The Colorado Republican Party’s effort to win back top seats has been characterized nationally as a “gaffapalooza” and a “farce,” with many analysts pointing fingers at state GOP Chairman Dick Wadhams. Observers on the ground in Colorado, including GOP staffers and candidates, say that in the year of the Tea Party, Wadhams simply failed to properly vet candidates. The top-of-the-ticket false starts and shuffling have drawn plenty of attention and spawned mockery but the farce grows dark at the bottom of the ticket, where GOP candidates with criminal histories of violence and abuse dot the ballot.
GOP gubernatorial candidate Dan Maes, a Tea Party favorite who has suffered repeated embarrassing revelations about his past and who has been the target of bungled maneuvering by Wadhams, has become one of the leading voices calling for Wadhams’ ouster.
“Dick, you met your minimum obligations and, you know, we’re just gonna run through November 2nd and then Republicans can decide what they should do next year,” Maes told a talk radio audience last week.
It’s one of Maes’ positions with which an increasing number of Coloradans from all parts of the political spectrum agree, even his American Constitution Party rival in the governor’s race, former longtime Republican Congressman Tom Tancredo.
After the GOP primary in August, Tancredo announced he would run as a third-party candidate for governor, saying he was disgusted with the options the party under Wadhams had offered conservative voters.
“Look at this 2010 election season. It’s no secret where I stand,” he told the Colorado Independent. “I’m not arguing with Dick Wadhams anymore. What’s the point?”
Candidates with rap sheets
The problems for the GOP this year don’t stop at the top of the ticket, and they don’t stop with the chairman. Wadhams’ point-man in the state House campaigns, Rep. Frank McNulty, R-Highlands Ranch, played down the criminal histories of many of this year’s GOP candidates. He told the Denver Post he was unaware any of the candidates even had police records.
“This is the challenge of having ordinary people running for office,” he said.
A review of records that have drawn the attention of reporters and bloggers this fall (here, here, here and here) suggests that “ordinary” is a word only someone who processes rap sheets for a living might use to describe these men.
House District 31 Republican candidate Tom Janich last Friday called a press conference in his Brighton garage to talk about his history of arrests for violence. “I was in my twenties,” he said. “These were youthful indiscretions.”
Police reports document a history of violent confrontations with authorities. What he calls his “bad driving record” numbers five arrests, which include repeat instances of resisting, obstructing and assaulting police officers. In a fracas in 1983, Janich wreaked some $700 in damage to police uniforms and a squad car. After driving while intoxicated, he brawled with officers, throwing one against a squad car, wrestling with the two arresting officers, throwing punches and kicks. In 1989, he again brawled with officers outside a nightclub. He has served four and five days in jails in Boulder and Jefferson counties.
House District 25 candidate Edgar Antillon has drawn attention in the blogosphere for the YouTube gun-review website he runs in which he poses with assault weapons wearing a wrestling mask. Court records show he was arrested in 2004 for “criminal impersonation.” His history of court appearances over the last decade is a patchwork quilt of civil and traffic violations for which he repeatedly failed to appear.
More disturbing is the pattern of domestic abuse the records surface among the 2010 GOP state candidates.
Clint Webster, running for House District 24, was placed under a restraining order in the early 1990s by his ex wife. He said he lost his job because of her and threatened to murder her. “I’ll kill you if you don’t leave me alone,” he told his wife, according to police reports.
Webster was arrested after shooting at his wife twice when she visited his home with a friend. He missed them both. “What would have happened had you shot her?” the officers asked. “I would have went to jail,” he told the police. “She knows I’m upset with her and want to kill her and she shows up at my house.” Webster pled guilty to second-degree assault and felony menacing charges.
House District 9 candidate Bob Lane last year was charged with domestic violence and assault and was serving probation while running for office this year.
House District 46 candidate Steve Rodriguez was arrested in 1996 for third-degree assault and domestic violence. He pled guilty and served one year of probation. He paid $120 to victims assistance and compensation funds. He was soon divorced and his ex-wife filed and received a restraining order against him.
In 2003, House District 57 candidate Randy Baumgardner was slapped with a restraining order on charges of domestic abuse.
