Sex, Lies, and the Colorado GOP
A Facebook post announcing the resignation of Colorado GOP Chair Steve House this past Monday night left Republican activists stunned. Although House—who just passed the three month mark as Chair—declared his intention to resign in a text message to State Attorney General Cynthia Coffman, he quickly rescinded the offer.
In a private meeting Monday evening, House met with Coffman, former Congressman Tom Tancredo, and Pueblo County Chair Becky Mizel. Shortly afterwards, Mizel posted on the Pueblo County Republicans Facebook page that House announced his resignation as Chair for personal reasons.
Conservative talk radio host Randy Corporon picked up the post and shared it in other groups, which ignited a firestorm of Facebook activity into the early morning hours. Since then, it’s been a battle of the press releases with accusations flying on both sides.
From the House camp comes allegations that Coffman and company are upset over staffing decisions and acting out a personal vendetta by spreading false rumors of adultery. On Coffman’s side, those involved in the meeting have been slow to respond and are maintaining secrecy over what they call serious allegations regarding House’s character and leadership capabilities.
House, who has been described as “Clinton-esque” by several precinct level party leaders, has been gaining an increasing number of critics. One of those critics is elections integrity expert, Marilyn Marks who shared her experience as a member of a state party elections oversight committee. She said that some members walked off due to the inexplicable decision to replace the committee vice-chair and the invitation to include county clerks—holding different agendas—whom the committee was seeking to hold accountable. In a statement provided to Politichicks, Marks said, “I began to learn that flip-flop-flip decision making is routine with Steve, destroying his credibility and destroying the motivation of those who work on initiatives for the party. We expect the rug to be pulled out from under us at any moment with the next predictable flip-flop. His ‘commitments’ become merely fleeting suggestions. We need deliberative, strong and consistent leadership for the party, not Steve House.”
Supporters are quick to point out House’s accomplishments during his short tenure in office up to this time. Adams County Republican Jen Raffie has been going to social media and calling in to radio talk shows, reminding people that everyone is getting a seat at the table under House’s leadership, including the grassroots segments who were completely cut out by the previous chair. Raffie provided a lengthy list of House’s accomplishments which included:
- Unprecedented fundraising, raising an estimated $250,000 in 12 weeks
- Ongoing work to create a more efficient data structure
- Formation of date committee and election oversight committee
- Reaching out to Republicans across the state through attendance of Lincoln Day Dinners, Republican meet-ups, and other local events at county and city levels
- In process of updating the county party manual to better train county party chairs
- Putting a stop to RNC hiring practices of state workers without involvement from the state chair and associated county chairs
- Initiation of a contract for a third party independent audit with a forensic accountant
- Termination of the contract with one of the most expensive law firms in the state, Hale Westfall—the same firm who employed previous chair Ryan Call. (Call is now listed as a partner with the firm.)
Matt Arnold of Campaign Integrity Watchdog, who has not taken a position on whether or not House should resign, said that a lawsuit he initiated against the state party’s independent expenditure committee—called CORE IEC—for reporting violations was “handled well” by House. He told Politichicks that House worked towards a fair and expedient resolution to a lawsuit that could have cost the party nearly $200,000 in fines, penalties, and attorney fees. The CORE IEC was launched by previous Chair Ryan Call, and according to Arnold is seeing it’s last days under House. (The embattled CORE IEC listed fallen political consultant Tyler Harber as the registered agent until February 9th, 2015 on the Colorado Secretary of State Web site. Three days later on February 12th, Harber was arrested on charges of illegal campaign coordination. Though the bulk of funds raised under the IEC were paid to Harber’s consulting firm Harden Global, the charges against Harber were unrelated to his work with the Colorado IEC. Harber was sentenced to two years in prison on a plea deal.)
House is not new to accusations of infidelity. During his campaign for state party chair, leaks of an affair reached the annual Leadership Program of the Rockies (LRP) retreat held at the illustrious Broadmoor Hotel in Colorado Springs. The House campaign team moved swiftly to squash those rumors and succeeded in damage control with a response to central committee voting members that the character smears were the work of a “vindictive, crazy ex-girlfriend” and that the alleged affair occurred when House was single, prior to his marriage with second wife Donna.
A minor scandal broke immediately following House’s election when former state legislator Ted Harvey claimed to be the new executive director of the party. Rumors surfaced that Harvey was promised the job, but House reneged and instead retained Shana Kohn in that position until her recent resignation due to pregnancy. However, Kohn is still listed on the state GOP Web site as Executive Director. Critics voiced their dismay with House for holding onto Kohn and other staff who worked under former Chair Ryan Call.
In a controversial hiring decision in terms of her “outside the box” background, House appointed Tyler Hart as the new Chief of Staff, who some critics have since embraced. In addition, House hired his god-daughter, Anne O’Donnell as the new Finance Director. An online search of voter records confirmed that O’Donnell resides at the same address as House.
O’Donnell’s boyfriend, Ryan Lynch, was also hired as an independent consultant under a short-term contract to assist with legal and financial issues. Lynch told Politichicks, “When Steve was elected, he inherited a legal and financial mess. It was bad. I have never seen a political organization in worse shape. That is why I was brought in, to clean up this mess. My goal has been to have the State Party financial and legal issues resolved or on the right track toward resolution by July.”
