Colorado voters remain caught in the vicegrip of theocratic Republicans and hard-left Democrats who often select candidates far from the values of mainstream Colorado. Here I focus on the Republican side of the problem as revealed at the April 14 state assembly, which I attended as a delegate.
Anti-Abortion Zealots Sink Coffman
Cynthia Coffman, elected Colorado’s attorney general in 2014, had an excellent chance to win the the governor’s race this year in the general election. But, unlike most Colorado Republican leaders, she does not want to outlaw absolutely all abortion, and that fact, more than any other, sank her candidacy at assembly. This is true even though Coffman’s views are mainstream; in 2014 Colorado voters rejected the anti-abortion “Personhood” initiative by a margin of two-to-one.
An outfit called Real Colorado Conservatives was formed specifically to destroy Coffman’s candidacy, and it succeeded.
On April 11, I received the following voice message from the organization:
This is a pro-life alert. Don’t be fooled, conservatives. Cynthia Coffman is radically pro-abortion, and she doesn’t deny it. She admits to being pro-choice in the press, in speeches, and has even called the GOP platform on conservative issues “backwards.” Even worse, as Attorney General, Cynthia Coffman refused to prosecute radical abortion group Planned Parenthood after they were exposed in sale of trafficking of aborted children’s body parts. It’s disgusting and wrong. But liberal Cynthia Coffman did nothing. Cynthia Coffman has been masquerading as a Republican for too long. Colorado conservatives can’t stand for a fake Republican like Cynthia Coffman. This Saturday at the Colorado assembly, don’t be fooled. Cynthia Coffman doesn’t share your values. She’s radically pro-abortion and proud of it.
The same outfit also published a web site and distributed flyers at the assembly with a similar message.
Coffman is not “radically pro-abortion.” With her positions on abortion she’d be bounced out of any Democratic Party position. In a recent conference call, Coffman said she’d defund Planned Parenthood, she opposes late-term abortion, and she advocates parental approval for abortion. She said she’s personally against abortion and favors adoption over abortion. But no, Coffman does not want to outlaw all abortion from the moment of conception, as advocates of “Personhood” measures do.
Meanwhile, every other candidate who mentioned the issue on stage pledged complete opposition to abortion—although no candidate mentioned details, probably because the vast majority of Colorado voters oppose the total abortion bans that most Republican candidates implicitly endorse.
Justin Everett, who handily won the nomination for treasurer, even had Kristi Burton Brown—a key organizer of the “Personhood” drive—nominate him for the position. Everett, who referred to himself as a “Christian soldier,” swore he was totally “pro-life” (i.e., in favor of banning abortion), even though he acknowledged that the issue is irrelevant to the position of treasurer. (Even though I had told Everett that I planned to vote for him, I switched my vote after Everett’s gratuitous flaunting of theocratic values. I continue to think of him as a talented politician, and I think he’d do a good job as treasurer, which after all involves handling the state’s finances and not regulating women’s reproduction.)
According to Real Colorado Conservatives and their allies, there is no longer room in the Republican Party of Colorado for people like former Senator Hank Brown, former Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton, and others who do not think government should outlaw all abortion and treat women who get an abortion as criminals.
Religious Liberty and Other Issues
Real Colorado Conservatives also claimed that Coffman is “pro-amnesty” and “anti-religious liberty.” I don’t know Coffman’s position on amnesty—it’s irrelevant to the position of governor (Coffman opposes “sanctuary” policies)—but the group has a point on the second matter.
In a media release about the infamous Masterpiece Cake Shop case, which involves a Colorado baker who declined to make a cake for a gay wedding, Coffman argued “it would be a mistake in deciding this case to create new exceptions to anti-discrimination laws that have never been applied to any other group of people.”
I’m on the record as supporting the rights of business owners to decline such service. Yet I recognize that Coffman’s view has some plausible arguments behind it. I agree that there should not be a specifically religious exemption in such matters; I think that all business owners should have the same freedoms. In my view Coffman takes the wrong position here, and that definitely hurt her with many delegates. (In his speech, candidate for governor Barry Farah blasted Coffman on this issue, and, notably, Farah got more than twice as many votes as Coffman.) Yet I voted for Coffman despite my disagreement with her on this issue because overall I thought she was far and away the best (least-bad) and most electable candidate running.
How is it that Colorado Republicans placed on the primary ballot someone with a case of petition fraud in his recent past and of drunk driving in his distant past, along with someone with an incident of domestic violence in his past, over a well-qualified and eminently electable woman with a distinguished career as an attorney and elected official?
Ideology is the main reason, but Coffman also performed poorly at assembly. In her first speech, which was was supposed to be about her work as Attorney General, Coffman lambasted Walker Stapleton over the matters of petition fraud and drunk driving. This attack was heavy handed and out of place, and it cost her.
In her main presentation, Coffman started with an overlong and boring slideshow with music playing in the background. By that time, delegates had been sitting in the assembly room for many hours, and to me this video was painful to watch. People responded well to the introduction by Mitchell Zuckoff (author of 13 Hours), but Coffman’s speech was so-so. At one point her tongue slipped and she referred to the “Republican” governors of Colorado’s recent past—she meant Democratic—and this seemed to reinforce the view that Coffman is confused about which party she represents. (Stapleton’s presentation was competent but not a lot better.)
