Boys will be boys. Or in this case, politicians will be politicians. And sometimes, in the heat of the game, it comes down to near-fisticuffs, even in the Republican stronghold of El Paso County, where every official elected to partisan-held seats is a member of Abraham Lincoln's Grand Old Party.
Let's take, for example, the Jan. 16 run-in between state GOP Vice-Chairman Larry Liston, House District 16 Republican challenger Bill Jambura and Colorado Springs City Councilman Charles Wingate during a Republican Central Committee meeting at Liberty High School.
As is common at such gatherings, Jambura had distributed copies of a newspaper article on the auditorium seats. The article detailed a nasty fight over Jambura's challenge to incumbent state Rep. Bill Sinclair, who is seeking a final term representing House District 16, which encompasses north-central Colorado Springs.
Liston, who, in addition to serving as the vice chair of the state party, lives in and is also the chairman of District 16, has made it no secret that he doesn't approve of Jambura's effort to unseat Liston's pal Sinclair. But when Wingate observed Liston removing Jambura's campaign material from the auditorium, he thought it just wasn't right.
The Councilman said he subsequently informed Jambura of the pilfering, and the two confronted Liston in the lobby of Liberty High. "Bill [Jambura] said, 'I heard you've been taking my stuff,' and Larry [Liston] denied it at first," Wingate recounted. "Larry initially said, 'I don't know what you're talking about.' But then I told him, 'I saw you take it,' and Larry just lost it."
According to Wingate, "Larry called Bill a Judas; he said, 'Go whine to somebody else, you Judas,' and then he just kept saying, 'What are you going to do about it? What are you going to do about it?'"
At that point, Wingate said, the normally demure, tallish Liston aggressively moved into the Jambura's "personal space," and it looked as though he was going to start swinging at the shorter, wiry man. So Wingate, who is of large stature, grabbed Liston and pulled him back, advising the state party vice chairman to back off.
Liston reportedly then started in on Wingate who, during his 2001 campaign for City Council, was accused of stealing his opponents' yard signs. "He started saying things about my hands not being clean, but I don't move around my Republican opponents' stuff, and I sure as heck don't physically attack them," Wingate said. "I was dismayed and embarrassed."
This week, Liston downplayed the encounter, and said he is trying just to put the whole thing to bed. "I would just say we had a couple of words and that's pretty much all there was," he said.
As the state GOP vice chair, Liston is required by his own party's bylaws to remain neutral in Republican Party races. However, he claimed it's "debatable" whether that rule applies in this situation. Liston said that, without the bylaws in front of him, he couldn't quote the exact rule that requires him to remain neutral. "I'm not so sure I know what the general rule is, so I guess I have no comment on that," he said.
Specifically, Article III, Section C of the Colorado Republican Committee's bylaws specifies that: "No candidate for any designation or nomination for public office shall be endorsed, supported, or opposed by the Colorado Republican Committee (acting as an entity) or by its officers or committees, before the primary, unless that candidate is unopposed in the primary."
This week, Colorado GOP Chairman Bob Beauprez, who lives in the Denver metro area, said he had not heard about the recent run-in at Liberty High School. However, Beauprez confirmed that he has spoken to Liston a couple of times about his vice chair's previous plays of favorites in the Sinclair/Jambura primary -- whose election is still a full six months away.
"I've told Larry that it's a problem, and he apologized and hoped [he] didn't cause any more problems," Beauprez said. "It's never pretty when this happens, yet I'm a bit perplexed about what to do about it."
The GOP's rules are very clear about what constitutes acceptable behavior, Beauprez noted, but they are almost completely lacking in what can be done when violations occur.
The state party chairman likened the conundrum over self-policing to the classic adage employed in sports locker rooms everywhere: "What you see here, what you say here, when you leave here, let it stay here."
"I struggle to try to do anything other than saying, 'Boys, play well,'" Beauprez said.