El Paso County Republicans will decide Saturday whether they want controversy or ballot-box victories. The decision will determine the party’s viability as a player in state politics. Republicans have the option to choose proven dysfunction or leadership that will get results.
At their county meeting, GOP committee members should elect former teacher, county commissioner, state school board member, and U.S. Senate candidate Peggy Littleton to chair the state’s largest county Republican party.
Littleton entered the race last week (as in, last minute) at the urging of staunchly conservative area Republicans who have loyally supported former President Donald Trump. They want Littleton to unseat Party Chair Vickie Tonkins, who seeks re-election after a troublesome first term.
Each candidate claims to favor limited government, oil and gas production, low taxes, school choice, defense of unborn infants, and other fundamental platforms of the party’s conservative base. This is not an election of competing philosophies, so much as a decision involving two candidates with disparate reputations and track records of competence.
No one should question the sincerity of Tonkins, who seems genuinely devoted to Republican principles. They must question her ability to lead and achieve results. Since becoming chair in late 2019, Tonkins has spent most of her time answering for embarrassing conflicts that arm opponents with all they need to delegitimize the Republican brand.
Nearly every elected Republican official in El Paso County signed a letter in April demanding Tonkins apologize for asking on the party’s Facebook page whether COVID-19 is a “PSYOP” — meaning a conspiratorial psychological operation against the American people.
"This letter serves as a censure from all of the undersigned officials elected to represent El Paso County," wrote the Republicans, including a majority of the county's legislative delegation and all but one of its Republican county officials.
After a Facebook friend posted “coronavirus is a psyop” on Tonkins' personal Facebook page, the Republican chair answered "you bet it is."
In their letter, Republicans explained “this is not who we are as a party” and characterized Tonkins' conspiracy theory as “reprehensible.” That was long before the disease killed nearly a half-million Americans.
Republicans could probably forgive a few old, ill-conceived, and irresponsible social media posts. Those have become the least of their concerns.
A letter in late January — backed by 61% of the party’s executive committee and 58% of the elected Republican officials in the county — accuses Tonkins of verbally supporting Trump while undermining his re-election. They say Tonkins ordered volunteers to censor important information on official Trump campaign literature. She interfered in “get-out-the-vote-night” calls the Sunday before the election by closing the Republican headquarters and hosting a movie night.
Republicans claim Tonkins flagrantly violated the party’s bylaws by interfering in primary races. They say Tonkins refused to allow office access to volunteers and elected officials while granting full access to a felon convicted of embezzlement. They document her refusal to donate party funds to Republicans in close races, which led the state party to intervene.
Tonkins’ critics say she most recently invited an armed militia to provide security at Saturday’s meeting and maneuvered to unfairly stack the election in her favor. Former Secretary of State Wayne Williams, a Republican and Colorado Springs City Council member, said "it appears to be an attempt to steal the election.”
Signators urging the defeat of Tonkins include nearly all big-name regional Republicans, including City Councilman and former Colorado Secretary of State Wayne Williams; Monument Mayor Don Wilson; four Republican state senators; four Republican state representatives; four Republican county commissioners; County Treasurer Mark Lowderman; State Board of Education member and former state Sen. Steve Durham; and 20 Republican executive committee members who are mostly unwavering conservatives.
Littleton’s lengthy record of productive public service stands remarkably devoid of scandal, embarrassment, or accusations of nefarious political activities.
Littleton’s command of fundamental Republican values rates second-to-none. On the state board of education, she moved school choice forward. She is an expert in community preparedness and public safety. The mother of an Air Force officer, she knows the military establishment in Colorado and Washington and advocates unabashed support for the armed services.
Littleton distinguished herself by asking for former Sheriff Terry Maketa’s resignation before troubling allegations of misconduct embattled him and his department. She fought to give voters a say after her fellow county commissioners voted to lengthen commissioner term limits. She played an instrumental role in bringing more air service to Colorado Springs.
Littleton has succeeded by working well with others and successfully marketing conservative ideas. As the county’s GOP chair, Littleton would improve the party’s image and its candidates’ prospects.
Colorado needs candidates from both parties in legislative seats and statewide offices. That means the state cannot flourish with a weak or inept Republican Party serving the state’s largest Republican stronghold. Republican committee members should elect Littleton, for the sake of their party and all they stand for.