One week after a disastrous primary night in which every candidate financially supported by Rocky Mountain Gun Owners went down to double-digit defeats, the organization is shaking up its leadership team.
Taylor Rhodes, RMGO's lobbyist since 2018, will take over as executive director of the organization, effective Wednesday.
Dudley Brown, RMGO's founder, will remain on as president.
RMGO has not yet returned a call for comment.
“We’re extremely excited that Taylor has taken on this leadership role,” Brown said in a news release Wednesday. “His extensive knowledge of firearms and gun rights coupled with years of experience working with local, state, and national politics makes him a great fit for this position. Taylor is a fierce fighter for liberty, and I have complete confidence in the group’s future success under his guidance."
The 24-year-old group's has struggled for policy wins as of late. A Denver District Court judge last May dismissed an RMGO-backed legal challenge to the state's 2019 red flag law. The Colorado Supreme Court on June 29 ruled against RMGO on a lawsuit attempting to overturn the 2013 law limiting the size of gun magazines to 15 rounds or less.
RMGO's only win on primary night was in backing Republican Lauren Boebert against five-time U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton of Cortez for the 3rd Congressional District seat on the Western Slope.
Wednesday's news release pointed out that as RMGO lobbyist Rhodes has worked on repealing the 2013 mag ban, which in addition to the court fight has been subject to seven consecutive years of failed legislation run by the group's allies since 2014. Efforts to repeal the red flag law, which Rhodes also worked on, also failed in 2020.
“I am honored and excited to lead Rocky Mountain Gun Owners,” Rhodes said in the Wednesday news release. “ Dudley has built RMGO to be one of the most powerful and influential nonprofit advocacy groups in the country, and I aim to keep that tradition alive. I firmly believe in the work we do to hold our elected officials accountable, and I can promise you I will never shy away from a political fight.”
The news release said the group successfully blocked three bills in the 2020 session: House Bill 1356, on mandatory reporting of lost or stolen firearms; House Bill 1355, on mandatory firearm storage; and House Bill 1152, known as the school shooter protection act.
All three bills died when the General Assembly returned to work May 26 and at the request of their sponsors, citing the pandemic. Democratic Rep. Tom Sullivan of Centennial laughed when he heard RMGO was taking credit for the bills' defeat. RMGO "had nothing whatsoever" to do with that, he said. And "as poorly as they did in the primary with the people they backed, this empowers us that now is the time for these issues. If they had influence in this state in the past, it's certainly dwindling down to a bare ember."
Last year, RMGO was a backer of a failed effort to recall Sullivan, who co-sponsored the 2019 red flag law.
But it's the losses on primary night last week that have been the most dramatic. Three Weld County House seats and a Senate seat all went to Republicans targeted with opposition ads from RMGO. Those losses could cost RMGO another of its allies — House Minority Leader Patrick Neville of Castle Rock — his leadership post come January when the General Assembly returns for its 2021 session.
In House District 48, Grady Nouis lost to Tonya Van Beber by 11 points; Michael Lynch defeated Sen. Vicki Marble for the House District 49 seat by a more than 2 to 1 margin; Patricia Miller lost by 25 points to Dan Woog for House District 63, and Weld County Commissioner Barbara Kirkmeyer defeated Rupert Parchment in Senate District 23 by 10 points. In Jefferson County's House District 22, long-time RMGO ally Justin Everett lost by 12 points to first-term Republican Rep. Colin Larson of Littleton.
RMGO's greatest success has been in fundraising, which critics have said is its real purpose. The RMGO political action committee's largest contributions come from member dues at $19 per head. The largest donor to the independent expenditure committee has been Tatnall Hillman, a secretive Aspen billionaire who annually makes multi-million contributions to Republican candidates, mostly at the federal level. (He's made more than $4.7 million in federal contributions in the 2019-20 election cycle.)
Hillman's name often shows up in top 10 lists of the most generous donors of either major party in Colorado. According to a 2014 report in the Aspen Times, his money comes from his father, John Hartwell Hillman Jr., who made his billions in coal, steel and gas.
Hillman, who does not grant interviews, did not return a request for comment.
Out of the $142,300 Hillman donated to state Republicans and Republican-related causes between 2014 and 2018, $126,000 went to RMGO, according to the Secretary of State's TRACER campaign finance database. But Hillman has yet to make any contributions to RMGO in the 2019-20 election cycle.
Independence Institute President Jon Caldara has scrapped with Brown in the past. That battle reached a head in 2015, when Caldara backed a proposal, which had Democratic support, to increase the magazine limit to a standard 30 rounds. Caldara said Wednesday the strategy was "one round at a time," on the way to a full-blown repeal. But Brown marshaled opposition to the idea, and 27 Republicans in the House and Senate signed a letter opposing it. The bill was never introduced.
"He has done more to damage gun rights than anyone in this state," Caldara (who also writes a column for Colorado Politics) said Wednesday. "His funding model is to make sure we can't win on policy" and to make more money on scare tactics. With regard to the magazine limit, "if you take away 99% of the problem, who could [Brown] scare into giving money?" Caldara said.
This story is developing and will be updated.