For the past four years, an intra-party brawl has fractured the GOP and frustrated its members.
Tuesday night’s primary results changed all that, according to some caucus members looking to return to the General Assembly in January.
Notably, several stalwarts of the party’s most conservative faction will not be back in 2023 and many candidates allied with them lost their contests on Tuesday night.
Here is the back story.
The 2018 election was disastrous for House Republicans. The “soft-money” committee tasked with maintaining the GOP’s majority on the state Capitol, Values First Colorado, raised $1.2 million but failed to defend five seats, and the GOP won. recorded a record deficit of 41-24. Values First Colorado kept more than $300,000 in its war chest — money scattered among several independent spending committees controlled by the minority leader’s brother, Rep. Patrick Neville, Joe. Caucus members complained that all that money should have been spent to help elect Republicans.
Yet Neville won re-election as Minority Leader with strong and continued support from longtime allies, such as Rocky Mountain Gun Owners (RMGO).
After failing to win a single seat in the 2020 election, the caucus, split between those who backed Rep. Hugh McKean of Loveland and those in the Neville camp, elected McKean as the next Minority Leader.
It was not easy. At the end of the 2021 session, McKean faced an uprising from the Neville camp, led by Reps. Ron Hanks of Canon City and Dave Williams of Colorado Springs, who called for a vote of no confidence on the final night of the session. McKean, who abstained, won hands down on a 15-8 vote.
That wasn’t the end of caucus unrest – intra-party feuds were most evident in the 2022 primaries.
Term limits and decisions by caucus members in Neville’s camp to pursue other opportunities, such as running for Congress, mean seven of the eight who voted against McKean won’t be back next year. The only member still aligned with Neville’s camp who will likely return in January is Rep. Stephanie Luck of Penrose.
“Voters rejected the most extreme candidates,” McKean told Colorado Politics. “This is the Republican Party the state of Colorado has been waiting for.”
What Tuesday night’s primary brought was balance, he said.
“People have forgotten about balance in government and what they want is an end to the most divisive rhetoric and political games,” he said, adding that the focus should be focused on helping families wondering how to pay for gas and balance their lives. budget in a context of galloping inflation.
“That’s where we saw the votes,” McKean said. “It was a cry for help from the families – we’ve had enough of partisan bickering, we want to hear ideas and how you’re going to fight for us.”
Every candidate backed by Rocky Mountain Gun Owners, the big-spending Neville faction-allied outside group this year, lost, McKean said, including his main opponent, Austin Hein.
“That should be a huge boost for normal people. The conversations we aired were the good ones,” he said.
Several lawmakers aligned with Neville’s camp could not be reached.
Rep. Colin Larson of Littleton, who also won his first night race against an RMGO-approved opponent, sees Tuesday’s wins as a new way forward for the caucus, saying he anticipates a more cohesive team than it has not been for the past four years. .
Sure Republican seat winners in Tuesday’s disputed primaries include Douglas County assessor Lisa Frizell, who took Neville’s seat; Anthony Hartsook, the first winner of limited-time representative Kim Ransom’s Littleton seat; and, Rose Pugliese, who will likely succeed Rep. Shane Sandridge of Colorado Springs, who opted out of running for re-election
The main opponents of Frizell, Hartsook and Pugliese have all received support from RMGO.
“The whole Neville/Williams/RMGO faction is gone,” Larson said.
Larson also applauds the top winners of the undisputed races, who he said will be part of a more collaborative House GOP caucus. He pointed to Rich Taggart, the CEO of multinational Swiss army knife Victorinox, in the home’s District 55, based in Grand Junction. That seat is currently held by Rep. Janice Rich, who won her primary on Tuesday night to succeed for the limited term. Senator Ray Scott.
Larson also cited Frizell.
“We’re bringing in a lot of ‘heavy’ people and a totally different animal from the last four years,” he told Colorado Politics.
The composition of the caucus leadership will also see some changes. He will need a new Deputy Minority Leader to replace Falcon Rep. Tim Geitner, who has opted not to seek another term. The most likely candidate for the position is Rep. Mike Lynch of Wellington, who made a name for himself in the 2022 session with his co-sponsorship of House Bill 1326, the new fentanyl law. Lynch argued for the re-criminalization of simple possession of fentanyl, although on the final day he voted against the final version because it lacked a “zero tolerance” approach to possession of the deadly eviscerating drug. many Colorado residents.
With Rep. Rod Pelton of Cheyenne Wells vying for the state Senate seat in southeast Colorado, a new minority whip will also be needed, and it will likely be Rep. Richard Holtorf of Akron.
Pugliese is likely to take the caucus chair job, according to Larson.
The different make-up of the GOP caucus is cheered from outside the chamber.
Tony Gagliardi, state director of the Colorado chapter of the National Federation of Independent Business, said he also expected a more unified caucus.
“We felt left out of the conversation because of the political realities,” Gagliardi told Colorado Politics, referring to the business world. “This cannot go on.”
Gagliardi said it had been very difficult in the past to work with a divided caucus, lamenting that some members were determined to pursue a more rigid political philosophy, instead of pragmatic solutions. As a result, he said, everything else has taken a back seat.
“I think it will be a lot easier for the business community, big and small, to work with the caucus. The members who were primary won their seats, and that sent a message to bring things together for a civil conversation. and honest and pass good politics,” he said.
Another round of big changes are likely for the bipartisan Joint Budget Committee.
It all depends, of course, on the Democrats‘ ability to hold on to the Senate.
Ransom has been the House GOP caucus representative on JBC for several years, but the caucus will need a new JBC member in January. Larson said he’s interested, but only if Republicans can take the Senate because he has no appetite to join a committee led by Democrats 4-2.
If the Republicans win a majority in the Senate, however, Larson has a lot of ideas he’s ready to work on and looks forward to working with Sen. Rachel Zenzinger, D-Arvada, on issues like funding for the education, especially for special education.
“She’s a collaborative negotiator, just like me. I’m excited about the prospect,” Larson said.
The fall elections and Denver’s looming mayoral race in 2023 could also bring about a new look for the JBC.
Zenzinger’s colleague in the JBC Senate, Sen. Chris Hansen of Denver, is among those believed to be on the shortlist for Denver’s 2023 mayoral election. So is Rep. Leslie Herod of Denver. . This could mean both leaving the JBC at some point. Current JBC Speaker Julie McCluskie of Dillon, whose name has been mentioned as the next Speaker of the House, is also said to have left.
Assuming Herod, Hansen and McCluskie move on to new roles, that would leave Zenzinger and Sen. Bob Rankin, R-Carbondale, on the budget committee.
Larson also pointed out that if the House GOP caucus meets in a new way, the reverse could be true across the aisle, given Elisabeth Epps’ primary victory in House District 6.
Epps, who is backed by several other members of the House Democratic caucus, will likely be part of a stronger progressive faction within the caucus, and not always one that could work in conjunction with establishment Democrats in the caucus. – or with the other party.