In wake of Brown victory, Colorado GOP-Tea Party tango draws national press

In the wake of Scott Brown’s stunning U.S. Senate victory in Massachusetts, the New York Times this weekend sought to measure the evolving relationship between the mainstream GOP and the fired-up anti-establishment Tea Party movement, largely by recounting events that have taken place in Colorado over the past year. Kate Zernike builds her story around the rocky ride GOP candidates Scott McInnis and Jane Norton have endured as they have “strained to ride the Tea Party tiger,” as the headline to the story puts it. Not included in the Times report is the latest chapters in the story, which unfolded on the floor of the state Senate and in the Colorado blogoshere this week.

tea party

The Times story, however, only refers sideways to the fact that both McInnis and Norton– the former running for governor; the latter for U.S. senate– started out as distinct nonfavorites of the Tea Party groups. On the contrary, they are both archetypal establishment candidates.

McInnis is an attorney and a six-term former Congressman with unabashed ties to the oil and gas industry.

Norton was a member of Gov. Bill Owens’ administration and lieutenant governor for three years. She was also a state lobbyist for the health care industry and a leader in the unpopular Colorado campaign for conservative-light John McCain. Her connections to some of the nation’s most well-known corporate lobbyists in DC are well reported. Top K-street string-puller Charlie Black is her brother in law. Norton’s sister Judy Black is a lobbyist whose clients include companies in the finance, health care and oil and gas industries. Charlie Black worked for tobacco, oil, and drug companies for decades, moving back and forth between leadership positions at lobbying firms and Republican political campaigns and organizations. Judy Black was national co-chair of the 2008 fundraising group “Women for McCain.” Charlie left the firm BKSH & Associates the same year to work as senior adviser for the McCain campaign.

These are GOP kind of credentials, not outsider Tea Party kind of credentials. So Tea Partiers and grassroots conservatives howled when McInnis and Norton received early favorite status from the national party in their respective campaigns. Although the GOP primaries are not scheduled till August, Norton and McInnis were tagged frontrunners in the fall– Norton from even before she announced in September and McInnis after a November shakeup reportedly engineered by major conservative funders in the state. Out of nowhere, Senate minority leader and popular Tea Party gubernatorial candidate Josh Penry bowed out of the GOP primary without ever offering a full explanation. “Somebody’s got to be the adult and step back,” he told the press.

McInnis and Norton: Learning to like the taste of tea
McInnis and Norton: Learning to like the taste of tea

For Tea Partiers, among whom one of the main messages to lawmakers is “Listen to Me!” the events of the last half year on the mainstream Republican right in Colorado don’t look like democracy in action.

Which explains why McInnis is now touring Tea Party Colorado with state GOP chair Dick Wadhams and steering clear of any specific discussion of how he plans to balance the state budget if he were to win election. It’s a difficult topic for every lawmaker in the state but one complicated for McInnis by the fact that Tea Partiers have rallied behind three tax-slashing ballot initiatives that would dramatically alter the way government operates in the state, such as it is, i.e., struggling to cut billions in lost revenue from state programs and leaning heavily on federal stimulus funding to pay education employees and fix roads.

It also explains why Norton has made national news in her efforts to woo the Tea Party groups, appearing repeatedly in grainy YouTubes shot by a Democratic Party staffer in which she is either voicing radio-host style talking points seemingly designed to rattle mainstream voters or sitting idly by while her audience does the same. Norton told one group the President cares more about the rights of terrorists than the lives of Americans. She listened without objection to members of another group lament the President’s alleged anti-American closet Muslim faith. In an small-government discussion at an Alamosa restaurant, Norton called for the abolishment of the federal Department of Education. Norton has since barred the Democratic YouTuber from attending her events. Even if she continues to strain to ride the tiger, she doesn’t want to make an internet movie out of it!

In any case, the gains she may have made in the straining were likely all but wiped out this weekend. On Friday, the day before the Times story ran, Colorado Springs right-wing bomb thrower Michelle Malkin singled out Norton for abuse, reminding readers of Norton’s establishment taint.

While [John McCain] runs to the right to protect his seat, [his] political machine is working across the country to install liberal and establishment Republicans to secure his legacy…

In Colorado, McCain and his meddlers infuriated the state party by anointing former lieutenant governor Jane Norton to challenge endangered Democrat Sen. Michael Bennet. She’s a milquetoast public official who has served on a lot of task forces and GOP clubs – and who happens to be the sister-in-law of big Beltway insider Charlie Black. An estimated 40 percent of her coffers are filled with out-of-state money (and much of that is flowing from the Beltway).

The mini-McCain of Colorado claims to oppose “special interests,” but has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars from D.C. lobbyists at McCain’s behest – stifling the candidacy of strong conservative rivals led by grass-roots-supported Weld County District Attorney Ken Buck, an amnesty opponent whose aggressive illegal immigration prosecutions have earned him the rage of the far Left and big business Right.

Norton will have to brew up a lot more of that pungent anti-Obama / anti-government tea she’s been serving in Colorado if she intends to fully cover the taste of her insider bonafides.

Then last week the Tea Party tiger moved off the campaign trail to circle Republicans as they went about their business in the state legislature.

On a Senate bill tied to the Obama administration’s Race to the Top school funding program, which would translate to nearly $400 million in aid to Colorado’s schools, Republicans were divided in their vote. Seven hardline conservatives voted against the bill. A group of these seven then reportedly let it be known to Tea Party supporters that some of their Senate Republican colleagues had gone soft and voted for the big-government bill. Lists of names were sent out. The pro-Race to the Top GOP senators then reportedly caught hell in their home districts.

Was it the kind of Twitter-tattling to the Tea Party that will come to define the session for Republicans? Odds are high. Josh Penry, not the kind of minority leader who rules his caucus with an iron fist, isn’t even running for re-election. Neither is controversial Christian conservative Dave Schultheis from Colorado Springs. It could be free for all.

Look for the New York Times to dip back in a few months from now for the next installment in its story.

Got a tip? Freelance story pitch? Send us an e-mail. Follow The Colorado Independent on Twitter.

Comments are closed.