It’s no secret that the Colorado GOP has major problems. But now one problem — let’s call it the Patrick Neville problem — has reached a critical stage.
And how the party deals with it may tell us a lot about the state party’s future. And in a small way, it may even offer up hints about how the national GOP deals with life after Donald Trump, if it turns out there is such a thing.
The issue is doxxing, in which soon-to-be-former House Minority Leader Neville, using voter registration data, published on his Facebook account the address of a Denver Post reporter who had co-written an article questioning Neville’s handling of caucus funds as party leader. Doxxing is ugly in any case. But for an elected representative, a leader of a party, it is well beyond the pale.
In this time when Trump calls journalists enemies of the people, Neville intentionally put the lives of reporters and their families at some risk. Neville must be sanctioned. And in my view, the only question facing Republicans is what the sanctions should be.
“The release of a journalist’s private information in retaliation for an unflattering story is wrong,” said Hugh McKean, who will be the new House party leader, in a written statement. “While members of the Legislature are responsible for their own statements and social media posts, this type of reprisal is not acceptable and does not represent the values we, as Republicans, hold.”
OK, it’s unacceptable, but then what? McKean’s statement didn’t scare off Neville or his pal, state Rep. Dave Williams. Neville then published the registration data of the other reporter on the story, and Williams, in a post, asked Neville to look up the voting registration data on 9News’ Kyle Clark.
Neville had told 9News that he was just trying to show that the reporters were registered Democrats and that he had redacted the addresses — although not very convincingly — once objections were raised. It’s a little after the fact, of course, and one of the reporters, it turns out, is registered as unaffiliated. And besides, what difference does party registration make? The article quoted many Republicans criticizing Neville, who then accused his GOP critics of being “on the take.”
Yes, he did. How much more does McKean need?
Alec Garnett, a Democrat set to be House speaker, called the doxxing “an abuse of his power,” saying that he was “very disappointed” in Neville.
“We see the president continuing to fight the election results, grasping for straws, and this is Patrick playing to that same fake news crowd,” Garnett said. “He could put those reporters at risk. And their families.”
Garnett, like many elected officials, has been doxxed and is considering if the House should take some action on the issue. But the issue of Neville is more of a party problem, unless it were to rise to the point of expulsion, as it did in the case of Steve Lebsock.
We have seen legislators censured (Doug Bruce) by their party or having had their committee posts stripped from them (Randy Baumgardner). There are actions the party could take.
But will they? McKean said it hasn’t been determined. Just as many Republicans have refused to even admit that Joe Biden has won the presidency — see: Gardner, Cory — Republicans have shown a general unwillingness to stand up to their base. This is the national GOP problem writ small. You can call it cowardice. I would. You could also note that McKean was elected leader by only one vote.
The reason Neville stepped down was clearly laid out in the article by Conrad Swanson and Alex Burness. The article was about what has gone wrong for the Colorado GOP — short answer, just about everything — but it dealt in great detail with Neville and his management, or mismanagement, of Republican caucus funds.
The story told of how Neville had guided nearly a million dollars since 2017 to his brother Joe’s firm, Rearden Strategic. This has been an issue among Republicans for a while, and we now see the party left with its smallest representation in the state House since Lyndon Johnson was president. The entire state party, by the way, is in the worst shape it has been in since at least World War II.
The Rearden money was spent, in part, on battles within the party and, in some cases, against Republicans whom Neville, part of the party’s far right wing, thought were insufficiently conservative.
Here’s a typical quote in the article from GOP Rep. Lois Landgraf: “There was no oversight, there was no input and the money was not spent on the appropriate candidates at the appropriate times. There are candidates who should certainly feel cheated and the caucus overall should feel cheated.”
But that’s just the beginning. The party can blame itself for electing Neville, who was a known quantity as a loose cannon, and for allowing Neville to guide the funds — which are meant to re-elect Republicans and find new candidates to support — without sufficient pushback.
The state GOP has been having trouble understanding just what has gone wrong, which is how the party had come to elect Rep. Ken Buck, also of its far right wing, as its chairman. Buck is also stepping down. And if you want more insight, the vote in the U.S. House on the stimulus package should help. The vote was 359 to 53, and of those 53 nay votes, three came from the Colorado GOP — Buck, Doug Lamborn and Scott Tipton.
There’s doxxing in politics, usually from operatives of one kind or another. But I can’t think of a case of an elected official doxxing reporters, although I’m sure it has happened. If you’re a reporter for long enough, you get threats. One local party official once wrote on Facebook that I should be “disemboweled” on the Capitol steps. He said he was joking, and I believe him. I mean, who’d want to have to walk around that? But the guy who left me phone messages saying he knew where I lived, and the guy who hand-delivered a threatening letter to the newspaper where I worked and the guy who kept driving past my house, well, those are different matters.
But from a legislative party leader? “The important thing is that he’s a former party leader,” one Republican legislator told me. “He’s not my party leader. And the Post story showed why. But publishing a reporter’s address because of an unflattering story is a very disturbing precedent that shouldn’t be tolerated, and I don’t think it is being tolerated.”
More than one Republican told me that the Post story just scratched the surface of Neville’s problems, but that’s for other reporters to dig into.
What’s clear today is that Neville’s doxxing is not just unacceptable. It is irresponsible and dangerous, and until, or unless, McKean and House Republicans sanction Neville, they own it.
Mike Littwin’s column was produced for The Colorado Sun, a reader-supported news organization committed to covering the people, places and policies of Colorado. Learn more at coloradosun.com.