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GOP faces a rising sea 

City Sage

Islands, as residents of Manhattan now realize, are dangerous places. The sea that surrounds you is treacherous and unpredictable. Your fate is not in your hands, but is determined by wind and tide, by storm and surge.

Do we live on an island? Yes, we do — as we found out Nov. 6, we're an island of red in a sea of blue.

Take away El Paso County and its 59 percent vote for Mitt Romney, and Colorado looks bluer than blue. That may translate into political impotence on the state and national levels for the Pikes Peak region.

What should our local Republican ruling class do about it?

Last week former GOP state legislators Rob Witwer and Josh Penry contributed a piece to the Denver Post bemoaning the party's imminent demise.

"Every year, we kick somebody else off the island," they wrote. "We make it easy for Democrats to say that we don't want the support of women, Hispanics, teachers, gays and lesbians, African-Americans, conservationists, Muslims and union members. Pretty soon there won't be anybody left to vote for us."

Twenty years ago, El Paso County Republicans were led by forceful but non-judgmental folks such as Mayor Bob Isaac, County Commissioners Chuck Brown, Marcy Morrison, Terry Harris and Loren Whittemore, District Attorney Bob Russel, House Speaker Chuck Berry and party chair Norm Palermo. They might have been privately appalled by the zealots of the religious right, but couldn't prevent them from taking over the party.

For their part, the zealots made no secret of their plans. At a prayer breakfast in the early 1990s, the speaker called upon the audience to "stop snoozin' in the pews," get involved in politics, and elect godly leaders.

Their crusade swung the party sharply to the right. Control of the apparatus passed to a bizarre coalition of gunnies, Bruce-ite taxophobes, anti-abortion activists, anti-gay groups and hard-line religious conservatives. Pro-business moderates were shunted aside.

"Aren't you in the wrong place, John?" asked one campaign worker at the Republican caucuses last winter. Others were equally unfriendly. Moderates and rag-tag journalists clearly weren't on the GOP's invitation list.

I was pissed. You want Republican cred? How about my NRA Pro Marksman Junior Diploma from 1952? Why, I was an 11-year-old, straight-shooting conservative before most of you damn people were born!

The diploma wouldn't have mattered. Today's passionate Colorado Springs Republicans worked hard to take over the local party, and they're not about to hand it back.

On Nov. 6, locals gave über-conservative Rep. Doug Lamborn 65 percent of the vote against a field that included an intelligent independent (Dave Anderson), plus candidates from the Greens, Libertarians and the American Constitution Party. Democrats declined to name a candidate, figuring it would be a waste of time and money. Yet, consider: Voters gave comparable margins to the extension of the Pikes Peak Rural Transportation Authority tax (79 percent) and to Sheriff Terry Maketa's public safety tax (64 percent).

The Republican label is powerful. It kept GOP moderate Joel Hefley in Congress for 20 years, and it'll keep Lamborn there for as long as he wants — unless moderates seize control of the label.

On election night, traditional Republicans came together at the Ritz Grill to wait for returns. They were there to support state House candidate Jennifer George who, despite a spirited campaign, lost to Democrat Pete Lee in HD 18. Bill and Kyle Hybl, Bob Gardner, Larry Liston, Jim Bensberg — it was an impressive crowd. Equally impressive were the young professionals who had come together to support George. More than 300 volunteers had helped in the campaign, but it wasn't enough to unseat the hard-working Lee.

George's campaign may have come up short, but maybe it's time for another battle. How about going for the big prize — control of the party? The numbers aren't particularly daunting. Get enough more folks involved in the 2014 County Assembly, and you'll control the nominating process for major offices. Maketa for Congress, George for the state Senate seat of term-limited Democrat John Morse?

Republicans, the blue sea is rising. Political change is like climate change — you ignore it at your peril.

hazlehurst@csindy.com

  • We're an island of red in a sea of blue.

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