U.S. Rep. Ken Buck plans to name Steve House, a former chair of the Colorado Republican Party, as the state GOP's CEO if Buck is elected state chair at a party meeting later this month, the three-term congressman told Colorado Politics.
"I am going to bring in the very best talent, the smartest people I can find, the hardest-working people," said Buck, who intends to keep his seat in Congress if he wins the state party position.
In a memo outlining his proposal, Buck pointed to the structure of national GOP organizations as models, including the Republican Governors Association and the National Republican Congressional Committee, with elected officials at the helm and senior staff running day-to-day operations.
After quoting Thomas Paine about the duty of patriots in "times that try men's souls," Buck explained in the memo why he believes he can take on both roles.
"I choose to stand in service of my country and my party, and to do so requires that I surround myself with great people so that we can be successful," he wrote. "I choose to do it because it must be done, not for my sake, but for our children’s sake and for their futures."
House served one term as state chair from 2015 to 2017 and considered a run for governor last year. Soon after he took over the party's top post, he survived a controversial bid by a group of one-time allies, including former U.S. Rep. Tom Tancredo and former Attorney General Cynthia Coffman, to oust him from office. He went on to head up the state GOP's multi-million dollar independent expenditure committee during the last election cycle.
Recently, House has been making noise about challenging Democratic U.S. Rep. Jason Crow in the battleground 6th Congressional District. He's also served as a surrogate for Buck at Republican forums for state party officer candidates.
Buck said the CEO — a new position in the party hierarchy — will be a volunteer post that will oversee a paid executive director and several committees devoted to fundraising, outreach and social media.
After enduring a shellacking at the ballot box last year — Colorado Democrats swept every statewide race, unseated a five-term congressman and took control of the state Senate — the state GOP is grappling with options as the party seeks a path forward and prepares to defend U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner's seat in an increasingly blue state.
In interviews with Colorado Politics, the other Republican state chair candidates and a former state GOP chair panned Buck's proposal, but Buck dismissed the criticism in blunt terms and urged skeptics to give the plan a chance.
"This is not a part-time job, this is not the time for an absentee chair, this is a leadership position, for an organization that has been failing," said state chair candidate Susan Beckman, a two-term state representative from Littleton who has said she'll step down from the General Assembly if she's elected chair.
Beckman said she'll hire professional staff and "take responsibility for all aspects of the organization, including strategy, raising money, customer service, external and internal communications, and day-to-day operations."
She added: "When I am elected, I will be accountable to those who elected me, and I will understand that the buck will stop with me ... no pun intended."
Sherrie Gibson, the Republican's incumbent vice chair, said she disagrees with the approach outlined by Buck.
"I have a different idea," she told Colorado Politics. "I believe in a constitutional form of governance where power is concentrated at the county level. I do not believe this model is sustainable for the long term health and future of our party."
"We need bridge-builders, not barn-burners," Gibson added. "I am running to rebuild a principled party whose dedication to helping candidates and strengthening our counties is unparalleled."
Veteran Republican strategist Dick Wadhams, who served two terms as state chairman last decade, said he was stunned after reviewing Buck's proposal, calling it "unworkable" and "absolutely nonsensical."
"If Steve House wants to be state chairman, he ought to run for it, and if Ken Buck doesn't want to be state chairman, he ought to get out of the race," Wadhams said.
"This bureaucracy — that's what it is, it is a bureaucracy — it is unwieldy," he continued. "There'll be more attention paid to operation of the bureaucracy than helping candidates win elections."
Wadhams took issue with Buck's contention that the state party could operate like the national political committees, arguing that the proposal amounts to a fundamental misunderstanding of the state party's role.
"That is an apples to oranges comparison," Wadhams said. "The Colorado Republican party is nothing like those entities. It gets involved in everything from county races to statehouse races to governor, members of Congress, to the senator and the presidential election."
He also slammed Buck's plans to run the party from Washington, D.C., saying he was "baffled" by the proposition.
"People don't understand the power of the bully pulpit," Wadhams said. "It has to be the state chairman out there, carrying the message, getting in the face of Democrats. I just look at this, and it's just — the CEO is the unelected state chairman. I am fundamentally and totally opposed to this plan."
Asked by Colorado Politics to respond to Wadhams' comments, Buck swung back hard.
"That is a premature evaluation," Buck said. "I think that I will work well with Steve. We’re good friends, we are of like mind when it comes to the goals of the party. I am really excited to work with a lot of really bright volunteers in the organization. I'll be glad to talk to him in two years and see if he still feels the same."
Noting that he raised around half a million dollars last year for the NRCC and served on the cabinet of the national organization, Buck said he understands how to translate its structure to the state party.
"Yet there are a number of people who are going to be critical," he said. "That’s ok. I am a big boy. I’ve heard a lot of criticism of this idea. It has not convinced me it’s a bad idea at this point."
Buck said the carping would be one thing if the GOP was coming off a winning election and had the luxury of academic debates but questioned how productive that was in the wake of last year's thumping.
“When you get your butts kicked in every corner of the state, people should shut their mouths and come together and do their very best to help the party and make sure we do our best to get Cory Gardner and Donald Trump elected," Buck said.
"It’s a little surprising people feel emboldened to be so critical in the open when we have not been very successful.”
The Republican state central committee meets the morning of Saturday, March 30, at Englewood High School to elect officers for the next two years. The committee — made up of elected officials, county party officers and bonus members from larger counties based on gubernatorial votes in the last election — will pick the party's vice chair and secretary, in addition to its chair. All three are open seats.
The announced candidates for vice chair are Joe Webb, a former Jefferson County Republican chair, and Kristi Burton Brown, the attorney behind an initial version of the "personhood" statewide ballot measure. The candidates for secretary are Otero County GOP chair Devin Camacho, El Paso County activist Missy Ward and former congressional candidate Nic Morse.