Colorado House Majority Leader Stephens under siege from the right

(Image: Flickr/John Dalkin)

Colorado House Majority Leader Amy Stephens is feeling the heat – not from sweltering summer temperatures but instead from the sizzling tempers of Republican “anarchists” who think the Monument legislator has violated conservative and constitutional values. They seem bent on anointing a warrior to defeat Stephens in 2012 – the frontrunner appears to be Kanda Calef.

Stephens’ foes are fuming over SB11-200, the “Health Care Exchange” bill that she co-sponsored with Senate President Pro-tem Betty Boyd and the Monument Republican’s vote for HB10-1365, the “Clean Air – Clean Jobs Colorado” bill. Both bills, Stephens said, assert states’ rights over federal mandates.

Rep. Amy Stephens
“There are many people who have encouraged me to run against her,” said Calef, who refused to name a single supporter.

It would seem logical to assume state Sen. Kent Lambert and former state Sen. Dave Schultheis, Republicans of Colorado Springs, are among those secret supporters. Both have railed against the health exchange bill dubbed “Amycare” by opponents.

“I don’t really know them,” said Calef, who had worked as a legislative aide to Lambert and Sen. Kevin Lundberg of Berthoud.

“What I meant is that I don’t know if they like me,” she said.

Calef said she’d also worked for Rep. Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling. She didn’t mention that she was a legislative aide to Stephens as well as Sonnenberg in 2008. When that situation fizzled after three weeks, Calef was reassigned to Lambert and Lundberg.

Lundberg and Lambert serve as chairman and co-chairman, respectively, of the Republican Study Committee of Colorado, a nonprofit organization of legislators registered with the Colorado Secretary of State’s office by Schultheis. Though the former state senator chose not to seek re-election in 2010, he has remained ardently involved in the RSCC.

In an interview earlier this year, Schultheis expressed dissatisfaction and dismay over the RINO legislators – his “Republican in name only” list included House Speaker Frank McNulty of Highlands Ranch and Stephens. The RSCC lost a third of its members in March in part because of its rigid assessments of Republican legislators’ votes and bills.

After the Colorado Independent story about Schultheis and the conservative Republican legislative group and the weekly assessment of bills – noting either “DOES support RSCC principles” or “DOES NOT support RSCC principles” – the RSCC website added a disclaimer.

“The following individuals and organizations have provided inputs, regular feedback, or helped with some or all of analyses of the Project: RSCC Executive Director Rich Bratten; Rich Barnes; Bears Ears Tea Party Patriots, Craig, CO; Amy Oliver; Judith E. Schmalz; Tri-County 9/12 Project for Western Colorado; Western Slope Constitutional Patriots; Colorado Tea Party Alliance; Kenneth R. Clark; Host Grass Roots Radio; Colorado Field Director Freedom Works; Al Maurer, The Patriot Today; Liberty Watch; Michelle Morin; Coalition for a Conservative Majority, Colorado Springs; Robert Rowland, Chairman Elbert Tea Party/912; Ginni Selby, Co-Chair Western Slope Constitutional Patriots; Clem Borkowski, Precinct Leader, Central Committee Member, LibertyEvents.org; Broomfield 912; Colorado Tea Party; Gadsen Society of Colorado; Hear Us Now; Jeff Wright, Pikes Peak Economics Club; Evergreen Tea Party; William M. Banta, Esq.; Tea Party Colorado; Lu Busse, 9-12 Colorado Coalition; Managing Editor of The Patriot Today; Lizabeth Matz Founder, Western Slope Constitutional Patriots, Delta, CO.”

It’s a sampling of what Schultheis and his supporters describe as the GOP grassroots majority. There’s a deep chasm between that GOP wing and mainstream Republicans, who are more often called “elitists” or “old guard” than “grassroots” party members. The fracture is evident in county Republican parties and the looming HD 20 race that potentially pits Stephens against Calef, or another emerging candidate under the watchful eye of Schultheis and Lambert.

In May, Schultheis participated in a rally against the health care exchange at the Classical Academy – a hop-skip from Focus on the Family where Stephens had worked in communications before her election to the House in 2006.

The forum was sponsored by Citizens Legislative Action Committee, We the People, Liberty on the Rocks, El Paso County Tea Party, Coalition for a Conservative Majority and the 9-12 Pikes Peak Patriots.

