The Colorado GOP believes that focusing on rising crime and affordability will help them win elections in 2022.
But in spite of their messaging, the party is still facing factors that could work against them. Republican Mesa County Clerk Tina Peters was charged last week with 10 counts related to a breach of election security during the 2020 elections. She’s also running for Secretary of State, an office that oversees elections in Colorado.
Peters is one of many Republicans in Colorado who falsely believe the 2020 presidential election was stolen.
In response to the indictment, Colorado GOP Chairwoman Kristi Burton Brown released a statement calling on Peters to do what was best for the party and suspend her campaign. Peters released a defiant response, saying the call to suspend her campaign was a “knee-jerk reaction.”
In an interview with Colorado Matters, Brown did not comment further on Peters’ case, and said that election fraud is not an issue she wants Republican candidates to focus on.
This interview was edited for clarity and length.
Ryan Warner: Mesa County Clerk Tina Peters was indicted this week on 10 counts related to an election security breach. She's also one of the Republican candidates running for Secretary of State. You released a statement saying, "It is our belief that any Republican candidate indicted with felonies by a grand jury and who will be charged by a Republican district attorney should suspend their campaign while they undergo the legal challenges." Peters has responded with defiant statements calling your reaction “knee-jerk” — while also misspelling your name throughout her release. Have you spoken to her?
Kristi Burton Brown: I have, and I'm going to let this statement that we made speak for itself.
Warner: You won't speak to the conversation with Tina Peters?
Burton Brown: No, Ryan. I think we made it very clear that for the good of Republicans and conservatives everywhere, we need to focus on Republicans who can talk about the issues that voters are thinking about: inflation, cost of living, soaring crime in Colorado. That's what we need to focus on and we have made our statement on Tina.
Warner: Does it hurt the party if she stays in the race?
Burton Brown: I think we are the party of law and order. That's why I made the statement that I made. I believe that our candidates need to show that they believe in our law and order system and can provide real solutions and solve problems for Coloradans across the state.
Warner: In your statement, you note that Peters will be charged by a Republican district attorney. Would you have drawn a different conclusion if it had been a Democratic DA?
Burton Brown: Ryan, I'm not going to deal in hypotheticals. I think we are faced with this situation that we're faced with Tina Peters. And what I'm really focused on is our state assembly in the next month. We are so excited about the great slate of candidates we have running against Jared Polis, and against Michael Bennet. We have no primaries in our attorney general, treasurer and state Board of Education races; there are some excellent candidates who are going to solve problems for Colorado.
Warner: You talked about Republicans being the party of law and order. When you frame the notion of charges from a Democratic DA or a Republican DA, do you undermine law and order making that partisan distinction when it comes to district attorneys?
Burton Brown: It's a fact that the DA in Mesa County is a Republican. And I think what's really important, when we're talking about issues across Colorado, is what voters are most concerned about.
Warner: Like a number of Republicans, including former president Donald Trump, Tina Peters falsely claims that she is fighting widespread election fraud after the 2020 election. Court after court have not found any fraud in the election. Here in Colorado, there are risk-limiting audits that provide “a statistical level of confidence that the outcome of an election is correct.” How do you encourage Republican voters to participate in elections they may believe are fraudulent?
Burton Brown: Across the state we're seeing Republicans step up to the plate and get involved in doing the things that empowered citizens can do. Empowered citizens can be poll watchers, they can be election judges. The only way to lose an election for sure is to not cast your vote. Republicans all across Colorado are willing to get out there and make sure they cast their ballots [and] their friends cast their ballots. Then they're going to have their eyes in the room as poll watchers and election judges, and we should all want to see people acting as empowered citizens in that way.
Warner: As the State GOP Chair, are you trying to cool the rhetoric around false claims that the election was fraudulent?
Burton Brown: What I'm doing as the GOP Chairman is encouraging our candidates and our volunteers to talk about the issues that the average voter is concerned about, and that's not election fraud. People don't want to constantly dwell in the past, they want to dwell in the future. They want to figure out how to solve the cost of living in Colorado, bring more affordable housing to our state and support our kids with more educational options. Those are the issues we are actually talking about in the Republican Party.
Warner: I appreciate a distinction you made there saying that election fraud is not a kitchen table issue. If I'm to believe the press releases I get from Mr. Trump, he doesn't seem to think that's the case. Is there a portion of the Republican party that sees election fraud as a kitchen table issue?
Burton Brown: President Trump is not on the ballot in 2022. So, what we're talking about is Republicans here in Colorado — the people who are on our ballot and the races we are voting on, which unfortunately isn't the president. We don't have that choice [to elect a president] in 2022. What we do get to choose is our governor, our U.S. senator, our attorney general and a new State Board of Education seat. And so what we are focused on is local Colorado races.