Republicans Call For Answers
Coffman, who was instrumental in recruiting House to run for Chair and gave House’s nomination speech during the Spring organizational meeting of the State Central Committee put her career and reputation on the line in the unexpected confrontational meeting with House.
Frustrated party activists have been questioning the lack of transparency regarding the allegations that prompted Coffman to request his resignation. In forums both online and offline, party members have expressed mixed reactions from a visceral anger towards Coffman, Tancredo, and Mizel to a more measured wait-and-see approach regarding the call for House’s resignation.
Republicans around the state are asking why the resignation announcement was made public on social media in the first place and why Coffman won’t make public the allegations. In a comment buried on a Facebook thread, Mizel wrote, “He did resign in writing to a high very respected elected state party official who asked me to post his resignation on social media – which I did. He has since rescinded.”
Online speculations have snowballed to a fever pitch as both the liberty and progressive wings attempt to piece together why House’s most ardent supporters are now coming out against him.
While local news outlets described the meeting as a “coup attempt,” influential party insiders close to the situation came forward to clarify that this was no coup attempt, and in fact expressed concerns that former Chair Ryan Call—whom they worked to defeat—would make a comeback as House’s replacement. One source stated that those asking for his resignation did not have a replacement candidate ready to run. (Since his defeat in his re-election bid as the Colorado Republican Party Chair, Call has most recently supported Democrat Sean Bradley, in his failed campaign for a seat on Denver City Council. Call donated $450 to Bradley according to campaign finance reports).
In a press release on Wednesday, House confirmed the meeting between him, Coffman, Tancredo, and Mizel. He stated that he thought he was only meeting with Coffman to discuss strategy and was surprised by the presence of Tancredo and Mizel. House stated, “Congressman Tancredo confronted me about not hiring former state Sen. Ted Harvey as the Party’s executive director, and demanded that I resign my post. If I refused to meet their demand to resign, they threatened that a potential lawsuit may be filed and that false rumors that I have been unfaithful to my wife would be made public.”
Although House has vehemently denied the infidelity allegations, Politichicks has uncovered the identity of a woman alleged to have an affair with House after his election. A request for comment was declined, however she left the door open for a future interview.
In a phone conversation with Tancredo the night of the big meeting, he denounced the idea that the meeting was over House’s decision to not hire Harvey. Tancredo said, “We would not have had the meeting with Steve if the only issues were personnel and broken campaign promises.”
Coffman, Tancredo, and Mizel continue to remain silent on the allegations, but one inside source told Politichicks the allegations include character assassination—in which House was confronted on slanderous statements made against a well known, respected Republican in a context that could lead to an embarrassing and expensive lawsuit against the state party.
Denver 9News reported that House will not file criminal charges against the trio for what has been described as blackmail tactics used in an attempt to force his resignation.
In an email statement to Politichicks, Coffman stated: “Obviously, the whole episode is very sad. I don’t relish the hardship for Steve or the party, nor was anyone involved in that meeting eager to have the conversation at all. But as someone who was being inundated with information raising some very serious questions, I had no choice but to sit down and lay out the allegations to Steve. There was no joy in this, there were no threats, nor was there any desire for the meeting to become public fodder. At the same time, just sort of sweeping it under the rug wouldn’t have been responsible.”
Mizel released her statement on Facebook Wednesday evening. She wrote that they sought House’s voluntary resignation based on a loss of confidence by party members, leaders, and legislators. Mizel stated, “Our difficult decision to withdraw support from his leadership came after many credible complaints by very active members engaging with him, and serious repeated incidents of lack of candor in his communications with members. Our goal in meeting with House privately was to attempt to avoid a public airing of the unfortunate decisions he is making that places the state party at credible risk. Despite his claims to the contrary, I honor the fact that any chair has the right to recruit his own staff who can best support the goals of the party. Our concerns with House are not based on who he has selected to help him manage the operation. Our concerns are far more serious, and relate to a loss of integrity that is incompatible with the standards of our party.”
Mizel said that it was inappropriate to comment on specific details of the complaints at this time while characterizing House’s statements thus far as “generally untrue and a gross misrepresentation of the facts.” She wrote, “Based (sic) House’s poor judgment in making such false allegations, I am more committed than ever to seeking his resignation, with every effort to avoid a publicly humiliating experience for House and the party that would result from a forced removal.”
A movement to request an emergency meeting of the state executive committee is underway, but it is questionable that the movement will succeed with a regularly scheduled meeting already slated for next week.
Adams County Chair Anil Matthai weighed in on the controversy, “There are processes in place to deal with any type of issue. We should respect the process and let this play out in executive committee proceedings and not on Facebook or social media. We all need to take a deep breath and let the process work itself out.”
Meanwhile, the party faithful continue to wonder and wait for answers.
UPDATE: Despite the required number of Executive Committee members signing on to a special meeting request, Chairman House refused to call the meeting. According to party by-laws (Article IX, Section C2), “Special meetings shall be called by the Chairman at the written request of one-third of the voting members of the Executive Committee.”
The Colorado Republican Party’s next monthly Executive Committee meeting will take place next week Friday which is scheduled just prior to the opening of the Western Conservative Summit. While the issue is not on the official agenda, the special meeting request placed the expectation that time will be allotted to address the allegations.
Republican consultant Ryan Lynch asked Politichicks to clarify that Shana Kohn was not responsible for the problems inherited from the previous chair.