Cole Wist

Republican former state Rep. Cole Wist at a news conference in 2017, during his time in the General Assembly. (Colorado Politics file photo)

Former state Rep. Cole Wist of Centennial, who spent two years as assistant House Minority Leader in the 2017-18 sessions, announced Tuesday via Twitter that he's leaving the GOP and becoming an unaffiliated voter.

Wist has not been shy about expressing his frustration with the Republican Party, which he accused of abandoning its conservative principles to follow former President Donald Trump. He went on to become a board member of The Lincoln Project, which worked to defeat Trump in the 2020 election. 

In a 2020 interview with Colorado Politics, Wist said his relationship with the GOP at the time was "complicated."

"While I have no intention of leaving the party, there is no secret that I am not happy with the current trajectory of the GOP," he said.

Wist referred to himself as a Reagan conservative and said leaders like Reagan and John McCain showed how people can differ on policy and "yet treat each other with respect."

"During my time in the legislature, I took great pride in working across the aisle to find workable solutions for our state’s problems. I believe folks are elected to serve the people, not a party," he said.

As for Trump, Wist said he does not believe him to be a conservative. Wist said Trump was damaging the Republican brand, that the then-president had abandoned "enduring American principles that have guided our country since its founding."

Wist was first appointed to his House seat in January, 2016, replacing Jack Tate, who was appointed to the state Senate. Wist was once a Democrat, running for the state House in 1996 when he lived in Paonia. He lost that election to Rep. Kay Alexander, R-Montrose.

Wist ran afoul of conservatives when he sponsored the first red flag legislation in the 2018 session with Rep. Alec Garnett, D-Denver. The bill failed in the GOP-controlled Republican state Senate. He lost his re-election bid to Democrat Rep. Tom Sullivan of Centennial, in part because Wist was attacked by Rocky Mountain Gun Owners. Wist also spoke against the group when it made an aborted attempt to recall Sullivan in 2019. 

Wist is now of counsel with Squire Patton Boggs and was appointed to the state's ethics commission in 2021. 

Wist is not the only prominent Colorado Republican to leave the party. Former Rep. Rob Witwer, who served in the General Assembly from 2005 to 2009, left the GOP and became unaffiliated in 2019. State Sen. Ellen Robert, R-Durango, who was viewed as a potential challenger for U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet in 2016, left the GOP about 10 months after she stepped down from the Colorado Senate in 2017. 

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