This is a tough room for Amy Stephens. At the June 28 meeting of Liberty on the Rocks, the state House majority leader is reminded over and over again that she has stepped into the lions' den.
It is her first time at an LOTR meeting. In the crowd are county Republican officials David Williams and Sarah Anderson.
"I just want to thank Amy Stephens for coming here tonight," says Kanda Calef, a local liberty activist. "It is a great place to be; you will learn a lot about what we all do in the liberty movement. ... I am glad that you came, even though you think that we are all a bunch of anarchists."
The crowd boos and hisses.
"This is a perfect time," Calef continues, "to question you why you would sponsor Senate Bill 200, when you are in such a safe district."
LOTR organizer David Kelly hands the microphone to Stephens.
"I appreciate questions," Stephens says, "even cheap shots, Kanda."
The tone doesn't improve. Calef leads the grilling for nearly 40 minutes. Stephens defends her sponsorship of the health care implementation bill, saying, "I will tell you that most people agree that this is probably the best-crafted legislation in terms of ..."
"Bullshit," interrupts Dan Bubis, a longtime LOTR attendee. "How could you start a sentence with a phrase like that, 'Most people agree'? That's a bullshit statement."
Stephens gets flustered, saying, "Point taken. OK. OK. Bullshit. Bullshit statement."
After the meeting, Bubis apologizes, and Kelly is told by a first-time attendee that Stephens was ambushed. Calef is unsympathetic: "She solidified her reputation of being out-of-touch."
Days later, Stephens notes that at least seven meeting attendees thanked her afterward for explaining the bill. But, she adds, "There are some hard-core people you are never going to reach."
That speaks to the open hostility between the Republican establishment and members of their grassroots conservative base. And at 5:30 p.m., Thursday, July 7, at GOP headquarters at 205 Sutton Lane, a repeat performance is likely. County chair Eli Bremer says a large number of the executive committee's 33 members deluged him with requests that he call a special meeting.
Word is, personnel matters will be on the agenda. As e-mails circulating among the executive committee illustrate, members are unhappy that Anderson and Williams, El Paso County's party secretary and vice-chair, respectively, have openly rebelled against a party resolution passed in May. (See "Anarchy in the GOP," cover story, June 23.) The resolution ostensibly was meant to keep them quiet about SB 200, which carried out a mandate of the federal government's Affordability Care Act of 2010 and became law with Gov. John Hickenlooper's signature last month.
In one e-mail, state Rep. Larry Liston calls the refusal by Anderson and Williams to observe the resolution — with all emphasis Liston's — "GROSS INSUBORDINATION and a concerted effort to take over our party by mal-contents!!!!!"
Today, Kelly predicts: "It's going to be a fricking witch hunt."
Anderson's other supporters fear the same, and have mobilized. Josh Westerlund, Anderson's 27-year-old party division leader, has started a Facebook public event page, "Support Sarah Anderson!"
"It's really much more about the principle," he says. "She spoke up against something that is counter to what we believe in, and she's making a principled stand. She's catching a lot of hell for it, so I think that we need to support her."
Calef, who plans on attending, agrees: "This is not a debate about Sarah. This is not about the liberty movement. Even though we have focused on Sarah, I think that this is a much bigger debate over whether the party is going to encourage debate or stifle it."
Little has leaked about the meeting's goal. Anderson expects that the group at least will censure her, and "that it is probably likely that they are going to try and recommend my removal to the central committee."
Perhaps, she says, they'll allege she's violating party bylaws by giving "public support for any candidate opposing the Republican nominee in a general election" by openly criticizing SB 200. She has been told on numerous occasions that party officials are not supposed to publicly criticize an elected Republican's policies and legislation; to do so undercuts that politician's standing and credibility.
The bylaws, of course, are open to interpretation.
In fact, you could argue that even Bremer's wife, Anna, has been in violation of the same bylaws. In 2010, she donated money to Tom Tancredo, who was running for governor on the American Constitution line, while she held a GOP leadership role at the precinct level.
Eli Bremer says a private donation to a candidate does not, in his opinion, violate the spirit of the bylaws, which prohibit active campaigning for a non-Republican. These donations were private, not public support, he says.
And regardless, that issue won't come up tonight, says Bremer. The committee decides what to discuss, but he believes it will be about Anderson's compliance with the party's authority structure.
"Let's be honest," Bremer says, "she has made it clear — in your paper — that she believes that the executive committee exerts no authority over her."
Which it clearly does, he says, according to the bylaws.
"The Republican Party," he says, "as a whole does not go on witch hunts looking for people who are breaking the bylaws."
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