El Paso County Republicans plan to decide whether the local party can censure its members for violating its platforms or getting crosswise with GOP leaders.
The county GOP's central committee — made up of precinct leaders, party officers and elected officials — is scheduled to weigh a proposed bylaws amendment to establish a formal censure procedure at its meeting on Saturday at Vista Ridge High School in Colorado Springs.
Supporters of the proposed bylaws changes say Republicans need to be able to hold errant members to account, often citing U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney, the Wyoming Republican who has publicly opposed former President Donald Trump. Opponents say it amounts to a purity test guaranteed to drive voters away from the GOP.
The measure is a revised version of a proposal floated last month that would have allowed the county GOP to strip local Republicans of their membership in the party — something party leaders later acknowledged could have violated state law, which lets Coloradans join whatever political party they choose.
At the same meeting, the central committee is scheduled to rule on a series of complaints filed by a former state lawmaker and others against the county party's embattled chairwoman Vickie Tonkins, alleging Tonkins has worked to "undermine" Republican elected officials and mishandled the party's finances, including failing to report donations to a fundraiser last summer that featured U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, a Georgia Republican.
In an unusual rebuke, the state GOP's executive committee on Sunday admonished Tonkins in a unanimous report obtained by Colorado Politics for actions state chairwoman Kristi Burton Brown described as "improper," including appearing to take sides in primaries when Tonkins announced the results of an outside group's legislative scorecard at a recent meeting, including assigning a range of letter grades to local Republican lawmakers.
The state committee also called it "improper" for Tonkins to have made a $1,000 donation last summer from county party funds to FEC United, a nonprofit organization that the panel agrees "takes sides in Republican primaries, particularly in El Paso County."
In addition to allowing for public censure, the proposed bylaws amendment would allow for "removal of an individual member from party recognition" for at least three years, during which time neither the local GOP nor its officers would be "obligated to help or promote any person who was censured," according to a draft of the proposal obtained by Colorado Politics.
The proposal establishes a procedure to censure and remove official recognition from Republicans who support a candidate running against a Republican in a general election or who publicly oppose or violate the national and state GOP platforms or the U.S. constitution. In addition, Republicans could be subjected to formal censure if the county chair "believes there is malfeasance or misfeasance on the part of the individual."
Under the proposal, it would take 25 central committee members to initiate an inquiry and a two-thirds vote of the committee to censure an accused Republican. A "successful vote to censure and remove," the amendment reads, "is immediate, final, and unappealable." After three years, a censured individual may apply for reinstatement, which would only require a majority vote of the committee.
State Rep. Dave Williams, a Colorado Springs Republican and Tonkins ally, said in a text message that he believes it's a tool the party can use.
“Because establishment RINOS, like Liz Cheney or Mitt Romney, continue to violate our Republican Platform, block Election Integrity, and attack President Trump, I will enthusiastically support this revamped county censure proposal that will allow the grassroots to hold these failed insiders accountable when necessary," Williams said, using a popular acronym for "Republican in name only."
State Sen. Larry Liston, a Colorado Springs Republican, told Colorado Politics that he isn't happy with Cheney's actions but insisted it's up to voters to decide whether she's crossed a line.
"If they think what she’s done is egregious, they’re not going to throw her out of the party. They’re going to throw her out of office," he said.
As for the proposed bylaws amendment, Liston called it counterproductive and contrary to the give-and-take nature of political parties.
"To go after any of us or all of us because one small, select group of people decides this person was not pure enough — so let’s have a witch hunt and drive them out of the party — all that does is makes the party look bad," he said. "It shows we’re somehow intolerant and that we’re narrow-minded."
He added: "I think these proposals in the bylaws are nothing but divisive and they will only hurt us in the long run. The party platform is not a blood pact. There’s all kinds of good Republicans that have disagreed with a plank or two in the platform."
Tonkins didn't respond to a request for comment.
Former state Rep. Lois Landgraf, a Colorado Springs Republican, sits on the state and county's governing committees and runs several nonprofits devoted to training and supporting Republican candidates. She said the proposed rule threatens the ability of El Paso County Republicans to deliver votes GOP candidates need to win statewide.
