Crossing the party line could take on a new meaning in El Paso County if local Republicans adopt a proposed rules change to allow for "formal censure and removal" of party members who cross the GOP.
In a move some local Republican officials are comparing to Soviet-style party purges, a county GOP committee wants to give the El Paso County party the power to ban disloyal Republicans from participating in party functions or running for office under the party's banner.
Some flatly said it violates state law.
The proposed bylaws amendment, its authors say, will "install a process by which the Central Committee can maintain and enforce accountability of all individual party members to the National and State platforms."
State Sen. Larry Liston, R-Colorado Springs, is among the Republicans who swung back hard at the proposal.
Rather than the GOP's stated "big tent" approach, Liston said in an email, the proposed amendment sounds like a plan to "just burn down the whole tent." He added: "This is NOT a way to WIN elections."
Several Republicans pointed out that candidate Donald Trump could have run afoul of the El Paso GOP before he secured the 2016 nomination, when party stalwarts argued Trump was steering the party in a different direction on immigration, free trade and other long-held Republican positions.
A spokesman for the Colorado Republican Party declined to weigh in on the proposal but said the party's lawyer is looking it over.
“We are aware of the proposed El Paso County GOP bylaws and our party attorney is currently reviewing them," Joe Jackson, the state GOP's executive director, said in a text message. "We support the right of every registered Republican to participate in our party. This is not something we will be responding to via the media.”
According to the draft amendment, emailed to party leaders late Friday by County GOP chair Vickie Tonkins, county Republicans could face expulsion for opposing or violating the party platform, or for backing a candidate running against the GOP nominee in a general election.
Republicans could also be hauled up on charges if the county chair "believes there is malfeasance or misfeasance on the part of the individual."
Under the amendment, the signatures of 25 members of the county party's governing body would initiate an investigation led by a five-member panel appointed by the party chair. Following a "due process hearing," it would take a two-thirds vote of the GOP's central committee to oust the accused, with a successful vote being "immediate, final, and unappealable."
"No individual who has been censured and removed shall be certified by the El Paso Country Republican Party to the El Paso County Clerk and Recorder and may not be placed as a Republican on any primary or general election ballot," the proposed amendment reads.
"In the event the individual also holds public office, the Chairman shall also inform the El Paso County Clerk and Recorder in writing within three business days that the individual may no longer serve as a Republican party member," it adds.
The rule would allow banished party members to apply for reinstatement as Republicans after four years.
The party's central committee is scheduled to consider the amendment at its Feb. 5 meeting.
Tonkins didn't respond to repeated requests for comment. Nor did Jeremy Goodall, the chair of the party's bylaws committee.
Other El Paso County Republicans, however, began sounding the alarm over the proposal almost immediately, including several who argued that the policy would violate state law and undermine the GOP's ability to attract voters in Colorado's largest county.
"To suggest changes in the bylaws that good people may be brought up for a 'trial' for supposedly not being 'pure' enough and to be kicked out of our party is totally ridiculous," Liston said in an email to Colorado Politics.
Efforts to enforce litmus tests on Republicans "smack of Stalinism and 'The Night of the Long Knives' in 1934 by Hitler," Liston said in another email, referring to a move by the German dictator to consolidate power in the Nazi Party.
Saying the proposal "smacks of corruption," Karl Schneider, the county GOP's vice chair, told Colorado Politics that he had a hard time imagining a more wrong-headed approach.
"Quite frankly, it should scare the hell out of the unaffiliated voters, and it should scare the hell out Democrats, because with these activities, where do they stop?" he said.
Colorado Springs City Councilman Wayne Williams, a former secretary of state and county party chairman, said the proposed amendment could spell disaster for county Republicans.
"Excluding registered Republicans from Colorado caucuses would risk invalidating all nominees selected through that process," he said.
State law allows qualified residents to register with any political party they choose and establishes multiple methods for candidates to get on the ballot, including by petition, which doesn't require the assent of the party whose primary they'll be running in, several Republicans steeped in election law told Colorado Politics.
Williams also faulted Tonkins for passing the proposal on to party leaders untouched instead of "circling back with the committee and having them reconsider."
"When I was Republican chair, we focused on building the party and bringing unaffiliateds and Democrats into the party," he said. "I ran a radio ad highlighting Democrats who were supporting Bill Owens for governor. And we won. That’s what we should be focused on — not establishing a Bolshevik purge system to send Republicans to Siberia."
Republican U.S. Senate candidate Eli Bremer, a former chair of the El Paso County Republican Party, blasted the proposal.
"The Republican Party has traditionally been the party of law," he told Colorado Politics. "It diminishes our ability to say we’re going to govern when we’re having trouble following the law ourselves."
Added Bremer: "People are saying they’re sick and tired of the establishment picking winners and losers, but this is probably the most unadulterated move to have party insiders determine who is a Republican and who isn't. It’s a blatant power grab from a small group of insiders who just want to control the system."
State Rep. Dave Williams, R-Colorado Springs, said he hadn't seen the proposal until Colorado Politics asked for a comment, but once he did, he got on the phone with Goodall, the chair of the bylaws committee, to suggest revamping it.
Williams said there's no question the proposal goes too far but added that he understands the impulse behind it.
“I’m unable to support a bylaw change that conflicts with state law concerning party affiliation or ballot designation, but I’m happy to support a policy that holds RINOS like Liz Cheney accountable for their anti-Republican behavior," Williams said in a text message, using an acronym for "Republicans in name only." He was referring to Cheney, the House member from Wyoming who has drawn the ire of fellow Republicans for her opposition to former President Donald Trump.
Asked whether he thinks any members of the El Paso County GOP should be similarly held to account for being bad Republicans, Williams said Bremer and U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn would qualify "at least to a large segment of the party."
Williams the state lawmaker is mounting a primary challenge against Lamborn, who is seeking a ninth term representing the heavily Republican, El Paso County-based 5th Congressional District.