Douglas County Republicans stick with ‘true conservatives’

Speaker McNulty accused of RINO behavior
The Colorado Statesman

The eyes of the conservative movement were on a gathering of several hundred Republicans at the fairgrounds in Castle Rock on Feb. 10. And when it came down to it, they didn’t blink.

That’s according to Douglas County GOP Chairman Mark Baisley, who defeated a more moderate challenger to win another term leading the local organization he termed “the center of gravity of the Republican Party in Colorado and perhaps the nation.”

Republican National Committeewoman Lilly Nuñez, left, and her husband, former state Rep. Joe Nuñez, pause during proceedings at the Douglas County GOP reorg meeting Feb. 10 in Castle Rock.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman
Douglas County Republican Party Secretary Craig Steiner, left, talks proceedings with county chairman Mark Baisley at the party’s reorganization meeting Feb. 10 at the fairgrounds in Castle Rock. Steiner was reelected without opposition and Baisley fended off a challenge from Rick Murray for another term as chairman.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman
State Sen. Ted Harvey, left, a candidate for state GOP chairman, talks politics with Katie Behnke at the Douglas County Republican Party reog meeting on Feb. 10 in Castle Rock.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman
Ryan Call, left, the state Republican Party’s legal counsel and a candidate for state party chair, talks with Douglas County Republican Rick Murray, who had just lost a bid to replace Mark Baisley as county chair at the reog meeting Feb. 10 in Castle Rock.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman
Brett Moore, left, with Castle Pines North Mayor Jeffrey Huff at the Douglas County Republican Party meeting. Moore was elected secretary of the Denver Republican Party earlier this month.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman
House Speaker Frank McNulty, left, chats with state Sen. Mark Scheffel, R-Parker, at the Douglas County Republican Party reorg on Feb. 10 in Castle Rock.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman
Douglas County Republicans, from left, Crista Huff, Heidi Kutney and state Rep. Chris Holbert, R-Parker, take a break during proceedings at the county reorg on Feb. 10 in Castle Rock.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman
One-time Senate candidate Cleve Tidwell, left, says Republicans have been urging him to run for state party chair. Tidwell and Brian Blevins visited the Douglas County GOP reorg on Feb. 10 in Castle Rock.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman
Outgoing treasurer of the Douglas County Republican Party John Fielding, left, visits with Lindy Blackburn, one of the two candidates who wanted to take his place, before the vote on Feb. 10 in Castle Rock. Chuck O’Reilly was elected to the post.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman

Up and down the ballot, when there was a choice for party officer between a more conservative candidate and one who urged the party to open its doors to moderates and unaffiliated voters, Douglas County Republicans went with the more hard-core choice.

Republicans convened at Douglas County Fairgrounds Events Center for the biennial reorganization — rescheduled from two nights earlier when sub-zero temperatures and near-blizzard conditions around the metro area made travel dangerous — to elect local GOP officers, listen to a cavalcade of luminaries who hail from the county, and toast success in the last election.

“By every measure, in numbers, in percentages, we scored higher in turning out the Republican vote than ever before in Douglas County,” crowed Baisley. “We have maintained our perfect record of only Republicans being elected in Douglas County.”

When local Republicans run, they win, Baisley pointed out.

“The only time we do not win elections is when they’re nonpartisan elections and we do not get involved,” he said, adding that the local GOP scored recent victories in the nominally nonpartisan Douglas County School Board election and even in the balloting for the Intermountain Rural Electric Association. (The party got involved in the latter races because, Baisley said, “Throughout the nation Democrats are trying to take over utility boards so they can further their radical greenhouse, global-warming agenda,” adding that, “We need to put a stop to that.”)

State Sen. Ted Harvey, who announced a bid for state party chairman last week, nominated Baisley for another term.

“He’s proven to be an incredible leader, but he’s also proved to be an incredible diplomat during the most unique election cycle I’ve ever seen,” Harvey said after pointing out that he faced Baisley in the 2006 primary for his Senate seat and that the two remain close friends.

“We have really raised the bar in the Douglas County Republican Party in the last couple of years,” said Baisley, who faced Rick Murray in an election for county party chairman. Still, after running down a list of successful GOP events and party-building activities, he said that wasn’t why he was asking Republicans for their vote.

