Jackson County GOP; and Shannon Stowe of Glenwood Springs, vice-chair of the Garfield County GOP.

The vacancy was created last month when Gov.-elect John Hickenlooper named Sen. Al White as the next director of the Colorado Tourism Office.

The meeting featured presentations from the six candidates and their supporters, followed by a question-and-answer session with seven of the nine members of the vacancy committee, with one absence. Jean White also serves on that vacancy committee but recused herself for Monday’s vote.

In a statement released Monday evening, Vaughan said, “The vacancy committee has conducted a transparent process for selection of the Senate District 8 seat. We are excited to have Jean White as our new state Senator and look forward to her representation in this important upcoming legislative session.”

Although short, the campaign for the seat was no less vigorous. In the days leading up to the election, McConnell supporters launched a spirited letter-writing campaign, as evidenced in district newspapers such as the Steamboat Pilot and Glenwood Independent. GOP members in the six-county district raised concerns that White’s selection was a done deal. Others questioned the selection process, noting that the vacancy “call” and rules were not sent out until Dec. 28, just six days before the election. However, several candidates, including White and McConnell, told The Colorado Statesman as early as Dec. 23 that they intended to run for the seat.

Sen.-elect White told The Statesman Tuesday that she was pleased with the outcome but that the win “was not a slam-dunk.” With six viable candidates, “it was a hard fought race, with five hours of proceedings and five secret ballots. The procedure was interesting and well-run,” and it worked, she said.

The election Monday had one other result on Tuesday — McConnell quit the GOP and registered as unaffiliated. “The GOP has failed us at the national, state, and local level. I am no longer a Republican because the GOP no longer represents me or what I believe,” he said in a Tuesday e-mail to supporters and to The Statesman. “It is time to face the reality that conservatives are being shut out of the Party.”

McConnell pointed to the vacancy committee meeting and the state party as part of the reason for his departure. The state party “looked like the Keystone Cops during the last election,” McConnell explained, adding that the selection of Jean White Monday will cause liberals to celebrate with champagne. “I have always urged you to ‘keep the faith.’ That never meant faith in the Republican Party, or any political machine,” McConnell said.

Marianne@coloradostatesman.com