The Colorado Republican Party’s governing board formally rebuked the El Paso County GOP chairwoman late Monday, asserting in an unprecedented censure resolution that Vickie Tonkins failed in her duty as a party official when she actively opposed numerous Republican nominees just days before the November election.
The state party’s censure comes weeks after Tonkins led the county party’s own resolution to “censure and condemn in the strongest possible terms” more than 30 current and former local elected officials, candidates and GOP volunteers who organized their own voter-contact effort, insisting they couldn’t rely on the county party to support some Republican nominees.
The competing public reprimands are the latest eruption in a longstanding battle between factions of Colorado Republicans that claim to represent the party’s grassroots supporters and its more traditional, establishment members.
Tension between the GOP wings has increased in the wake of Republicans’ poor performance in last month’s general election, when Democrats swept every statewide office and increased the party’s majorities in Colorado’s congressional delegation and the General Assembly.
Declaring that Tonkins called a special meeting of the county party’s central committee four days before the Nov. 8 election “for the purpose of censuring seven Republican candidates who were on the ballot without any constructive or valid reason,” the state party’s censure resolution states that Tonkins “flagrantly and intentionally violated her duty as County Chairman and instead of supporting these seven Republican candidates in the General Election, she actively opposed them.”
The resolution also noted that Tonkins “rejected repeated requests” to wait to consider her complaints after the election and instead focus on getting Republican voters to the polls.
The strongly worded resolution concluded: “RESOLVED, That for these reasons alone, the Colorado Republican Committee hereby formally censures El Paso County Chairwoman Vickie Tonkins for her rejection of her duty to Republican candidates on the ballot in the 2022 General Election.”
At the county party’s Nov. 5 meeting, the El Paso County Republicans also demanded that the Peak Republicans, a group formed in April by a former state lawmaker and longtime party volunteer, stop using the word “Republican” and apologize for suggesting that the county party wasn’t doing its job.
After hearing complaints last week from both sides, the state GOP’s executive committee voted 15-5 to censure Tonkins and, in a unanimous vote, urged the Peak Republicans to apply for permission from the state party to continue using the name under a state law that gives Colorado’s two major parties authority over which groups can call themselves Republicans and Democrats.
Tonkins denounced the censure resolution and tore into state GOP chair Kristi Burton Brown in an email to Colorado Politics.
“Kristi Burton Brown is a moral disgrace for lying to voters about her support for pro-abortion candidates, and an ineffective state chair to boot,” Tonkins wrote. “Given her hypocrisy on the issue of life, it’s not surprising that she would sell out to her failed establishment buddies by attacking me for supporting President Trump, and our party’s conservative principles that she betrayed so she could accept nearly a 100K income from the establishment donors she really answers to.”
Added Tonkins: “The truth is she presided over the worst election outcome for Republicans ever and I’ll be happy to help end her reign of terror against the grassroots during the next party election.”
Burton Brown, who rose to prominence in state politics years ago when she sponsored a “personhood” ballot measure that critics say would have effectively banned abortion, drew criticism from some Republicans this year for supporting GOP U.S. Senate nominee Joe O’Dea, who described himself as “pro-choice.”
The state party’s executive director called Tonkins’ reaction to her censure “as laughable as her leadership as chair has been” in a text message.
“Ask any candidate, except one former state representative who got routed in the CD-05 Republican primary, and they’ll tell you that she hurt their campaign at every turn. This wasn’t Chairwoman Brown’s decision, this was a decision voted on by the ENTIRE Colorado GOP Executive Committee,” Joe Jackson told Colorado Politics.
Jody Richie, one of the organizers of the Peak Republicans, said in a text message that the group will apply to continue using the word “Republican” in its name and hopes the reprimand will encourage Tonkins to change her ways.
“I’m hoping that this censure will help Vickie refocus her efforts of helping elect Republicans in the future,” Richie said. “Also, we are grateful for the support of the state party and helping us move forward and doing the right thing.”
State Sen. Larry Liston, R-Colorado Springs, called the censure resolution “well deserved and earned by (Tonkins).”
“Due to her unnecessary and vindictive actions, she not only greatly distracted from the campaigns of many hard-working candidates, she further divided the local party at a crucial point in time, but also undermined the hard work of dedicated volunteers and likely contributed to the loss of at least three local GOP candidates,” Liston wrote in an email.
Eli Bremer, a former El Paso County GOP chair and an unsuccessful 2022 U.S. Senate candidate, said he believes that the state party made the right decision.
“I applaud the state party for a decision that is clear, concise and 100% the right one,” he said. “We simply cannot have county party chairs attacking our own candidates on the eve of the election.”
Outgoing state Rep. Dave Williams, R-Colorado Springs, a longtime Tonkins ally, blasted the state party’s move and suggested she will appeal the ruling to the state party’s larger central committee, which is next scheduled to meet in March, when members are slated to elect state party officers to two-year terms.
“Vickie Tonkins is an honorable chair and was protecting our party’s name and platform precisely because Kristi Burton Brown refused to do so, which is why Brown is now attempting to distract from the establishment’s abject failure to even maintain Republican seats by attacking conservatives,” Williams said in a text message.
Burton Brown hasn’t said whether she intends to seek another term as party boss, but already several potential challengers are beginning to emerge, including Williams, who told Colorado Politics last week that he’s weighing a bid.
It’s the first time in memory the Colorado Republican Party has censured a local party official, though the state party has admonished Tonkins before, including shortly after she won election to a second two-year term early last year.
At that time, the state GOP’s executive committee ordered the El Paso County Republicans to conduct a new election for party leadership, citing “irregularities” in the election overseen by Tonkins and her allies. Tonkins, however, appealed the decision to the state’s larger central committee, which overruled the party’s executive committee and let the initial party election results stand.