Warner: Let's talk about the issues. As much as Colorado Republicans are running on messages of crime and affordability, these are also themes that Democrats are hammering as well. How do you differentiate?
Burton Brown: Let's take the gas tax as an example. Jared Polis, in his State of the State, said he wanted to save people money and postpone the gas tax that he campaigned for and signed into law last year when he wasn't up for reelection. Now that he's up for reelection, he wants to delay his own gas tax. Republicans want to repeal it and get rid of it permanently because it never should have passed in the first place. It was a one-party policy that's hurting average working families.
We see the same thing with crime where Democrats, back in 2014, decriminalized auto theft, and in 2019, decriminalized fentanyl. And we see Colorado being number one state in auto theft, number two in the nation in fentanyl overdose deaths because of these Democrat-led, Democrat-run anti-victim policies that promote crime across our state.
Warner: “Decriminalized” is a generalization. It's still a crime to steal a car, and possession of fentanyl under a certain amount is a misdemeanor, but you think that those penalties should be stiffer. If Republicans were in charge, would you make reforms in that arena?
Burton Brown: One of the definitions of decriminalize is to reduce the penalty, and that's exactly what the Democrats did, both on auto theft and we are seeing a similar trajectory with fentanyl. No, Republicans would not have passed those policies.
Warner: Last year, Kristi, Colorado’s Republicans unveiled their message for Coloradans at a gas station, hammering Democrats on gas prices. Fast forward to now, given how tied gas prices are to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, is that a message that the GOP will stick with?
Burton Brown: Oh, absolutely. Average working families are hit with gas prices and grocery prices, and you saw inflation go up to 7.9 percent today, and it is hitting families where it hurts all across Colorado. When we look at gas prices, you're right. We had our press conference at a gas station last August, the Democrats and the media largely made fun of us for it, and now what is everyone talking about? Exactly what we were talking about last August. Gas prices that are crushing the average family. And gas prices increased by 48 percent well before the Russian invasion under Joe Biden and Jared Polis' Democrat policies that have cost our families more money every day in Colorado.
Warner: Given how many factors contribute to both inflation and the cost at the pump, is it lacking nuance to put that entirely at the feet of two politicians?
Burton Brown: I'll put it at the feet of the entire Democrat Party in Colorado. Every single one of them can share blame for the policies that they have slammed through at the legislature. Despite constant testimony from average citizens who have gone up to the legislature and practically begged their representatives not to pass these bills. They did it anyway over the course of 10 years of Democratic control in our state. That's why now if you look at polling, voters are saying they want to bring balance back to Colorado. One-party control of our state is not representative of the independent-minded thinking that Coloradans share.
Warner: I will point out that the gas tax hike never went into effect; it was not reflected in gas prices. Inflation, again, is multifactorial, but what would a Republican legislature or governor do to bring inflation under control?
Burton Brown: There are so many solutions that Republicans would bring [to the legislature] to bring inflation under control. They’re outlined in a 44-bill package that our Republicans in the legislature laid out on the first day of session: tax cuts and fee cuts, the repealing of multiple Democrat bills that have raised prices throughout Colorado. Anyone can go to [our website] and read through that 44-bill package. That's what we're doing as Republicans this year: not just complaining about what the Democrats have done — we all can see how they have devastated our state — we are providing solutions and being problem solvers on these issues.
Warner: “Devastated our state.” You paint an almost apocalyptic picture of Colorado right now.
Burton Brown: Ninety percent of Coloradans are worried that inflation is only going to continue to rise. Moms like me — I have two kids: an 11-year-old and an 8-year-old — we're worried about the ability to continue to put good food on our table, to afford the gas we need in our cars. And you see the Democrats like Pete Buttigieg in Joe Biden's administration telling us all, we should just go buy electric cars if we're worried about the cost that we're having to pay. That is completely elitist and out of touch. I don't know about you and everyone listening, but I don't have $56,000 to just go buy an electric car and hope that solves all my problems.
Warner: Let’s talk about climate change. Polls show that there is growing concern around climate change. We have seen prolonged drought and more extreme weather like the Marshall fire, which was deadly and devastating. If Republicans were to gain control in Colorado, would climate change be on the agenda?
Burton Brown: One of the 10 key issues that we are focused on is conserving our environment. We are extremely concerned about having clean air and clean water for our children. We absolutely believe in conserving our environment, stopping wildfires, managing Colorado's water rights and keeping water here in Colorado where it belongs. I think the difference between our environmental policies and the Democrats’ [policies is] they continue to stomp down innovation. We believe that innovation creates more answers on the energy front. I think the Russian attack in Ukraine, and everything that's involved in that, also illustrates the difference in our parties. Joe Biden is willing to go buy gas from Iran and Venezuela, more foreign dictators instead of finding [oil and gas] here at home in Colorado.
