Update: the elections are scheduled for room 271 at 10 a.m. Monday
Monday's House GOP elections feature a three-way race for minority leader and an early look at just which wing of the party could hold sway over the caucus when the General Assembly convenes in January.
The current leader, Rep. Patrick Neville of Castle Rock, announced Oct. 23 that he would not seek a third term. Many caucus members attended a dinner Sunday night in the Denver area to hear from those vying to replace him.
The three candidates are Assistant Minority Leader Kevin Van Winkle of Highlands Ranch, who is seen by some in the caucus as Neville’s proxy; Rep. Hugh McKean of Loveland, who is viewed as the most likely to succeed Neville, and an emerging third, Rep. Tim Geitner of Falcon, in rural El Paso County.
The elections on Monday are also being proposed by Neville, according to sources within the caucus, as an open ballot instead of a traditionally secret one. The purpose of an open ballot, they said, would be to lay bare just who supports whom, and who might be targeted for primaries in 2022. That request is causing considerable consternation and could give rise to opposition from many in the caucus.
The outcome of the elections will determine who controls the caucus' purse strings, the agenda and the hopes that the GOP could regain lost ground after redistricting next year.
The House GOP caucus starts the 2021 session with the same number as the last session — 24 — having picked up one seat in southern Colorado but lost one that was never in play in Centennial.
Whoever wins will need votes from the caucus’ seven new members. Three from Weld County faced primary opposition from candidates backed by the more conservative Rocky Mountain Gun Owners, who are seen as Neville allies: Tonya Van Beber of Eaton, Mike Lynch of Wellington and Dan Woog of Erie. A fourth, Mary Bradfield of Colorado Springs, has close ties to her predecessor, Rep. Lois Landgraf, who was a leader in the caucus’ centrist wing before she was term-limited.
Another challenge for Van Winkle is his rumored choice of Rep. Dave Williams of Colorado Springs as assistant minority leader. Sources have said that could be a deal-killer for Van Winkle, given Williams’ reputation as a hardliner and his less-than-solid relationship with most of the El Paso County GOP delegation.
Rep. Rod Bockenfeld of Watkins is among the undecideds. He said Sunday the likely candidates for GOP leader bring different capabilities to the job, but he is looking for someone who will commit to rebuilding the Republican Party within the House.
“What we’re doing is not working. I want to hear what they will do differently,” Bockenfeld said.
What’s at stake: In part, money and who controls it. The minority leader oversees the allocation of soft money spent by the caucus' super PAC. In 2019, the caucus split over how Neville ran the 2018 campaign that cost four seats. The super PAC run by Neville’s brother Joe, Values First Colorado, raised $1.24 million but left $305,961 on the table on Election Day, a no-no in political campaign fundraising, where the mantra is “spend it to the end.”
The committee, with one more campaign finance report due in December, has to date raised $853,783, more than 30% less than was raised for the 2018 election.
What else is at stake: the agenda. Under Rep. Neville, the focus has been on issues such as guns, opposition to abortion and LGBTQ rights, unsuccessful recalls and unsuccessful lawsuits over the red flag law and how Gov. Jared Polis has handled the pandemic.
The House GOP elections will be held at 10 a.m. Monday in Room 271 in the state Capitol. The House and Senate Democrats and the Senate Republicans held their leadership elections last Thursday.
Ernest Luning contributed to this report.