Election losses, party tumult and frustration driving effort to remove Colorado GOP chair

Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
Former Republican state Rep. Dave Williams.

Republican state central committee member Todd Watkins doesn’t seem like an obvious choice to spearhead the effort to try to remove Colorado GOP Party Chair Dave Williams from his leadership position. 

Watkins has long been active in political circles in Colorado Springs, and until a few months ago, was an ally of Williams. Watkins supported Williams’ election as party chair in 2022 and thought he was true to the Republican principles of smaller government, less taxes, and less regulation.

“But loyalty and fealty only goes so far,” Watkins told CPR News. 

Watkins said everything changed last January when U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn announced he was retiring and would not seek reelection in the 5th Congressional District in El Paso County.

“Dave called me himself to tell me that he was going to run for that office,” Watkins said. 

In recalling the conversation, Watkins said he told Williams the right thing to do is resign his position as party chair, “to go dedicate his efforts to his campaign. He said, ‘absolutely not.’”

On Wednesday Watkins submitted petitions from 25 percent of the roughly 400 central committee members to request a special meeting to seek Williams’ removal. 

“We're trying to restore, revive this party to get more membership and promote good governance,” he said.

Watkins points to the fact that Williams used Republican resources to promote his primary race against Jeff Crank. Williams ended up losing the primary by more than 30 points. Additionally most of the candidates the state party endorsed in contested GOP primaries also lost. Watkins said he wouldn’t have moved forward with the petition had the state party and Williams performed well. 

“If the Republican party voters, whether they're central committee or not, chose Dave and all those candidates, then I guess we would accept, perhaps we're wrong,” Watkins said.

The petition to oust Williams started circulating earlier in June in response to anti-LGBTQ Pride emails and social media posts from Williams, 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.

“The stuff he tweeted out about the Pride flag was disgusting. He profits off of loss and winnowing and destroying the Republican Party,” said Republican Kelly Maher, the head of Restoring Standards, a political action committee. She pushed money to Williams’ primary opponent Crank, and also filed a complaint with the Federal Elections Commission alleging that Williams and the party violated campaign finance law by improperly spending party funds to support Williams' congressional campaign.

“I really think that the way that Dave Williams has behaved during this entire thing is such an indictment on really his character,” Maher said. “But additionally, he's just absolutely gutted the Republican Party for his own congressional means.” 

Williams did not respond to a CPR News request about calls for his removal. He’s vehemently defended the Pride emails, and said he did not use party resources to help his own congressional campaign. On primary night, he blamed independent outside political groups for his loss, and said he would work to get all Republicans elected this November. 

Watkins said, under Republican state party rules, a special meeting must occur within 30 days. It would take a 60 percent vote of the central committee to remove a chair. There are about 400 people on that committee.

Republicans have fewer state legislative seats than any time in Colorado history, and hold no statewide elected offices. El Paso County Treasurer Chuck Broerman, who backed Crank in the CD5 primary race, said he hopes Williams uses his election loss for some introspection and that he learns to be less inflammatory.

“That's kind of been his hallmark for some time. We want people of all stripes to come together, but we have to do it in  a way in which we affirm our values and not divide people.”