Pueblo County GOP elects new leaders; former treasurer candidate Gray named party chair

1 month ago Pueblo Chieftain

Pueblo County GOP elects new leaders; former treasurer candidate Gray named party chair

Pueblo County Republicans have decided the leadership of the party for the next two years.

At an event in the South High School auditorium on Feb. 1, party members emphasized the need to recruit more young people to the GOP, increase election turnout and promote unity within the party.

Michelle Gray, the 2022 Republican candidate for county treasurer, bested two other candidates with two-thirds of votes and will now serve as party chair. Gray taught math and managed the math curriculum in Pueblo School District 60 schools and is now a teacher in Fremont County.

The former chair of the local party, attorney Rob Leverington, served for 19 months beginning in summer 2021 after an internal dispute caused previous chair Todd Rogers to resign, and he did not run for another term.

Gray was nominated for chair by Christy Fidura, a member of the Pueblo County Patriots, who lauded Gray’s work ethic during the campaign and her teaching skills.

“She has the ability to herd cats as a teacher. And I think that that's going to be important because we need to bring everybody back to the party,” Fidura said.

Gray said that she knocked on approximately 7,000 doors and made 62,000 phone calls during her campaign for treasurer.

“I will put that kind of energy into this party,” she said.

The Republican candidates for county offices in 2022 had regular meetings and were united. Gray argued that the local party should do more to recruit, educate and support candidates.

She added that Pueblo Republicans should unite and increase the party's presence in Pueblo.

“Being a Republican is a good thing. There is no such thing as a good Republican and a bad Republican. We're all Republicans, and we should unite,” Gray said.

Gray said the local party can “take Pueblo back” and elect Republicans for local offices, such as school board, city council and the mayor’s office, which is “kind of up in the air right now” due to a circulating petition seeking to put a question to voters that would abolish the mayor's office and return Pueblo to a city manager-led government.

If the party boosted turnout by a few percentage points, Gray said three more Republican candidates would have been elected in November: Stephen Varela for state Senate, J. Angel Lewis for assessor and herself.

The race for Pueblo County Treasurer was the closest local contest: Democrat Kim Archuletta won with a margin of 961 votes.

Two other candidates also ran for party chair.

John Colin identified himself as a Hispanic disabled veteran and ran as a “Christian constitutional conservative.” Colin said he wanted to stand up to the state Republican party, “RINOs” (Republicans in name only) and “neo-cons.” He received 17 votes.

Judy Reyher touted her previous experience as a state representative and leader of the Otero County GOP. Campaign finance records show Reyher filed to run as the Republican for State Senate District 3, but Varela was unopposed on the June 2022 primary ballot.

Six people voted for Reyher. One person wrote in George Rivera, the former state senator who won against Angela Giron in a recall election in 2013, while another person cast a vote of no confidence.

Pueblo County Coroner Brian Cotter was in attendance, as were city councilor Regina Maestri and District 70 school board member Kathy Howland.

The outgoing chair is 'over it'

“You’re going to have your hands full,” former chair Leverington remarked to Gray as he handed her the gavel at the end of the meeting.

Leverington told the Chieftain that he did not choose to run for party chair again because he was “over it.”

He said there are two main groups in the party, which is still divided. The first faction is “country club Republicans” who are more traditional, establishment conservatives, sometimes labeled “RINOs."

The second faction of Republicans is the grassroots “boot barn” people, Leverington said, referencing a column from Jon Caldera, a regular Gazette columnist and libertarian activist. Caldera was referring to a group of people who held a rally outside a Boot Barn store in suburban Denver in December about ousting party leadership.

He said he attempted to bridge both factions as party chair and didn’t fall on one side. He said put energy into raising money and running meetings well as chair, but the members of the party exhausted him.

“There’s still lots of friction in the party,” Leverington said.

Leverington said people running as “Christian conservatives” can’t get elected, pushing back on some member speeches calling for more church involvement in the party.

He said he helped move the party headquarters to a downtown office and that some candidates who had been wanting additional financial support from the party should have raised their own cash.

“I put all my efforts into getting the party in a position for long-term success, and all these other jokers, all they can think about is tomorrow's election,” Leverington said. “That's not going to help us in the long term.”

Leverington said he’s considering registering as unaffiliated.

‘God, family, country’

Election integrity, organizing Republicans and slamming Democrats were some of the biggest themes in speeches for additional party leadership positions.

Pam Poll was elected vice chair without any contest and will replace Susan Carr, who did not seek another term. Poll was unable to attend in person because of a recent injury, but Fidura, speaking on her behalf, said the Democratic party “has been taken over by left-wing progressive neo-Marxists whose goal is to fundamentally transform America.”

Fidura, speaking for Poll, also spoke about election integrity in Colorado and her advocacy for hand-counting ballots.

Academic research has found that ballot scanning by machine is more accurate than hand counting.

“One of my goals as vice chairman would be a marketing campaign to brand the Republican Party as the party of freedom: the party that was originally formed to end slavery. We are the party dedicated to human rights. We are the party dedicated to constitutional rights,” Fidura said for Poll. “We need to develop strategies to attract young people and unaffiliated voters as well as the Democrats who are no longer comfortable in their party.”

Recent assessor candidate J. Angel Lewis will be the new secretary of the party. Lewis emphasized her thorough work ethic and lamented that more people hadn’t come to the meeting.

Democrats can’t believe in God, Lewis said, because of their stance on abortion.

Lewis won 57 of 76 votes over the previous secretary, Mary Carter.

The party also elected bonus members, who can cast votes at the state central committee, according to the bylaws of the Colorado Republican Party.

Jonathan Ambler has lost the previous three elections running as a Republican candidate for House District 46, but he received the largest share of votes for party bonus member.

Other bonus members elected by party members were Shawn Conti, Ed Perry, Christy Fidura, Dan Nielsen and Ken Crank.  

Tom Ready, Nathan Baxter, John Howland, Angela Crank, Randy Linnen and Todd Rogers also ran as bonus members but did not get elected.

Uniting factions of Republicans was also a theme in remarks from Vera Ortegon, a Pueblo Republican who is a national committeewoman representing Colorado at the Republican National Committee. She recently traveled to California to participate in the election of the RNC chair.

Ortegon shared that she received death threats from other Republicans because of her support of Ronna McDaniel.

A member of the audience questioned if McDaniel, who was supported by Trump in 2016, no longer supported him.

“Those of you who are Trumpers, you have no better friend than Ronna McDaniel,” Ortegon said.

“Let's not get nasty, let's unite, because a vote that is not for unification is a vote for the Democrats,” she added.

Anna Lynn Winfrey covers politics for the Chieftain. She can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter, @annalynnfrey.
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