“But this election tonight for chair is not about operations, is it?” he asked. “This is more philosophical. The question we’re going to answer tonight is whether Douglas County Republicans will continue to accept our role as the leaders of conservatism in the state of Colorado, or if we’re ready to take a pause from that.”

Understandably, Murray and his supporters didn’t frame the choice quite that way.

“We know that these are challenging times for our state, for our nation, and for our party,” said House Speaker Frank McNulty, R-Highlands Ranch, in his speech nominating Murray. “And during these challenging times we need a steady hand at the wheel. With my experience in Douglas County, my experience managing 33 Republicans down at the statehouse — we don’t always get along — and my experience serving with you, I know that Rick Murray will be that steady hand at the wheel.”

Murray said the vote for party chairman would determine who pulled the strings.

“I’m running for the chairmanship of the Douglas County Republican Party to serve you, not for you to serve me,” he said. “I want to reinstitute you, the central committee, to be in charge of policy in the Douglas County Republican Party. For too long we have not had that.”

In the end, Baisley easily defeated Murray, 123-87 votes.

The race for party vice chair was drawn along similar lines, with similar results. Incumbent Vice Chair Sandi Gregstone won out over challenger Shirley Nichols — who had aligned herself with the county’s “extreme moderates,” according to one observer — with a 129-83 vote.

Craig Steiner was reelected as party secretary without opposition. The race for party treasurer didn’t play out along ideological lines and saw Chuck O’Reilly edge Lindy Blackburn 111-91 votes.

Harvey, who is one of four announced candidates for state party chairman, spoke to the crowd twice and was greeted each time with acclaim. The other candidates are state GOP legal counsel Ryan Call, state Vice Chair Leondray Gholston and recent Michigan transplant Barton Baron. State Republicans convene March 26 in Castle Rock to pick party officers.

Call also briefly addressed the Douglas County meeting, but there was no question this was Ted Harvey Country.

Harvey said he was “still in mourning” over the Republicans’ failure to capture the state Senate in last fall’s elections — losing the majority by 1,800 votes spread out over three seats — but sounded confident Republicans had the upper hand overall and announced that Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper was on his side when it comes to key questions.

“Republicans in the House and Republicans in the Senate and Gov. Hickenlooper, the Democrat, are arm-in-arm where we want to go. It’ll be interesting to see, though, how the governor handles getting the Democrat-controlled Senate in line with us,” he told the crowd. “I work in the Senate every day. (Democrats) are not business-friendly, they are not taxpayer-friendly, they are not Douglas County-friendly. It’ll be interesting to see how Gov. Hickenlooper gets them in line.”

Noting that he doesn’t have “to fake being a conservative,” Harvey made a plea for support in his race for state chairman.

In addition to putting Colorado back in the Republican column in next year’s presidential election, Harvey said, the key task for the party will be to win control of the state Senate.

“The only way we can do that is if we unite as a party, if we get the Tea Party groups, the Liberty groups, to get on board with the traditional Republicans, the elected leaders and the Republican financiers that have helped us so many times over the years, to all get on the same team and go in the same direction,” he said.

Once unified, Harvey said, Republicans can take the fight to the Democrats.

“Too often we have Republicans on their heels being defensive,” he said. “I assure you, if I am the chair, I will go after the Democrats and we will put them on their heels, and they will be on the defensive, and we will win those tight races.”

From among 10 candidates for Douglas County’s allotment of two state central committee bonus delegates, county Republicans picked Aldis Sides and Joe Nuñez, a former state representative and the husband of one of Colorado’s two Republican National Committee members, Lilly Nuñez.

McNulty’s endorsement of Murray drew some sidelong glances from the more conservative Republicans at the meeting.

“It was not good that Frank McNulty supported Rick Murray tonight,” said conservative organizer Crista Huff. “People were already suspecting he was in the RINO (Republican-in-name-only) camp because of his support for the FASTER taxes, and now he just firmly planted himself in the RINO camp. It’s not good.”

Appearing less than solidly conservative could have consequences in Douglas County, Huff suggested.

“Some of the people who make these things happen are talking about him having a primary next time,” she said.

Ernest@coloradostatesman.com