Colorado Republicans pick former state Rep. Dave Williams to lead party

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Former Republican state Rep. Dave Williams.

Colorado Republicans have selected former state Rep. Dave Williams to lead their party for the next two years, as the GOP tries to chart a path forward following several rounds of steep election losses, culminating in the lowest number of members at the Colorado legislature in state history. 

Williams defeated six candidates, including former Mesa County Clerk Tina Peters, who eventually threw her support behind Williams. He thanked her after his win. Peters is awaiting trial on charges that she broke the law while violating the security of her office’s election equipment.

By the third round of voting, only Williams and former 7th Congressional District candidate Erik Aadland remained in the race. That round wrapped up with Williams getting 55 percent of the vote. 

He told assembled party members that the Republican Party in Colorado is at a historic crossroads and it’s time to chart a new course, unleashing the full potential of the conservative grassroots movement.

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Former state Rep. Dave Williams at the state GOP gathering in Loveland, March 11, 2023.

“Here's the truth that the fake news media, crooked politicians, and the failed consultants won't tell you,” Williams said in his speech at the Embassy Suites Convention Center in Loveland, “our party can win again, but only if we first reject their failed leadership and go on offense.”

Williams, who is Latino and lives in Colorado Springs, served six years in the state legislature before mounting an unsuccessful primary challenge against congressman Doug Lamborn last year. He tried to include the anti-Biden slogan ‘Let’s go Brandon’ as his nickname on the ballot, but was denied by a judge. 

Saturday’s GOP reorganization meeting was held in the shadow of ongoing electoral losses. Democrats currently hold every statewide office and five of Colorado’s eight congressional seats (and came within 546 votes of claiming a sixth). 

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Priscilla Rahn was re-elected to serve as vice chair of the Colorado GOP at the party's gathering in Loveland, March 11, 2023

In December, Kristi Burton Brown, the party’s first female chair, decided not to seek a second term, opening the race up to candidates who vowed to move in a different direction. Almost all of the seven who made it to Saturday’s meeting came from the party’s right wing, while the party members doing the electing were a mix of current and former Republican officials, local party officers and conservative activists.

During the meeting, members also reelected Priscilla Rahn as vice chair.

In laying out his plan to help the party find its way back to power, Williams told the crowd that he doesn’t believe Republicans have a brand problem. Instead he blamed “feckless leaders who are ashamed of you.” He said too many Republicans constantly apologize to the media and Democrats for Republican values.

Williams pledged to be a wartime leader, rallying party members “as we march against the crooked Democrats to expose them as out-of-touch and corrupt.”

Williams’ election brings most conservative wing of party to greater power

While at the Capitol, Williams was among its most conservative lawmakers, introducing bills to ban abortion, punish local governments that provide services to undocumented immigrants and protect business owners who refuse potential customers because of their religious beliefs. All of those measures failed to advance in the Democratic controlled house. 

“I think in the legislature he really proved (he would) stand firm and strong for Republican and conservative values,” said Republican state Rep. Brandi Bradley of Douglas County, who backs Williams.

Williams has also been a staunch supporter of controversial El Paso County GOP Chair Vickie Tonkins, which has led him to butt heads with other El Paso County elected officials who wanted her to step down. Tonkins recently won reelection for a third term.

Republican State Sen. Larry Liston of El Paso County didn’t attend Saturday’s meeting because he said there wasn’t a candidate he was passionate about. But he said with Williams’ win he’ll be less active in the party.

“I won’t donate money and I won’t encourage others to donate money,” said Liston, who has been a strong opponent of Tonkins. He sees it as a loss for the state to have someone like Williams, who he considers so divisive and out-of-touch, running the party and he worries that under Williams, the Colorado GOP will be a less robust check on Democratic overreach. 

“Do we want to go from purple to blue to deep blue? I don’t think so,” he said.

Several other longtime Republican lawmakers also expressed disappointment in Williams’ selection.

But Sandra Lull of Loveland, who attended the meeting but is not a voting member, sees Williams as a good choice. She said she liked all the candidates and wants the new chair to help unite the party. 

“We've been shamed since the Trump movement, I guess you'd say. People want to label people now, where they want to put us in a box.” Lull said everyone should have their own freedom, and be left alone by the government. 

Williams said one of his top goals is to close the Republican Party’s primary elections, which he doesn’t think should be open to unaffiliated voters. He’s concerned liberal-leaning unaffiliated voters — and Democrats who drop their affiliation — could use the state’s open primaries to knock out GOP candidates they don’t like, as some tried to do in Congresswoman Lauren Boebert’s race last year. Colorado opened primaries to unaffiliated voters through an initiative in 2016.

Not all Republicans agree with that approach. 

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Former Weld County Clerk Steve Moreno at the party's leadership gathering in Loveland, March 11, 2023.

“You close our primaries and you're shutting down the voters and unaffiliated voters, then you're gonna go to ask for their support in the general election?” asked former Weld County Clerk Steve Moreno. “It's like, why would you not want to gather that vote, at the very beginning, all the way through to the general election?” 

Moreno declined to say who he backed in the contest for chair, but did say he doesn’t want Republicans to continue to push election denialism and hopes the party can move past differences and unite behind candidates. 

Morgan County GOP chair Dusty Johnson also wants to keep primaries open to unaffiliated voters. She said there are a lot of voters on the Eastern Plains who have conservative values but don’t want to join the Republican Party. 

“Those are the issue voters, not the party voters. So I want to include them, and just not close out those people,” she said.

Former Larimer County Republican Party chair Bob Morain said he’s tired of litmus tests and Republican infighting, referring to Republicans who blast candidates for moderating on any issue, including abortion.

“There are those who won't support a candidate if they moderate that position a little bit,” he said. “So that's the ironic part. The thing that unites us the most, the principles we believe in the strongest, are the ones that end up dividing us.”