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Election-denying conspiracy theorists dominate Republican state assembly

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April 10, 2022, 2:33 pm
State Rep.Ron Hanks, R-Cañon City, addresses the crowd gathered on the steps of the state capitol for an event called the “Colorado Election Truth Rally” on April 5 (Kevin Mohatt for Colorado Newsline).

Joe Oltmann, a far-right conspiracy theorist who in December called for Democratic Gov. Jared Polis to be hanged, was briefly nominated for governor by delegates at the Colorado Republican Party’s state assembly on Saturday. The motion from the floor was seconded by state Rep. Patrick Neville of Castle Rock, a former House minority leader, Colorado Public Radio reported.

In a speech, Oltmann declined to pursue the nomination, instead urging delegates to throw their support behind two of his allies: U.S. Senate candidate Rep. Ron Hanks and secretary of state hopeful Tina Peters, the indicted Mesa County Clerk and Recorder, according to The Colorado Sun. Both have joined Oltmann in spreading baseless conspiracy theories alleging widespread fraud in the 2020 election.

Oltmann got what he wanted. Peters and Hanks both earned the most votes from the 3,749 GOP assembly delegates at the Broadmoor World Arena in Colorado Springs, securing the top ballot lines for their respective June 28 primaries and dealing a blow to a party establishment that had aligned itself against both candidates.

“Party leaders and campaign advisors warned candidates nationwide not to speak about election integrity. Candidates more focused on opportunism and personal advancement listened,” Hanks wrote in a Wednesday Facebook post falsely claiming former President Donald Trump won the 2020 election. “I didn’t listen — because I didn’t ask.”

Meanwhile, Greg Lopez, a third-place finisher in the 2018 Republican primary for governor, narrowly edged out University of Colorado Regent Heidi Ganahl, 34.3% to 32.6%, giving Lopez the top ballot line when the two battle head-to-head in this year’s gubernatorial primary.

Lopez, too, has endorsed false claims about the 2020 election, and used his floor speech at the assembly to pledge that, as governor, he would pardon Peters if she is convicted. Peters has been indicted by a Mesa County grand jury for her alleged role in helping QAnon conspiracy theorists illegally access secure voting equipment.

Ganahl has repeatedly dodged questions about whether she believes the election was legitimate, but she has praised a prominent Colorado-based election denial group, U.S. Election Integrity Plan, as “doing great things.”

A third governor candidate, realtor Danielle Neuschwanger, narrowly missed the 30% threshold needed to qualify for the primary ballot, securing just 27% of the vote, but refused to concede. “Due to numerous delegates reporting fraudulent behavior during the vote today I will not be conceding until I have had ample time to investigate their claims,” she wrote on Twitter.

Party leaders clashed with some delegates over voting procedures in the early stages of the assembly. A petition circulated prior to the event by FEC United, the far-right activist group led by Oltmann, called for the use of hand-counted paper ballots for all votes, according to the Colorado Times Recorder. On stage Saturday, state GOP chair Kristi Burton Brown countered that paper balloting would push the assembly past midnight, and two motions to force the use of paper ballots failed, Colorado Public Radio reported.

A Newsline reporter was twice denied entry to the assembly by party staff. Alex Kuehler, Southwest communications director for the Republican National Committee, said that state GOP executive director Joe Jackson had instructed staff not to permit Newsline access to the event. In an email, Jackson called Newsline a “partisan Democrat organization” but repeatedly declined requests to point to specific issues with Newsline’s reporting.

Down-ballot races

Saturday’s assembly was delayed by nearly an hour as long lines of delegates, volunteers and other attendees waited to pass through security at the World Arena.

Earl Hood, a retired trucker from Fort Lupton, said he was at the assembly to hear how candidates plan to “restore our liberties that they’ve stolen from us.”

“What can you do that you don’t have to ask the government permission for?” said Hood. “You can’t drive a car, you can’t build a house, you can’t do nothing — you can’t even build a fence. Back when I was growing up, you never had that.”

Dozens of volunteers for Senate candidate Gino Campana, a wealthy Fort Collins developer and former city councilman, handed out signs and T-shirts to supporters. Former Donald Trump advisor Kellyanne Conway, who endorsed Campana’s bid, was on hand to support him.

“He’s a businessman, he’s not a politician. He knows how to run a business, knows how to handle people — kind of like Trump,” said Delta resident Mike Robinson, who held a Campana sign as he waited in line. “Would you rather live in the Trump years or in the years we’re living now?”

Despite his high-profile endorsements and strong fundraising numbers, Campana failed to make the ballot Saturday, finishing in fourth place with just 11.2% of the vote. Four other candidates — Deborah Flora, Eli Bremer, Greg Moore and Peter Yu — also fell short of the 30% threshold and failed to make the primary ballot.

Hanks, who won 39% of the vote, will instead face a one-on-one race with Denver construction executive Joe O’Dea, the only Senate candidate to qualify for the primary ballot through petitions.

“The Colorado GOP is once again proving how out of touch they are with Coloradans,” Nico Delgado, a spokesperson for the Colorado Democratic Party, said in a statement. “Out of a crowded field of unknown candidates, they’ve managed to choose insurrectionist Ron Hanks to take the top line on their primary ballot. This chaotic primary is just a choice between which out-of-touch Trump acolyte should lose to Michael Bennet in November.”

Hanks has admitted to crossing police lines during the Jan. 6 insurrection.

Peters, meanwhile, will face two opponents in the secretary of state primary: Mike O’Donnell, a little-known candidate from Yuma County who has backed election conspiracy theories, and Pam Anderson, a former Jefferson County clerk who has pushed back against false claims of fraud and faulted Peters for what she calls a “continuing onslaught of mis- and dis-information about the election.” Peters took 62% of Saturday’s vote to O’Donnell’s 39%. Anderson qualified for the ballot by petition.

Conspiracist election deniers celebrated assembly wins up and down the ballot, including in multi-county district assemblies held on Friday. State Rep. Dave Williams of Colorado Springs secured the top ballot line in his primary challenge against eight-term Republican Rep. Doug Lamborn in the 5th Congressional District.

Rep. Ken Buck will also have an unexpected primary challenger in the 4th District after Bob Lewis, a real estate broker from Elbert County, took the top spot in the assembly nominating process with 62% support. Lewis attacked Buck for referring to 2020 election deniers as “conspiracy theorists,” according to The Colorado Sun. Lewis has no campaign website or social media presence and has not filed candidate paperwork with the Federal Election Commission.

Also on Saturday, former state Rep. Lang Sias of Arvada secured the party’s nomination for state treasurer as the lone primary candidate. John Kellner, district attorney for the 18th Judicial District, and Stanley Thorne, a conservative lawyer, will face each other in the primary for attorney general.

Editor’s note: This story first appeared on Colorado Newsline, which is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Colorado Newsline maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Quentin Young for questions: info@coloradonewsline.com. Follow Colorado Newsline on Facebook and Twitter.

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