Colorado GOP officials organizing recall effort against party chair over anti-Pride emails

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Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
GOP Chairman Dave Williams.

Some Colorado GOP officials and candidates are pressuring their leader, state party chair Dave Williams, to resign.

The push comes in response to anti-LGBTQ Pride emails and social media posts from the party, including one calling on people to “Burn all the #pride flags this June.” 

The messages were a final provocation for those Republicans exhausted by Wiliams’ already tumultuous tenure at the helm of an embattled and diminished Colorado GOP. With the state primary just weeks away, the anti-Pride emails appear to have ignited long-standing criticisms into an unprecedented public uprising against a state party chair.

Two candidates renounced the state party’s endorsement over the emails, and a coalition of local party leaders are also asking Williams to step down.

“We are calling for the immediate removal of Mr. David Williams, the Chair of the Colorado GOP, for continuing to incite hatred and further division in Colorado,” states a letter signed by local party leaders in Teller County, as well as Republican municipal leaders in the cities of Woodland Park, Cripple Creek and Victor. 

The head of the Jefferson County Republican Party Nancy Pallozzi also released a formal letter demanding Williams resign. And opponents have started gathering signatures to force a vote by the state central committee on whether to retain him as chair. 

“I did sign onto that, and I'm thinking there's probably a lot that did,” said Republican state Rep. Mike Lynch, who is running for the Republican nomination in the 4th Congressional District. “I would support a move to convene a meeting for the purpose of getting rid of Dave.” 

Williams’ focus on moving the party to the right and his policing of fellow-Republicans’ ideological purity has long divided party members.

“This was just kind of the straw that broke the camel's back, but this is not the egregious part of what he is done, if you ask me,” said Lynch of the anti-Pride emails. 

Lynch and many of the others who’ve seized on the emails were already vocally unhappy with Williams for discarding the party’s long-standing tradition of staying neutral in contested primaries. Under Williams, the party has endorsed some candidates, and shunned others (In Lynch’s race that endorsement went to GOP Rep. Lauren Boebert.)

Among those earning the party’s endorsement: Williams himself. Williams is currently running against Jeff Crank in the GOP primary for the 5th Congressional District. And while the party said Williams’ recused himself from the endorsement process in his race, his critics argue he’s used the party’s resources to boost his campaign.

Emails attacking Pride Month give critics a renewed platform to air their complaints 

“The month of June has arrived and, once again, the godless groomers in our society want to attack what is decent, holy and righteous so they can ultimately harm our children,” Williams wrote in the initial email.

The term “grooming” is used to describe the techniques child molesters use to entrap and abuse their victims, but in recent years it has been co-opted and used to attack the LGBTQ community.

Williams did not respond to CPR’s request for an interview Monday on the calls for him to step down and claims that he’s used the party to help his campaign. 

However, he continues to publicly stand by his remarks. A second GOP Party email, with the subject “No to Pride, Yes to Jesus”,  linked to a short YouTube clip of Williams at a recent debate, stating, “I do not care what some Pride organizers think about what we’re doing. What I care about is protecting our children. What I care about is advancing Biblical principles. And what I care about is what the Lord has to say.”

Most of the video’s comments were supportive of Williams’ stand against Pride. 

“Best debate answer EVER!!” wrote one person.

Former Republican state party chair Dick Wadhams, a longstanding opponent of Williams, called the emails “very damaging.” While Wadhams believes there is a legitimate debate to be had about how some schools handle transgender issues and parents rights, he thinks the messages destroy any credibility Republicans have on the issue.  

“The divisive and hateful email that he put out was just the latest in a series of actions he has taken since he got elected last year that are divisive and they're negative,” said Wadhams. “They're exclusionary. And that's been the theme of his entire chairmanship so far.” 

Wadhams said he hopes Williams is ousted.

Other Republican leaders, while condemning the email, are taking a more hands-off approach. Republican House Minority Leader Rose Pugliese declined to sign a petition seeking his removal. 

“I am really focused on the House, so I'm not taking a position on the petition,” she told CPR News. 

However, Pugliese said she doesn’t support statements like telling people to burn all Pride flags in June. “I also have family members who are gay and obviously I don't support divisive rhetoric.”

While party members debate whether to take action against their chair, the other question is how voters will view his attacks on Pride Month. The 5th District is the home to Club Q in Colorado Springs, the gay nightclub where five people were murdered by a gunman in 2022.

At a Walmart in Monument late last week, CPR News spoke with some Republican voters who  said the harsh rhetoric is a turn off. 

“I'm like, are you trying to kill the GOP party or what?” said Carol Ann, who declined to give her last name. The Colorado Springs resident called the anti-Pride email crazy and said she will be voting for Williams’ opponent, Jeff Crank. “I don't believe that stuff… It paints everybody with a bad brush.” 

Other GOP voters said they weren’t following the race closely, but would do more research on both candidates. Some said former President Donald Trump’s endorsement — which he gave to Williams — will factor in their decision on who to support.

In the congressional races, many — but not all — candidates want the party chair to go

CPR reached out to many of the party’s congressional candidates Monday about the anti-Pride email. Those who responded were deeply critical.

Five of the six Republicans running in the 4th Congressional District primary said Williams needs to go.

“The arrogance of our leadership in attacking any group of people is appalling,” wrote Jerry Sonnenberg in a statement to CPR News. “There are a number of men and women within each of the different communities that support the core Republican values and to demonize any group is just not what Jesus would do, contrary to our chair’s assertions.” Sonnenberg added he is one of those asking for Williams to resign. 

Valdamar Archuleta, the party’s nominee in the 1st Congressional District in Denver, who also heads the state’s chapter of the Log Cabin Republicans, was one of the first to condemn the emails. Last week he said he would decline the party’s endorsement.

CO-04 candidate Deborah Flora praised Archuleta — who has also endorsed her — for speaking out. She wrote on social media that she stands with him, “to represent all Coloradans, and rebuild our party by focusing on uniting, instead of dividing.” 

Fellow candidate Peter Yu stated, “I want to make clear that the anti-pride message issued by Mr. Williams is NOT representative of the republican party or republicans in Colorado. The anti-pride email was sent out by Dave Williams, and I do feel that Dave Williams needs to step down as Colorado State GOP Chair.”

Two other candidates in competitive GOP primaries, Stephen Varela, who’s running in the 3rd, and state Rep. Gabe Evans in the 8th, have also signed onto the Jefferson County recall petition, according to their campaigns.

Those congressional hopefuls endorsed by the state party, appear to be less eager to comment on the situation however. CPR News reached out to the campaigns of Rep. Boebert, vacancy election candidate Greg Lopez, CO-02 candidate Marshall Dawson, CO-03 candidate Ron Hanks, CO-06 candidate John Fabbricatore, CO-07 candidate Sergei Matveyuk and CO-08 candidate Janak Joshi for comment. None replied by the time of publication.

In an election year, candidates look to the state party to help with messaging and getting out the vote, and many of his critics said Williams’ tactics are hurting those efforts. “Dave Williams seems hell-bent on making our party smaller and less relevant,” 3rd District candidate Varela said in a statement.

Fellow CO-03 candidate Curtis McCrackin called for Williams’ immediate removal. He added Williams doesn’t represent him as a Republican or as a Christ follower. Another candidate in that race, Russ Andrews, called for unity within the party and said it should be appealing to a wider swath of voters to win elections. 

The fifth candidate in the CO-03 GOP contest, Jeff Hurd, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.