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Nicolais: Colorado’s GOP county assemblies proved the party belongs to the fringe

Colorado's Republican Party is being driven to outlandish extremes, spurred by a host of debacles, rabble rousers and a felon

A few weeks ago I wrote that Republicans attempting to bar unaffiliated voters from participating in their primary elections were not the fringe of the party, but represent a substantial portion — possibly an outright majority — of the current Colorado GOP.

As if on cue, county assemblies across the state worked hard to prove me right last weekend. From botched delegate counts to rabble rousers beating incumbents to a violent felon all but assuring himself a seat under the Capitol dome, the weekend was nothing if not entertaining.

Mario Nicolais

Assemblies are the culmination of Colorado’s byzantine ballot access process. It begins in late February or early March in election years with caucuses. These are gatherings of a party’s most politically engaged members in local venues across the state. Attendance frequently moves in direct proportion to the political ax being ground.

From those attendees, delegates to various assemblies — county, congressional and state — are elected. A few weeks later, those delegates gather at the assemblies and vote to determine which candidates will be placed on the party primary ballot in June. 

The process is complex, it is easily manipulated and it is the reason we get some jaw-dropping results every election cycle.

This year, sitting House Minority Leader Hugh McKean failed to garner the 30% of the delegate vote necessary to be placed on the ballot. Or maybe he did? Larimer County had multiple problems running its assembly. Several races required multiple votes. In McKean’s case, he claimed 23 improper voters out of a total of 101.

That kind of percentage would make election officials blush in Cook County, Illinois or Jim Wells County, Texas. 

McKean requested the Larimer County Party chair declare the election illegitimate but did not push it any further after securing a spot on the ballot via a previously submitted petition drive.

Maybe McKean could have asked for a little help from Secretary of State candidate Tina Peters, who barnstormed across the state. She is an expert in screwing with ballot counts.

Despite facing 10 indictments, including felony charges that could put her behind bars for more years than a term of office, Peters received raucous applause from the gathered crowds. She has won over so many within the GOP that a few days later conservative Douglas County School Board Director Becky Meyers, a voting controversy magnet herself, took an aside during a school board meeting to declare Peters was “doing her job.”

At least Peters has only been indicted. In Colorado Springs Rep. Mary Bradfield lost her seat to a convicted felon. Karl Dent, no longer eligible to run for sheriff due to his conviction, won more than 70% of the delegate vote. Bradfield did not have a fallback plan like McKean, and now does not need to worry about campaigning any longer.

Given the overwhelming Republican makeup of the district, Dent is a shoo-in this November. It matters little that he has been accused of violent actions against women, child abuse and animal cruelty. In the current GOP the only qualification appears to be a willingness to engage in outlandish behavior, bloodlust rhetoric and fealty to the Big Lie.

Come next January, Dent and his criminal record will be sidling up to other legislators to set state policies.

READ: Colorado Sun opinion columnists.

I legitimately feel bad for friends still within the Colorado GOP struggling against this stream of absurdity. They seem to think they can keep the dam from breaking if they can just grow a few more fingers. Unfortunately, they are already tumbling down the canyon awash in a torrent of destructive candidates and conspiracy theorists.

The county assemblies last week proved it.

And those were just a prelude to the state assembly set for April 9. It will be worth stocking up on popcorn for that shindig.


Mario Nicolais is an attorney and columnist who writes on law enforcement, the legal system, health care and public policy. Follow him on Twitter: @MarioNicolaiEsq


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