Roberts bristles at GOP caucus ‘pricks,’ cites primary threats

Another Republican lawmaker has stepped forward to complain that threats of 2010 primary challenges were wielded to muscle the results of House leadership elections last week. “I got a phone call, and it was suggested that if I would back out (of the caucus chair race), things could be easier or things could be harder,” state Rep. Ellen Roberts told PolitickerCO. The Durango Republican lost a bid for caucus chair on Thursday to the more conservative Amy Stephens of Monument.

Last week, state Rep. Bob Gardner of Colorado Springs said other members were threatened with primaries if they voted for him, rather than state Rep. Cory Gardner of Yuma, in the contest for minority whip, the No. 3 leadership post in the House Republican hierarchy. Bob Gardner lost the election to Cory Gardner (no relation), but went down swinging, lodging complaints about a “multidimensional” cabal that suckered him and Roberts into leadership challenges before pulling the rug out from under them.

Roberts, like the losing Gardner, declined to identify who strong-armed them and their colleagues, but told PolitickerCO it was “basically” the “same folks.” Last week, Gardner fingered state Rep. Frank McNulty of Highlands Ranch as a member of the group that first enlisted him and then turned on him in a thwarted attempt to unseat Assistant Minority Leader David Balmer of Centennial.

McNulty brushed off Roberts’ complaint the same way he dismissed Bob Gardner’s charges. “I wouldn’t even know who would’ve made that call (to Roberts), because it wouldn’t have made any sense. Because the votes were there in the caucus,” McNulty told PolitickerCO. “I think threatening primaries is a bad idea anyway,” he said. “You need to be able to win on your vote count, and that’s what Amy and Cory did, and they should be proud of it.”

Roberts first aired her tale of legislative intrigue in her Durango Herald “Life in the Legislature” column over the weekend. “I have learned the difference between a cactus and a caucus,” Roberts wrote, citing a political maxim attributed to Lyndon Johnson. “On a cactus, the pricks are on the outside.”

Roberts continued:

Within my own caucus of the House Republicans, what started as an effort by a few to protect the existing leadership, because they’ve treated us fairly and given committee assignments and positions based on merit, turned into a slick role reversal of the intended protectors portrayed publicly as the insurgents.

She went on to lament that her loss left the Western Slope unrepresented in House leadership positions in either party — a sleight remedied on Monday when presumptive Speaker Terrance Carroll named Democratic state Rep. Kathleen Curry of Gunnison as speaker pro tem.

On Monday, Roberts allowed that every politician faces the chance of a primary challenge, but underlined her point about the maneuvering that led to threats fellow Republicans might punish her with one:

“But again, I think it’s really important for the general public,” she (said). “I think as a Republican Party right now, it’s a really important message for people to hear, that we recognize that we have significant challenges within our party — both in terms of policies and leadership — and that we’re not all monkey-see, monkey-do.”