Lambert took to the stage, Schultheis sat in the audience and Calef talked liberally to reporters and bloggers. It wasn’t a media debut for Calef who most recently appeared on Grassroots Radio Colorado and blasted the El Paso County GOP for a closed meeting of the party’s executive committee on July 7.

The committee considered sanctions against county GOP Secretary Sarah Anderson who had criticized Stephens and the health care exchange bill in a newspaper interview. Interestingly, when Anderson ran for party secretary, she was nominated by Schultheis and Lambert.

Though the executive members reportedly agreed to keep the meeting confidential, Calef went on Grassroots Radio Colorado and dished intimate details culled from committee members sympathetic to Anderson.

“It’s the old guard protectionists who want a stranglehold on the party versus grassroots people like me,” explained Calef. “It wasn’t Sarah Anderson who went off the reservation, it was Amy Stephens… Amy was behind the gag order resolution” to close that portion of the meeting.

“That’s hogwash!” declared Rep. Larry Liston, R-Colorado Springs, a member of the county GOP Executive Committee. “Not one member of the committee objected to the closed session. Amy had nothing to do with that decision – she wasn’t even there.”

Some Republicans say it’s crazy to gamble the GOP’s resources on a race to oust Stephens who has swiftly risen to power in the House. It distracts from winning more state legislative seats or worse, it risks the GOP’s one-seat majority in the state House.

“We have a razor thin majority in the state House,” said Buddy Gilmore, former El Paso County GOP Executive Director and Colorado Springs mayoral candidate. “We need to focus on winning more seats in 2012 and defeating (Democratic President Barack) Obama.”

“The problem is that we’ve got a bunch of antagonists that are pushing to split our party – Schultheis is behind a lot of this friction,” said Gilmore.

Neither Schultheis nor Lambert returned calls for comment.

Stephens said she’s more concerned about winning elections next year than assaults on her character by activists who live in an “echo chamber” – blogging, twittering, emailing to their loosely knit compatriots.

“I have two goals: grow the majority in the state House and defeat Obama in 2012,” said Stephens. “I’m not focused on the ‘Schultheises’ of the world – I’m determined to get Republicans elected, especially strong women. That may shock Dave Schultheis!”

Obviously, Calef isn’t on Stephens’ list of women candidates.

“Amy Stephens feels threatened by me and my supporters, and calls us anarchists,” asserted Calef. “I’m not anti-government. I believe the real role of government is protecting individual rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

Calef is serious about waging a campaign for HD 20, but she said that her house will be located in HD 19 instead of HD 20 on the new reapportionment maps. She wondered if the change was influenced by Republicans who don’t want her to run.

“It shows the fear of Stephens and the old time Republican guard,” declared Calef.

Stephens gasped, “That is ridiculous! It sounds like a conspiracy theory. No one colluded with me.”

Contrary to Calef’s assertion, her home is located in HD 20 on the latest reapportionment map proposal.

The newly launched “noamystephens.com” website, “dedicated to dethroning the queen,” hammered Stephens for the Health Exchange and Clean Air – Clean Jobs bills. Untrue was the claim that she had voted for the FASTER bill that raised car registration fees in 2009 to fund infrastructure improvements.

The website and Facebook page are registered under the alias Sam Adams – a reference to the American Revolution leader or the Boston brewed beer named for him. Facebook friends include Schultheis, county party Secretary Anderson and her boyfriend Matt Arnold of Clear the Bench, Moms4Freedom blogger Michelle Morin, Robin Coran and county party Vice Chair David Williams.

Schultheis wrote on his Facebook wall, “Just discovered this ‘hit’ website on Amy Stephens.” Later he clarified, “I have nothing to do with this site.”

Stephens shrugged off her detractors as a circle of people who spend their time making “echo noise” for hours and hours. She said there seem to be more critics than solution seekers.

“If you’re here for freedom and opportunity and solutions for Colorado, then get on the bus. I’m with you,” said Stephens. “But, if you have no solutions to contribute and you’re just complaining, you’re on the wrong bus.”

The HD20 battle epitomizes the black-and-white snapshot of the El Paso County GOP – splintered between longtime traditional conservatives who favor Stephens versus Calef’s grassroots activists in anti-establishment coalitions – many of whom can be credited for helping deliver Dan Maes for governor in 2010 to the Democratic Party’s glee.

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