The leadership of the Colorado Republican House’s fragile majority is appealing for unity after primary elections that knocked off some GOP incumbents.
Last week’s primaries changed the political fates of a handful of Republican incumbents in the House, where the GOP has a one vote edge over Democrats. After the results, House Republican Speaker Frank McNulty urged his party to work together.
“Now is the time to unify our Republican party, grow our House Republican majority and continue our efforts to help families make ends meet and our small businesses grow,” McNulty said in a statement.
Democrats, meanwhile, are hoping to capitalize on Republican Party discord and are planning to use failed civil unions legislation against them.
One of the more bitterly contested races happened in conservative El Paso County, where Republican Rep. Marsha Looper challenged House GOP Leader Amy Stephens. Stephens defeated Looper with 60 percent of the vote.
Democrats won last year’s state redistricting fight and succeeded in getting maps approved that put incumbents into the same legislative districts, including Stephens and Looper.
In other instances where Republican incumbents were drawn together, some lawmakers stepped aside to avoid primaries.
Republicans had a tougher time than Democrats in the primaries, and that was “substantially due to” state redistricting, said Mario Nicolais, a Republican attorney and map drawer who served on the redistricting commission.
“I don’t know if it was an electoral strategy so much as wanting to cause a bit of pain for some Republicans,” said Nicolais, who has repeatedly called the approved maps “vindictive.”
Nicolais said he believes Republicans will unify, and that the early primary this year — June as opposed to mid-August — will give them time to do that.
“People have invested a lot of time in these primaries, and it takes time to decompress,” he said.
Two House Republican incumbents, Reps. Larry Liston and Glenn Vaad, lost GOP primaries to move to the Senate.
Also in the Senate, Republican Rep. Randy Baumgardner defeated incumbent Republican Sen. Jean White in a northwest Colorado primary that became ugly with interests groups
Legislation on civil unions that House Republicans killed by preventing a vote with a filibuster became an issue because of how White and Baumgardner voted. White supported the bill, and Baumgardner voted against it.
Baumgardner was hit with news that a convicted sex offender who had failed to register lives at his home. A flier showing him with his eyes closed at the state House chamber claimed he voted to raise vehicle registration fees.
Baumgardner said last week’s results showed voters can see through the attacks.
“It just restores to my faith that people don’t always listen to that,” he said.
White said Baumgardner was the one guilty of negative campaigning, and that he lied by characterizing her as an “anti-gun liberal.” White’s opponents also questioned her values because of her civil unions vote, and sent fliers that showed two men kissing.
“The fact is that negative campaigns work, even though they’re based on lies,” White said. She said she doesn’t regret her vote on civil unions.
The debate over civil unions also surfaced in the Stephens-Looper race. Weeks before the primary, Looper’s campaign manager forwarded an email to voters from a conservative group praising Looper for voting against civil unions despite having a gay son. Looper said her family’s personal lives are off limits.
With the dust settled on the primaries, a pro-civil unions group has begun researching what races to target to defeat opponents of the legislation.
“Our one and only mission is to defeat lawmakers who opposed civil unions,” said Roger Sherman, the treasurer and spokesman for “Fight Back Colorado.”
Every Democrat in the Legislature supported civil unions this year.
Sherman said the group, which will collect money from across the state, is modeled after an effort in New York that successfully pushed to legalize gay marriage. The group has not said which races they’ll target.