Warner: Under the Biden administration, there has been record oil and gas drilling on federal lands.
Burton Brown: Well, Joe Biden also shut down the Keystone Pipeline on his first day in office, and Michael Bennet and John Hickenlooper voted against sanctioning the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, which could have prevented Russia's actions in Ukraine. So basically our Democrat senators from Colorado chose Russian oil over American oil and I think that's very disturbing.
Warner: I asked you about climate change and you said there needs to be more drilling domestically. Those two things are at odds — square them for me.
Burton Brown: Even Elon Musk, who created the electric vehicle, is out there saying that despite the fact that we need to move to more clean energy in America, there's also the fact right now that we still do need oil and gas. And we do have to get it from America, we need American energy independence.
Warner: Musk did not invent the electric car, but he is responsible for Tesla, an electric car. So candidates on the left and the right are lining up to challenge Republican Congresswoman Lauren Boebert in the third congressional district, which includes Grand Junction and Pueblo. What do you make of the Republicans seeking to unseat a first-term incumbent?
Burton Brown: As the state party, we are neutral in primaries and so I think that race will play itself out. I think what's important for people to [do is] look at Congresswoman Boebert's bills, the bills that she has sponsored in the legislature that really speak to the needs of her district. CD3 is not a statewide office, it's specific to the Western Slope and wraps around Pueblo like you mentioned. And that district has some very specific issues dealing with forest management and wildfires and water rights. Congresswoman Boebert has written and proposed multiple bills that really seek solutions to those issues in her district.
Warner: You're saying, "Look at her bills," instead of her behavior? There's a fairly long list of people Congresswoman Boebert has offended, frankly: A Jewish delegation touring the U.S. Capitol; a Colorado actor who was cast in the movie, “Rust”; she heckled President Joe Biden during the State of the Union, just as he was about to invoke his late son; and she routinely baits transgender people with her language. Kristi, does Boebert reflect the soul of Colorado's GOP in terms of character?
Burton Brown: I believe there are so many Republicans across the state who speak for their own districts. Congresswoman Boebert is well-loved in CD3. She connects with her voters and they elected her by a wide margin in 2020. [Editor’s note: in the 2020 election, Boebert received 51.39 percent of the vote, while Democrat Diane Mitsch Bush received 45.22 percent of the vote.] She's up for election in 2022 and voters always have that choice [to reelect her]. There's no one person in the Republican Party that is the only spokesperson for the party. We are a diverse state, we have diverse districts, and I think we need to respect that in the people we choose to represent us.
Warner: Do you like her rhetoric?
Burton Brown: I know Lauren Boebert personally, and I think she is a genuine person who really wants the best for the people in her district. I think often people are so focused on personalities and exact phrases that they don't really go look at the meat of what someone does and how they work for the people in their district. When we talk about politics, [we need to] bring the rhetoric down and talk about what people do to deliver for their districts. That's why I encourage people to go look at the bills she runs, look at the work she's doing, look at the stakeholder meetings she's having in her district as she serves her people.
Warner: Do you want to point to one of those bills?
Burton Brown: There's a whole list of them, actually in an article published in one of the Aspen papers that I gave comment to. I couldn't tell you the number off-hand, but there's a wildfire prevention bill, a water rights bill specifically dealing with the environmental issues on the Western Slope.
Warner: I would like to talk about the congressional district that is brand new in Colorado: the 8th District includes Denver's northern suburbs and stretches to Greeley. I'll note it's the district with the highest percentage of Hispanic voters in Colorado. How is the GOP gearing up to try and win it?
Burton Brown: We're absolutely thrilled about the opportunity to compete in the new congressional district 8th. It's a prime opportunity for Republicans to pick up another congressional seat in Colorado. I think it's very encouraging that it has a 38 percent Hispanic population. In 2020, we did see Republicans lose statewide races in the Denver Metro Area, but one area where we increased our vote margin was in Commerce City because of the Hispanic population. They came over and voted for Republicans in greater margins than they have in the past. I think we're going to see that repeated in CD8 and in other Latino populations across Colorado. The values the Hispanic community has are the values we have as a Republican Party.
Warner: Several Republicans in the state have filed a lawsuit to try to close the party's primary to unaffiliated voters. Do you support that effort or do you think that primary should be semi-open?
Burton Brown: That's a lawsuit that the Colorado GOP is not involved in. The people bringing that [lawsuit] are representing specific Republicans who share that viewpoint and I think we will see it play out in court.
Warner: Am I to understand that the party does not take a stance on whether the primary should be open or closed?
Burton Brown: The party is just flat out not involved in that lawsuit. We will see it play out in court.
Warner: Kristi, thank you so much for your time. I appreciate it.
Burton Brown: Thank you, Ryan. Good to be with you.
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