This record of violence and domestic menace is set against the fact that one of the key voting blocs being courted this year in Colorado as elsewhere is the so-called suburban mom demographic.
Political analysts say Wadhams has teamed bad political strategy with a negligence that puts the onus on the press and voters to do background checks on Colorado’s Republican candidates.
Colorado State University political science professor Kyle Saunders, who has written about past election seasons in Colorado, told the Colorado Independent that the strong Tea Party movement here has presented challenges to the GOP by establishing a rival power structure, especially in the early activist stages of the campaigns, but that the vetting problem can’t be pinned on the Tea Party.
“The Colorado GOP has had the hardest time of late picking the right candidates, vetting them, and helping them succeed. A decent-sized portion of that blame has to lay at the feet of Dick Wadhams,” Saunders said by email.
“One of the party organization’s most important jobs is candidate recruitment and vetting, and that all starts with Wadhams and the people he has chosen for his staff. Of course, no party organization is perfect; bad candidates sneak through now and again. However … the record we have seen in the 2010 cycle for the Colorado GOP can only be regarded as well beyond the pale.”
Wadhams “astonishingly ineffective”
Republican party 2010 staffers and operatives who spoke to the Colorado Independent on condition they would remain anonymous agreed that Wadhams has failed to vet candidates and hobbled the party.
“I think Wadhams has been astonishingly ineffective,” said one. “More than that, he has been an impediment to success. Chest-thumping obnoxious radio interviews do not make for great leadership.
“There’s a lack of organization and fundraising. The state party is broke. That can be extremely discouraging to our candidates who are playing catch up.”
The same staffer said that Wadhams spent more time this year trashing candidates than vetting them.
“He trashed McInnis. He trashed Buck. … Find me someone who Wadhams hasn’t trashed and I’ll show you someone new to town. Why didn’t he put people through the [vetting] paces instead? You’ve got to put candidates through the paces today. The online world is murder. If the party doesn’t find it, someone else will, and then it will be all over the media.”
Another longtime staffer said the “sheer level” of unknowns about the GOP candidates making it into the 2010 general election marks the year as distinct.
“The Democrats are way ahead of us on this stuff,” the staffer said. “They knew all about Maes. Every day it gets weirder and weirder. It’s really out of the ordinary to have these major candidates plagued by these kind of revelations.”
The staffer said there was no way he would have predicted this turn of events for Republicans given that the main argument against Barack Obama made by Republicans in 2008 was that Obama was an unknown political figure.
“We criticized the Democrats for running on emotion. That’s what we’ve been doing this year. You look at the Tea Party arguments. It’s all raw emotion. We’re running on hope and change.”
The test for Wadhams, this staffer said, was in fact not the top of the ticket races that are getting all of the attention but the races for the Colorado legislature.
“If Buck wins [his U.S. Senate race], you can attribute that to a national mood. The test for the party chair is at the state level, how he puts it together, what candidates he puts up, how he supports them. Look at that and you have to say Wadhams made a colossal mistake trying to meddle in those top races. He should have been focused on the state races and on fundraising and kept his eye on November.
“Vetting is the party’s responsibility, the ability to say, ‘This candidate is good for us’ or ‘This candidate is not the best option for us.’ If Democratic challengers can run circles around us based on our candidates’ histories, that’s a major mistake. We have to be able to say ‘These are the pros and cons about this or that guy.'”
Win or lose, however, most of the people who spoke to the Colorado Independent agreed Wadhams would not likely step down.
“My impression is that Wadhams is skating on very thin ice,” said CSU’s Saunders. “Wadhams serves by the leave of the Colorado Republican State Central Committee, and it is my understanding that they can make leadership changes at any time… That being said, it is also my understanding that Wadhams had been taking steps to consolidate power over the past years– and I know nothing about any credible threats to his leadership position, even after all of these messes.”
The staffers who talked to the Colorado Independent agreed.
“I don’t think Wadhams would ever step down,” one said. “Let me just put it that way.”[ 2010 Primary Night image of Buck and Wadhams, the Colorado Independent ]