State Sen. Laura Woods shared the stage with her former political rival Lang Sias at the Tri-City Baptist Church in Westminster on July 14. From their friendly banter, you would have hardly guessed they butted heads in a fierce Republican primary not more than a year ago.
Rep. Sias of Arvada started off the political portion of the town hall meeting billed as a chance for citizens to ask County Assessor Ron Sandstrom questions about property tax increases. The TABOR-friendly anti-tax crowd of mostly senior citizens was small but engaged.
Sias began by rattling off a list of bills that Democrats could have passed if not for Woods’ vote in the Senate, including a minimum-wage hike and enhanced unemployment benefits. He reminded gathered supporters that she needs to win reelection in 2016 for Republican to keep their Senate majority.
Woods was new to electoral politics in 2013 when she led the gun-rights charge that sent Democratic state Sen. Evie Hudak packing from her district in Jefferson County. When that seat was up in 2014, Woods edged out Sias, the establishment favorite, in a cutthroat primary and went on to beat Hudak’s appointed replacement, Rachel Zenzinger, by a slim margin. Woods’ victory tipped the scales toward a Republican majority in the Senate.
Her brand of “liberty-minded” conservatism was considered a tough sell in the swing district, so Woods said she expects Democrats to come out in full force for the prized seat.
Talking with The Colorado Independent, Woods said about the Democrats, “They’re not happy they don’t have a majority anymore, so that’s why there’s a target on my back. And I fully understand.”
But she reckons voters are pretty happy with what she’s already delivered. “I think that the work I’m personally doing focusing on civil asset forfeiture reform, probate court reform and these senior citizen related bills – whether they’re libertarians or senior citizens or even blue dog democrats, they like the bills we’re passing.”
Woods acknowledged the summer was far from harmonious for Colorado Republicans. Party Chair Steve House accused Attorney General Cynthia Coffman, former Congressman Tom Tancredo and Pueblo County GOP Chair Becky Mizel of trying and failing to strong-arm House into resigning. This happened after Coffman helped House replace former GOP State Chairman Ryan Call who had led the Republicans to win the Senate in the 2014 midterms.
The fallout from the so-called “Coffmangate” scandal dominated headlines, throwing an awkward spotlight on GOP infighting.
“I don’t think there’s so much a fracture in the party,” Woods said. “You know, we don’t march in lockstep like the Dems. We’re freethinkers … We’re individuals. We’re capitalists.”
Despite their differences, Republicans are united by their commitment to liberty, said Woods, who identifies as libertarian on most issues. She likes her party’s focus on property rights, individual rights, religious rights, business rights and constitutional rights. She says that focus is “the thing that binds us.”
As for GOP infighting, Woods said she’s “hoping that’s behind us. I hope we’re moving forward with fundraising and supporting candidates and finding candidates.”
Finding a candidate is proving to be a tricky first step for state Republicans as they look toward ousting incumbent Democrat U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet in 2016. While Bennet’s campaign rakes in donations, big name Republicans are shying away from the race. U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman from Aurora, his wife Cynthia (of blackmail scandal fame) and State Senate President Ellen Roberts of Durango were all rumored to run and all publicly declined.
The list of potential candidates is long and thin at this point, but Woods said she’s already found her candidate— El Paso County Commissioner Darryl Glenn. He announced his run back in January. The Party establishment hasn’t paid him much attention, and his name is left out of most coverage of the race.
But following popular opinion has never been much of a concern for Woods, she said, and she might vote for Glenn even if another candidate runs. “I really, really like him. I like his military background. I like his conservatism. I like that he’s a black conservative.”
She said Republicans need to be doing more to recruit and support black candidates. She’s got her own race to worry about in 2016, but Woods said she’s been actively encouraging Casper Stockham of American Conservatives of Color to find more black candidates to run for political office at the state level. She thinks it could save Republicans who have traditionally struggled to reach minority communities.
And there is no time like the present. When it comes to the African American community, Woods said, “You’ve got the whole one side — anti-cop, only ‘black lives matter’ — and you’ve got the other side just looking down on that and saying, ‘That is not who we are.’”
For Woods, articulating an alternative perspective on blackness in America is appealing inasmuch as it is coupled with libertarian politics — which itself is also struggling to find a place in the GOP.
“If Republicans today across this country aren’t going to support a Ben Carson or a Darryl Glenn who wants to run, shame on us,” she said.
Days after the meeting, former Sen. Rachel Zenzinger discussed the district with The Colorado Independent.
“Jefferson County is always the bellwether,” she said, “because it’s a third, a third, a third.”
Senate District 19 is indeed an even split between registered Democrats, Republicans and unaffiliated voters. So Zenzinger thinks Woods’ brand of renegade conservatism isn’t an accurate reflection of her constituents as much as it’s a reflection of the most extreme wing of the Republican Party.
Of all votes that Woods took this past session, Zenzinger singled out one that irked her the most. Woods sponsored a bill to repeal the Job Protection and Civil Rights Enforcement Act — legislation passed by the Democratic super majority in 2013. The law expanded existing federal nondiscrimination protections to cover employees at small businesses and include age and sexual orientation-based discrimination. Woods’ bill, had it passed, would’ve undone the state’s entire Civil Rights Act.
“What’s so frustrating for me,” Zenzinger said, “is she likes to tout liberty-minded conservatism. But why are you trying to take away protections for civil rights?”
Zenzinger calls the idea of a libertarian holding public office hypocrisy.
“It’s so ironic to rail against the work that you’ve asked people to let you do,” she said. “They love to demonize government and criticize politicians without realizing – you are government. You are a politician.”
As for whether Zenzinger will be a politician again, she said a lot of people have approached her, urging her to run in District 19.
“I’m still weighing the public benefit versus impact on my family. I do hope to run for the position some day. I just don’t know if now is the time.”