Election 2020 Former Republican officials

A group of former Republican elected officials from Colorado hold a virtual press conference to discuss why they're endorsing Democrat Joe Biden over President Donald Trump on Thursday, Aug. 27, 2020. Clockwise from top left: former Arvada Councilwoman Lorraine Anderson, former Lone Tree Councilman Harold Anderson, former Aurora Councilwoman Barbara Cleland and former Arapahoe County Commissioner John Brackney. At bottom: lifelong Republican Kelly Stahlman, whose twin sons were born with cerebral palsy.

A group of former Republican elected officials from Colorado endorsed Democrats Joe Biden and Kamala Harris on Thursday, saying President Donald Trump has distorted the GOP and failed the country.

Describing himself as a "Republican’s Republican" for decades, John Brackney, a former two-term Arapahoe County Commissioner and a co-founder of the City of Centennial, said he left the party after Trump won the nomination in 2016 — "I truly did not want to have an 'R' next to my name" — and was increasingly disturbed by Trump's disregard for conservative principles after he took office.

But Brackney said it was Trump's response to the coronavirus pandemic that compelled him to support Biden, rather than cast a protest vote for the Libertarian candidate, like he did in the last election.

"I’m telling you, we cannot have a president be this inconsistent, this misunderstanding and this misleading in how we are fighting a virus," Brackney said in a teleconference with reporters organized by the Colorado Democratic Party. "That alone is worthy of saying thanks, but no thanks.”

Brackney was joined by former Aurora Councilwoman Barb Cleland, former Lone Tree Councilman Harold Anderson, former Arvada Councilwoman Lorraine Anderson and Kelly Stahlman, a lifelong Republican and project director at the Colorado Alliance for Health and Independence.

A spokesman for the Colorado Trump Victory campaign dismissed the significance of the endorsements.

"President Trump enjoys historic support from Republicans," Keith Schipper told Colorado Politics. "You can see it in the data, at events, at rallies. Republicans are fired up to reelect the president, and that's because he's delivered on his promises to cut taxes, confirm judges and keep our communities safe. Republicans will elect President Trump in November exactly because of that."

Trump lost Colorado to Democrat Hillary Clinton in 2016, and publicly available polling shows the incumbent trailing Biden by double digits in the state, but the Trump campaign has said its unprecedented field operation means the state's nine electoral votes are in play this November.

The Coloradans added their names to a growing list of prominent current and former Republicans supporting Biden, including former Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who spoke at last week's Democratic National Convention, former Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake and more than two dozen former Republican members of Congress, who declared they were endorsing the Biden-Harris ticket earlier this week. 

Cleland, who spent 28 years on the Aurora City Council and was an active Republican for nearly four decades, said she didn't vote for Trump in 2016 but stayed with the party until two things happened early in his presidency.

First, she said, was when Trump backed Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore despite accusations of sexual misconduct with underage women, and then when Trump sided with Russian President Vladimir Putin, rejecting the conclusion of U.S. intelligence agencies that Russian interfered in the 2016 election.

"I truly believed I was a Reagan Republican, part of that big tent," Cleland said. "Since then, I’m just not sure where our party has gone."

She said Trump's ban on travel from predominantly Muslim countries and silence in response to recent reports that Russia has offered bounties for killing U.S. troops only bolstered her conviction that Trump and his GOP supporters have abandoned Republican principles, including religious freedom and protecting American troops.

"It just breaks my heart," Cleland said, that the GOP decided against adopting a platform at this weeks' Republican National Convention, instead approving a resolution in support of Trump.

"That, to me, is not democracy," she said. "That’s not the way this party used to be.”

Lorraine Anderson said she became a Republican in 1965 and served 24 years on city council but left the party the day Trump was nominated.

"I had never liked the way Donald Trump spoke about women, I have not liked the way he treated people with disabilities, and quite frankly, I don’t like the idea that he is running his business from the people’s house in Washington," she said.

Anderson added that every president in her lifetime — "I go back to Franklin Roosevelt, not the first Roosevelt," she said with a smile — separated themselves from their business interests "so we didn’t have to guess whether they were doing the family business or the people’s business."

"I am sincerely supporting Biden and Harris because I believe they can get government back together in this country so we can restore our former place in the world," she said.

Stahlman, a self-described fiscal conservative and "Medicaid mom" whose husband, Bruce, is a former Littleton councilman, said their twin sons Mark and Eric, who had cerebral palsy, "were born too soon and died too soon."

"To watch Trump make fun of a journalist with a disability, to watch him kick a young man with cerebral palsy out of his rally, to watch him treat people with malicious intent and humor, as though nobody matters but him, robs him of the right to remain president," she said, referring to an incident when Trump appeared to mock a reporter at a November 2015 rally.

Stahlman said her disgust at Trump's behavior grew two years ago, on the day of John McCain's funeral, when her husband was diagnosed with the same brain cancer that killed the Arizona senator, who occasionally crossed Trump.

Noting that the 2008 presidential nominee served in the Navy and endured captivity as a prisoner of war in Vietnam, Stahlman said: "For Trump to call him a loser while he has brain cancer is beyond the pale. There is simply no excuse. His leadership qualities are to instill fear and promote conspiracy theories. He is a danger to democracy."

Stahlman said Trump and his administration have ignored scientists in an attempt to declare victory over COVID-19 rather than deal with the pandemic, costing American lives.

"I think Donald Trump lacks basic humanity, common decency, and he want to crown himself king," Stahlman said. "That itself makes him a threat to democracy."

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