For those who watch local politics closely, this year's primary election put a magnifying glass on an evolutionary trend that has come to characterize El Paso County's Republican Party.
Simply put, what we've seen is a growing internal split, subtle at first but clear now. We can't talk about our county GOP as a singular group. It's really two factions at this point, whether the voters realize it or not.
The "traditional" Republicans, proudly conservative, pursue the mission to apply those principles in governing. While fiscally cautious, they understand the value and reward of working with the other side. They also don't allow moral issues or extreme positions to get in the way of productive politics. If you want to classify them, they range from center-right to staunch-right, embracing essential government.
They're threatened by "ideologue" Republicans, whose uncompromising views align with the tea party. They're much farther right, and they view the "traditional" crowd as weak and, yes, even liberal. This gang brazenly wears its prejudices as badges of honor, including homophobia and other forms of intolerance. They have no interest in working together with political opponents to achieve the common good.
We have both groups in our midst, and from this election, many of the rank-and-file do understand when the contrast hits them between the eyes.
In state Senate District 12, outgoing Sen. Bill Cadman (one of the ideologues) is term-limited. The battle to replace him pitted former state Rep. Bob Gardner (2007-2013) against current state Rep. Gordon Klingenschmitt (2015-present). Gardner fit the "traditional" description, while the cordial yet radioactive Klingenschmitt had embarrassed his peers and Colorado Springs repeatedly with his outlandish bombast.
Then there was House District 16, with incumbent Rep. Janak Joshi facing a primary challenge from ex-Rep. Larry Liston (2004-2012). Joshi was extreme enough that Liston felt compelled to run, and the ideologues — led by state Sen. Kent Lambert — attacked Liston viciously. Liston had no choice but to respond aggressively yet effectively.
Those two races divided local party leaders. But the real jury, the voters, saw through it all. Gardner and Liston didn't just dethrone Klingenschmitt and Joshi — the "traditional" veterans won by hefty, near-identical margins, Gardner by 62-38 percent, Liston by 61-39.
Both of those districts are in GOP-heavy north and east sections, with little overlap. HD 16 goes roughly from Constitution Avenue/Rock Island Trail north to Dublin Boulevard, and Interstate 25 east to Powers Boulevard. SD 12 runs east of Powers and south of Woodmen Road into rural areas, wrapping south and southwest to include the Broadmoor/Skyway neighborhoods.
Meanwhile, from big chunks of those geographical blocs, Republicans also elected former state Rep. Mark Waller to the county commissioner District 2 seat with 60 percent of the vote over Tim Geitner (with no Democrats running in November). Waller, who rose to House minority leader at the Capitol, brings the smarts, savvy and spunk that the Board of County Commissioners sorely needs with at least three members departing. Amy Lathen is leaving early to run Colorado Springs Forward, so Waller can be appointed immediately. And when the county needs help from Denver, Waller's expertise (and his "traditional" allies) will be invaluable.
But before you draw broader conclusions about our GOP voters' behavior, consider the top two contests on that same ballot. County Commissioner Darryl Glenn garnered 57 percent of the county total (he got 37 percent statewide) en route to the GOP nomination to face U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, while Rep. Doug Lamborn pulled 68 percent in disposing of his latest challenger, Calandra Vargas. Glenn and Lamborn don't belong among those "traditional" Republicans (Glenn wants Sen. Ted Cruz for the Supreme Court), with Glenn saying he has no interest in reaching across the aisle and Lamborn frustrating constituents and local leaders alike.
So we can't say the two species of local Republicans have separate constituencies. But in the races closest to the grassroots, it's clear that the "traditional" candidates — some in the middle like to call them "Reasonable Republicans" — still can wield power. And though the tea party crowd has its influential warriors, they aren't immune to local challenges.
Even if you don't belong to either group, and whether you're Democrat or unaffiliated, that's a positive sign.