If you ask Ron Wolfe, the Republican mayor of Avon, Tom Stone has played a major role in marginalizing his party in Eagle County, where there was a Democratic sweep in November and the GOP trails in voter registration for the first time in recent memory.
And as Republicans continue to take stock of their defeats nationally and locally, there’s debate over whether Stone, a Realtor and former county commissioner, would be a better GOP party chairman than Dick Wadhams.
“If anything, [Tom Stone is] the Rush Limbaugh of Eagle County,” Wolfe told the Colorado Independent Tuesday. “I don’t think Tom had a history here of working well with anyone who was anything but super-, super-conservative.”
And Wolfe alleges that Stone and his wife Henri, who chaired the local GOP for several years, drove many moderates out of the party and as a result, laid the foundation for the Democratic Party’s November victories. Wolfe said moderates are needed at the local, state and national levels to get the Republican Party back on track. A recent Wall Street Journal/NBC poll showed just 26 percent of Americans view the Republican Party positively, an all-time low.
“The party needs to start putting up candidates that are viable and can get elected, and that means they have to be more moderate,” Wolfe said. “They can still be conservative, whereas Tom Stone, I would consider him to be a strident conservative.”
The state Republican Party will pick a chairman on March 21 at Douglas County High School in Castle Rock. Stone threw his hat into the ring Friday, saying the party needs a change in order to better communicate its conservative values.
Some state Republicans blame Wadhams for the GOP’s losses at the polls in November, where Democrat Mark Udall beat former Republican congressman Bob Schaffer, Democrat Betsy Markey ousted conservative Republican Marilyn Musgrave in the 4th Congressional District and Barack Obama routed John McCain in the race for the White House.
Wadhams has been criticized as being stretched too thin during the 2008 campaign, personally running Schaffer’s unsuccessful Senate campaign and also trying to manage a largely failed statewide campaign strategy.
Scott McInnis, a former Republican congressman from Grand Junction, touched off a firestorm last fall when he told the Colorado Independent he predicted that he could have beaten Udall but was thwarted by the “radical” elements of his party. Wadhams has repeatedly defended the party’s ideology and campaign tactics.
“I would be kind of shocked if the state Republican Party would choose Stone over Wadhams,” Wolfe said. “I mean, Wadhams is pretty strident himself, and Tom is further to the right than him.”
Stone did not return a call requesting comment.
But Eagle County Republican Party Chairman Randy Milhoan — who worked closely with Stone over the years during his stint as a county commissioner from 1998 to 2006 and more recently when Stone served as vice chairman of the local party — said Stone does work well with others while maintaining his core conservative values.
“To tell you the truth, I honestly don’t know between Tom and Dick politically what the differences are,” Milhoan said. “They’re both pretty conservative and they’re both pretty good at working with people and have a lot of experience in the political arena. Both of them are pretty conservative, and I feel fairly comfortable with both of them in that regard.”
Milhoan disagrees with Wolfe’s assertion that the party needs to moderate its tone before the next election.
“I don’t know what the Republican Party would gain by becoming a moderate party or a leftist party,” Milhoan said. “It would be just like the Democratic Party and it would be useless. That’s not what I believe in, and I think it would be a terrible move.”
Milhoan said he was surprised by Stone’s run for the state party chair, and that it will make for a tough choice March 21. Each county party casts three votes, with the local chair, vice-chair and secretary each weighing in.
Stone’s term as the local party vice chairman ended in February when the Eagle County Republicans picked three new vice chairs to replace him. If all three attend the party meeting March 21, their votes will count one-third of one vote.
One of the new vice chairs is former Vail Chamber and Business Association Executive Director Kaye Ferry, who quit last spring amid controversy sparked by comments to the Colorado Independent about “Front Range riff-raff.” She went on to run the unsuccessful but colorful statehouse campaign of Republican Ali Hasan.
Wolfe said the Stones and some of their tactics have contributed heavily to the local GOP chaos that led to defeat in virtually every race last November, although Milhoan contends the local GOP got caught in a perfect storm.
“Some of the people who were pretty good Republicans in the county here have switched to either independents or Democrats simply because they couldn’t subscribe to this kind of radicalism that existed in the local Republican Party,” Wolfe said.
After chairing the local party for several years, Henri Stone went on to found Eagle County Republican Women and now serves as a precinct committeewoman from Gypsum, where she and her husband live.
Henri Stone, also a Realtor, has been a very vocal critic of Democratic policy and politicians over the years. Leading up to last November’s election, she ruffled some feathers by posting political tirades on the Vail Board of Realtors e-mail list.
An example of one of those e-mails from October: “Obama is coming from a Marxist background and philosophy perpetuated by [community organizer] Saul Alinsky’s radical teachings. That is what Black Liberation Theology promotes.”