Another problem is that Coffman seemed to run from the relevant controversies rather than address them head-on. How hard would it have been for her to forthrightly state her position: “I want to defund Planned Parenthood and restrict late-term abortions, but I do not want generally want to turn women who get an abortion into criminals”?
All day I got the feeling that Coffman was not connecting with delegates, and in the end it was obvious that she had not connected.
Still, given the ideological tenor of the convention and the nasty attacks leveled against Coffman, I think that even if Coffman had given the performance of a lifetime at the assembly she still would have lost.
I was surprised that Coffman did not get second slot on the ballot and instead got only 5 percent of the vote, but given that she did it is clear that the ideological attacks against her worked.
A Sexist Attack
Did sexism rather than ideology bring down Coffman? Douglas Bruce, author of the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights (as he will never let anyone forget), circulated a nasty flyer stating, among other things, that Coffman “admitted she has never given birth to any children.” The flyer continues, “She [Coffman] did not mention why she and Rep. Mike Coffman divorced, nor her loyalty to AG John Suthers.” (Coffman worked for Suthers in the AG’s office, which successfully prosecuted Bruce for tax fraud.)
We should note that, according to Lynn Bartels, a spokesperson for Secretary of State Wayne Williams, Bruce was “mad that he was told to stop passing these out” at the assembly (I don’t know the details).
An aside: the Bruce flyer is yet another reminder not to attach any given political cause to a particular person. Enemies of TABOR never tire of pointing out that Bruce was a main figure behind it. (My support for TABOR does not hinge on my opinion of Bruce.)
As far as I could tell, the flyer had no effect at the assembly. Still, it is worth considering that such a flyer almost certainly never would have been introduced at a Democratic function, and, if it had been, it would have generated a rather stronger reaction.
I continue to think, then, that Coffman lost mainly because of her lack of religious dogmatism regarding abortion and other matters, not because of her lackluster performance or the sexist attacks against her.
Do I overstate the point when say that the core of today’s Republican Party has theocratic tendencies?
Prominent Republican leaders endorse the “Personhood” movement, which would criminalize all abortion from the moment of conception, even in cases of rape; ban some popular forms of birth control because they might interfere with the implantation of an embryo; and ban common fertility treatments because they result in unused embryos. The explicit motivation for passing and enforcing such far-reaching and authoritarian laws is religious faith. The imposition of faith-based law is the essence of theocracy.
Regarding “religious liberty” as involving Masterpiece Cake Shop, the position of leading Republicans is that business owners should be exempt from certain laws that apply to everyone else, specifically because they are religious. The position is that, if a business owner disapproves of gay marriage because (say) the Bible regards homosexuality is an abomination, then the business owner should not be forced to obey the anti-discrimination laws that everyone else must obey. In other words, these Republicans call for unequal treatment under the law based on religious conviction. How should we describe the practice of giving religious people special treatment under the law, if not as theocratic?
(The justification of my position is much different: Although I condemn all forms of bigotry as morally wrong, I think business owners have a right to run their business as they see fit, regardless of their ideological views.)
Not a single speaker at the assembly expressed support for same-sex marriage, even though such is now the law of the land. Numerous speakers expressed their opposition to same-sex marriage, again for explicitly religious reasons. (I will note that the Log Cabin Republicans had a lonely table at the assembly, so not all Republicans are anti-gay.)
Faith-based law, in the form of abortion bans, religious-based discrimination, and opposition to same-sex marriage, was arguably the animating force of the convention. The number of candidates who went out of their way to swear fealty to Jesus Christ was remarkable. Faith-based issues are what seemed to most consistently get the crowd excited.
True, Republicans also talked a great deal about defending the Second Amendment, cutting regulations, defending TABOR, protecting carbon-based energy, expanding choice in education, and so on, and no doubt some Republicans attended mostly because of such issues. But religiously based government seemed to be the most prominent theme.
Imagine the response of the crowd had someone taken the stage and said something like the following:
One of the great strengths of our political system always has been our tendency to keep religious issues in the background. By maintaining the separation of church and state, the United States has avoided the intolerance which has so divided the rest of the world with religious wars. . . .
The religious factions that are growing in our land are not using their religious clout with wisdom. They are trying to force government leaders into following their positions 100 percent. . . . The uncompromising position of these groups is a divisive element that could tear apart the very spirit of our representative system, if they gain sufficient strength. . . .
I am warning them today: I will fight [religious groups] every step of the way if they try to dictate their moral convictions to all Americans in the name of “conservatism.” . . .
The religious factions will go on imposing their will on others unless the decent people connected to them recognize that religion has no place in public policy. . . .
We have succeeded for 205 years in keeping the affairs of state separate from the uncompromising idealism of religious groups and we mustn’t stop now.
To retreat from that separation would violate the principles of conservatism and the values upon which the framers built this democratic republic.
Those are the words of Barry Goldwater. Any speaker who might have dared to repeat these words at the 2018 Colorado Republican assembly would have been booed from the stage.