"There’s a risk people may turn away from Republicans if you tell people you’re going to throw people out of the party if you don’t like them," she said. "Who does that? I think we can look back in history and see where that kind of thing started."
Landgraf made a similar point in complaints she and others filed last month with the state party alleging bylaws violations by Tonkins. It was in response to those complaints that Burton Brown ordered the county party to sort things out at its Saturday meeting.
"This blatant disregard of party rules has created an intolerable situation, which may well help the Democrats and turn away the unaffiliated whom we well need to ensure victory in November," Landgraf said in a presentation to the state body. "Everyone in this room should know the impact the El Paso County vote turnout has on our state’s overall success. Our focus needs to be on electing Republican candidates."
Landgraf described the time Tonkins called on local legislators to stand and then dressed some of them down for failing to live up to standards set by Colorado Liberty Republicans, a conservative outside group. Liston called the experience a "kangaroo court" and told Colorado Politics it amounted to a "public shaming, to try and embarrass and hurt us and make us look bad."
Landgraf told Colorado Politics that she had been taken aback when Tonkins delivered the scorecard's assessment.
"In all her years in office, I have never ever heard her introduce or praise our elected officials," Landgraf said, referring to Tonkins. "When she had them stand up I thought it would be to say, 'Thank you for your service, for your dedication and your sacrifice.' But instead she talked about how some of them violate the Constitution. She said, 'Look at them, see who they are and check them out before you vote.'"
Added Landgraf: "The fact is, she is attacking our elected officials, many of whom are running for re-election, on a regular basis at our executive committee meetings, and she has invited hundreds of additional people who are allowed to heckle, jeer and call our elected officials traitors. When we stand up to vote, we're called RINOs if we vote against her. These meetings are out of control."
"The State Executive Committee believes itself bound to state its view that Chairwoman Tonkins behaved improperly in regard to her duty of neutrality during a Republican primary in two specific ways," Burton Brown wrote in the Jan. 30 report, which also ordered the El Paso County GOP to take up the complaints against Tonkins.
In the report, Burton Brown admonished Tonkins for the scorecard incident, as well as for the donation Tonkins made to FEC United, a conservative group Burton Brown headed in late 2020, when she was vice chair of the state party.
Joe Jackson, executive director of the Colorado GOP, said in a text message that neither Burton Brown nor the state party had further comment, adding that the executive committee's report "speaks for itself."
In the complaint, Landgraf also charged Tonkins with neglecting the county party's finances, including going months without replacing the county treasurer, who resigned in October, and refusing to appoint an audit committee after the executive committee voted last year to establish one.
The El Paso County party is currently facing a complaint filed in a Denver administrative court last month on behalf of the Elections Division of the Colorado Secretary of State's Office over allegations the county party violated campaign finance law. The allegations were first made in a formal complaint brought by the county GOP's vice chair, Karl Schneider, who earlier called on Tonkins to resign and has been a frequent target of her ire.
The complaint alleges the county GOP failed to "fully and accurately" report more than $10,000 in monetary and in-kind donations to the party's annual Lincoln Day Dinner fundraiser, which was headlined by Greene, an outspoken freshman lawmaker considered a superstar in some Republican circles.
Tonkins hasn't responded to requests for comment about the campaign finance complaint.
The Jan. 30 order from the state party said Schneider will chair Saturday's central committee meeting while the central committee considers Landgraf's complaints and recommended that the county party "use a professional parliamentarian at all future meetings."
Schneider said he looks forward to airing issues surrounding Tonkins and the party's direction and hopes what promises to be a lengthy, spirited meeting will go smoothly.
"I hope people can adult," he said, "but I’m not going to hold my breath because I don’t want to turn blue."
Editor's note: This story has been updated to clarify that former state Rep. Lois Landgraf was joined by numerous local Republicans in the complaint filed with the Colorado Republican Party against El Paso County GOP Chairwoman Vickie Tonkins. In addition, the legislative scorecard used by Tonkins to criticize some legislators was prepared by Colorado Liberty Republicans, who base their report on the scorecard originally developed by Principles of Liberty.
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