Colorado Republicans on Monday released a set of priorities that party officials, state lawmakers and conservative groups say they hope will help sway votes their way in next year's election.
"We are concerned for the next generation of Coloradans," begins the "Commitment to Colorado," announced by state GOP chair Kristi Burton Brown and others at a press conference at a Denver gas station.
While the setting drew some ribbing online — with the Sinclair station's iconic cartoon dinosaur garnering unfavorable comparisons to the state GOP, which holds fewer offices in Colorado than at any time since the 1930s — it was meant to highlight rising prices at the pump and draw attention to the first item on the GOP's agenda, a promise to "make Colorado affordable."
Other items on the list include prioritizing public safety and expanding school choice. Among a set of additional priorities: conserving the environment, protecting the Taxpayer's Bill of Rights and a vow to "restore transparency, character and common sense to public office."
Introducing the document, Brown blamed Democrats for rising gas prices.
“We are releasing better solutions for Colorado’s future,” she said.
The 10-point contract repeats many of the same goals the Colorado GOP — and lawmakers at the state Capitol — have described for years. What’s different for 2022, according to those at the press conference: 18 months of COVID-19, which they say has made voters aware that promises made by Democrats haven’t come to fruition.
That will make unaffiliated voters, who make up 43% of Colorado’s registered voters, more amenable to what the Republicans promise, they said.
Thirteen GOP legislators attended the event, along with about two dozen other officials and representatives of conservative organizations.
Gas at the Sinclair station is $3.69 per gallon. State Sen. Rob Woodward of Loveland told Colorado Politics that he has to do two purchases for gas for his pickup truck, because his credit card is set at a maximum of $75, which isn’t enough to fill it up.
But it isn't just gas, Woodward said. It’s the cost of groceries, housing — whether buying a home or renting — and restaurants.
“If you look over the last six to eight months, the prices of everything are going through the roof,” he said. “It’s not just a temporary supply issue” and not just gas. “If you can find a place to rent, the prices are through the roof,” he said, calling that the biggest problem.
Most people can absorb one little price increase, he added, but all of a sudden prices are going up everywhere, and incomes haven’t kept up.
Woodward predicted the GOP message on education will be especially meaningful to Coloradans whose children have struggled in K-12 schools for the past 18 months. Public school systems have failed to help get children the education they need over the last 18 months, he said.
Woodward said he’s seen data showing huge waitlists at charter and private schools, in part because parents are worried about the “less than” education delivered by public schools.
Education has been the focus for Senate Minority Leader Chris Holbert of Parker throughout his time in the legislature.
“This commitment to Colorado is for the majority of voters who will vote in 2022,” he said. “When it comes to our public education system, Republicans prioritize kids over institutions.”
Public school unions for too long have dictated how children receive an education, Holbert said. “We’re tried it their way, and we’ve failed generation after generation. It’s time to change course.”
COVID-19 has exposed that failure, Holbert said, with an 11% decline in math scores by public schools. Parental choice in education is not just a talking point, he added, it’s what parents are demanding. Give Republicans control of the state Senate, and win back some of the seats lost in the last two cycles in the House, and the public education system will be a top priority, he said.
“One size fits nobody when it comes to public education,” he said.
“These are the meaningless talking points you come up with when you’ve gotten crushed in election after election,” said Matthew McGovern, executive director of the House Majority Project, a campaign arm of the state Democratic Party.
“The Republicans’ agenda hasn’t changed just because they had a press conference. Look at the record. The legislation they’ve proposed is indicative of what they would do if they were in power. They can try to slap a new coat of paint on the party, but we’ve got the receipts from their time at the legislature.”
House Minority Leader Hugh McKean of Loveland focused on the commitment to public safety, which he called one of the highest priorities for state government. Crime has increased by double-digit numbers, which he blamed on Democratic policies.
“Laws passed in the last few years have put our way of life at risk” he said, citing decriminalizing some offenses and doing away with bail and lowering sentencing requirements.
“By condemning all law enforcement officers as bad cops, 'depolicing' is rising, and officers are pulling back from proactive policing,” McKean said.
Studies show that proactive policing lowers crime, McKean added.
“Colorado Republicans commit today to make Colorado safe,” he said, through funding incentives for understaffed departments, funding state-mandated body cameras, more opportunities for co-responder programs and enhanced training for officers.
A coalition of “center-right” groups are excited about the top three items on the commitment, according to Michael Fields of Colorado Rising State Action. Among the groups are the Colorado Christian University's Centennial Institute, Compass Colorado, the Independence Institute, Americans for Prosperity, the Colorado Union of Taxpayers and Ready Colorado, he said.
“We need lower housing costs, lower health care prices and lower taxes,” Fields said.
But how to convince unaffiliated voters, a majority of whom have backed Democrats in the last two election cycles, to vote Republican?
“We know from polling and from listening to unaffiliated voters that these three issues matter most to them,” Holbert said. “Our job is to explain the difference, to explain what the Democrats have said and what they’ve actually done.”
Holbert pointed to Senate Bill 21-172, passed by majority Democrats in the 2021 session, which claimed it would put more money into the pockets of public school teachers, though the bill contained no funding and no plan for how to raise money.
Unaffiliated voters need to understand the reality of that, Holbert said.
On a day when Denver ranks near the top of the worst air quality in the world, Brown asked, "Who’s in charge of Denver? Who’s in charge of Colorado? Democrats.”
“We believe in conserving the environment; we believe in clean air and water,” but don't believe in kicking the energy industry out of the state, she added.
As a fire truck drove by, sirens blaring, McKean said, "Right now, today, why I hit crime so hard, unaffiliateds feel like they are seeing the result of Democrat policies,” which he said include increases in property crimes, aggravated assaults and homicides.
“This is the result of ideological choices made,” Brown said, adding that Republicans have actual solutions, not “pie in the sky” ideals.
“Republicans across the state are extremely excited about this commitment to Colorado and you will see our candidates run on this,” she said, adding that "amazing” candidates will step up by next spring.
Republicans have had a problem matching Democrats, especially at the statehouse, on fundraising, over at least the last two election cycles. Brown told Colorado Politics that the party "absolutely and will fundraise in 2022. We’re already doing it. Republican candidates will be extremely competitive in swing districts and we will take back the state Senate and win a number of seats in the House. The fundraising strategies are new and different and working already."
The executive director of the state Democratic Party said the Republicans' promises don't match the party's record.
"This year Democrats proved they can get Colorado on the road to recovery by passing laws to revive our economy, create tax fairness and invest in transportation," Halisi Vinson said in a statement to Colorado Politics. "While the GOP makes empty promises to fix issues they’ve failed on in the past, Democrats are doing the work."
Added Vinson: "In the face of climate change and some of the worst air quality Colorado has seen, the GOP once again showed that they are out of touch by deciding to hold their press conference in front of a gas station."