Picked up the mail the other afternoon and there was one of those irritating little notices sandwiched between the bills and the junk mail. I had a certified letter, return receipt requested, from the El Paso County Republican Party. Say what?
It was a formal notification of my expulsion from the GOP. Just as Adam and Eve were cast out of the Garden of Eden, I was cast out into the political wilderness, a dread and drear landscape, inhabited only by lib’ruls, gays, abortionists, treehuggers, atheists, gun-haters, feminists, pornographers, union members and Hollywood sleazemeisters. Imagine my dismay — what had I done to merit such a fate?
I read the letter — written, I think, in letters of fire — spelling out the reasons. Thus spake Terry Kunkel, the avenging angel, on earth known as the chairman of the El Paso County Republicans:
“It has been brought to the attention of the El Paso County Republican Party that during the past General Election you publicly supported the Democrat candidate in House District 18 as well as other Democrat candidates.”
Pursuant to the El Paso County Republican Bylaws (Section 8.03F4) “public support for any candidate opposing the Republican nominee in a General Election is grounds for removal from the position of Precinct Committeeperson.”
“A five member panel has been organized to discuss the evidence provided and your removal. After careful consideration of the allegations and evidence, the panel has concluded there is sufficient evidence and cause for your removal …”
Alas, I have no defense. They’re right — I did indeed publicly (and privately, in the voting booth) support those devil-spawned Democrat candidates. I’ll take my punishment like a man — no more Republican caucuses for me!
But I’d like to share a few thoughts about the whole faintly ridiculous episode, because it so perfectly illustrates why Colorado Republicans continue to lose ground to Democrats.
Leaving aside the pompous, mock-judicial content of the letter (“A five-member panel has been organized …”) and its self-important tone, it’s simply a transparent ploy to remove anyone from party office, however petty, who doesn’t toe the party line. And the party line, in this case, is that of the right-wing fringe.
I’ll admit that I’d be more inclined to believe in the fairness and impartiality of the process if I didn’t know a little history. Other than “Proven Moderation”, no action, however dastardly, will get you removed from party office.
Consider the case of Ronald Sherman, a precinct committeeman and assembly delegate in 2002. In 2003, Sherman pleaded guilty to the notorious torching of the local IRS office. Apparently, he drove the arsonists’ getaway car and testified against them. He kept his party post — although he may have had a little difficulty getting to the caucuses (jailers are so unsympathetic!)
The three Dems that I supported (Bill Ritter, John Morse, and Mike Merrifield) all won their races by 60-40 margins — a landslide in anyone’s book. I voted for them for the same reason that I voted for Republicans Marcy Morrison, Sallie Clark, Hank Brown, Bob Isaac, and a dozen others.
I voted for them because they seemed smart, reasonable, non-ideological and interested in dealing with the nuts and bolts of government, rather than being a nut in the government.
Such Republicans are a vanishing breed. Locally, we’re represented by fierce and fervent ideologues such as Dave Schultheis, Amy Stephens and Kent Lambert. Their brand of preachy conservatism is increasingly unappealing to Colorado voters, who have utterly transformed the state’s political landscape in half-a-dozen years.
Go back a couple of decades. Colorado Springs was represented at the statehouse by shrewd, pragmatic, and eminently practical men — Chuck Berry, Ray Powers and Mike Bird come to mind. They led the legislature and led the state. They knew when and how to compromise, and they knew how to make deals with the business-friendly Democrat who sat in the governor’s chair.
They’re gone now, as are their counterparts Norma Anderson, Tilman Bishop and Bev Bledsoe, who helped create enduring Republican majorities in the legislature.
Those majorities have evaporated, for two simple reasons.
The Dems figured out that traditional liberals couldn’t win elections in any but overwhelmingly Democratic jurisdictions. The party changed — no more cerebral, out-of-touch lawyer/professor/activist candidates. They were replaced by tough-talking, down-to-earth populists, many with law enforcement backgrounds.
Here’s what Pueblo representative Buffie McFadyen said to a reporter from Time magazine a couple of weeks ago.
“… the right’s gone so far to the right, you can’t recognize them anymore. When the wingers accuse me of being a liberal, I say, sure, if you mean that I’m in favor of staying out of people’s private lives and balancing the budget and I’m against stealing.”
And when the Democratic candidate for governor is a pro-life career prosecutor who grew up poor in a family of 12, it’s clear that the world has changed.
Democrats learned a lesson. If the voters don’t like your ideology, they won’t vote for you. They’re not going to change — you have to. So Colorado Democrats have returned to their roots, to the days of Congressman Wayne Aspinall and Sen./Gov. “Big Ed” Johnson.
But Republicans, who for years beat up on the stubborn, self-righteous liberals who symbolized the Democratic party, didn’t notice the earth shifting beneath their feet.
The party moved toward the hard right. Today, the remaining Republican elected officials are from safely conservative districts. They’re as stubborn, self-righteous and uninterested in compromise as were the now-extinct firebrands of the left.
So, Terry, here’s a suggestion.
If you want to become the permanent minority party in Colorado, just do exactly what you’re doing. Spend your time on nonsensical little purges and make sure that only the true believers participate in party activities. Rigidly enforce party discipline — that’s a lot more important than winning the statehouse, isn’t it?
And make sure that the legislative delegation is far more interested in posturing and preening than in making deals with the majority — after all, holding a press conference on the evils of abortion is a lot more important and ego-satisfying than trying to get more transportation money for Colorado Springs.
Oh, and continue to believe that Douglas Bruce has Godlike qualities, and support whatever he supports. And finally, don’t pay any attention to the business community.
After all, they supported Referendum C and even invited Gov. Bill Ritter to speak to the Chamber of Commerce last week.
I mean really — what were they thinking??!! Don’t they know he’s a Democrat?
John Hazlehurst can be reached at John.Hazlehurst@csbj.com or 227-5861