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Beaver Creek extreme: How the Eagle County GOP came to embrace the radical right

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August 27, 2020, 3:39 pm
Lauren Boebert, the new favorite of the Eagle County GOP.

Time for the Republican Party to change its name to the Recall Party. Seems to be their entire strategy for gaining elected seats in Colorado: Fail to connect with voters by being way too extreme, watch as a Democrat is elected, and then try but fail to recall that Democrat.

Instead of moderating their positions and trying to find common ground with voters, Republicans (excuse me, Recallers) are at it again in Eagle County, pandering to the worst elements of white supremacy, racism and QAnon conspiracies at the Freedom Conference in Beaver Creek.

I wrote about this weekend’s gathering endorsed by the Eagle County Republican Party and featuring right-wing youth advocate Charlie Kirk and Kamala Harris birther John Eastman for the Colorado Times Recorder on Wednesday, and the full story is posted below.

The O Zone by David O. Williams
The O. Zone

But first here are some thoughts on how we got here – at least locally – and what it will take for Republicans to regain relevancy in Eagle County, Colorado and to some extent nationally after four years of disastrous Trump-worshipping cultism and cozying up to domestic terrorists.

In Eagle County, in my opinion, it started with the poisonously divisive politics of former Eagle County Commissioner Tom Stone, the late Republican Party stalwart who sparred with equally extreme former Commissioner Arn Menconi, a Dem who threw figurative bombs from the left.

Tom Stone

Stone brought forth a resolution in the wake of the 9/11 terrorism attacks that had no purpose other than to paint Menconi into an ideological corner. Stone said it showed support for then President George W. Bush, who was not in need of Eagle County’s blessing, in whatever response he chose to avenge the nearly 3,000 Americans who died in the 2001 attacks.

Menconi argued Bush should not be given a blank check and refused to sign, prompting two unsuccessful recall attempts. That was the beginning of the local recall wars and was emulated statewide up to and including last year’s failed attempt to oust Democratic Gov. Jared Polis.

Arn Menconi
Arn Menconi

While Menconi has gone on to unsuccessfully run as a Green Party candidate for Senate and a Democrat in other races, it’s hard to argue now that the endless wars in Afghanistan and Iraq that Bush and his neocon handlers such as former Vice President Dick Cheney advocated have been good for the United States or the Middle East.

“I could have been — I should have been — more of a statesman about how I represented some of my positions,” Stone said in a 2007 interview, according to the Vail Daily. Menconi wrote a letter to the editor praising Stone after his death in Nevada last month.

Menconi is an unabashed social justice activist and founder of the SOS Outreach nonprofit for at-risk youth – a war protestor who has been arrested disrupting congressional hearings on military funding – but his gracious nod to Stone overlooks the role Stone played in radicalizing the local GOP and chasing off moderates who could actually get elected.

Michael Cacioppo, a conservative political gadfly and publisher of the local Business Briefs newspaper, has played a role in that extremism as well, trolling Menconi in the Facebook comments following a Vail Daily story about Stone’s death with this falsehood: “Democrat Commissioner Arn Menconi was so radical, he couldn’t even condemn the downing of the Twin Towers in New York City on September 11th, 2001.” That statement simply isn’t true.

In fact, beginning with Stone and his wife, Henri, in the late 90s and continuing through the tenure of current Eagle County Republican Party Chair Kaye Ferry, the local GOP has alienated reasonable Republican after Republican, sending some, such as former Clerk and Recorder Teak Simonton to the Democrat Party.

Kaye Ferry

In 2009, former Republican Avon Mayor Ron Wolfe told RealVail.com: “The party needs to start putting up candidates that are viable and can get elected, and that means they have to be more moderate. They can still be conservative, whereas Tom Stone, I would consider him to be a strident conservative.”

Cacioppo? He couldn’t even win his own county when he challenged former Democratic state Rep. Diane Mitsch Bush for her state House seat in 2016. He lost by a 60-40 margin.

Now Mitsch Bush is running for Congress, and her opponent, Lauren Boebert, is a gun-rights extremist who said in May she hopes QAnon is real. An alleged law-and-order candidate, Boebert has multiple arrests and failures to appear on her record and once reportedly allowed an underaged server at her Shooters Grill restaurant in Rifle to illegally run around with a gun.

Rather than denounce her, Ferry held a local fundraiser for Boebert, who will be at the White House tonight (Thursday, Aug. 27) to hear President Donald Trump’s acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention.

State Rep. Diane Mitsch Bush, D-Steamboat Springs.
Diane Mitsch Bush

Moderate and reasonable Republicans, if any of them still exist in Eagle County, need to rise up and take the reins from Ferry and Cacioppo. They need to chase extremism and hatred back into the dark shadows and take the advice of Mitt Romney after he lost to Barack Obama in 2012 and called on the GOP to moderate, reach out to immigrants and seek national healing.

Now here’s the re-post of the Colorado Times Recorder story about Friday’s Freedom Conference in Beaver Creek:

Eagle County, CO, GOP Welcomes Harris Birther John Eastman and Charlie Kirk of Turning Point USA

Under the leadership of Eagle County Republicans Chair Kaye Ferry, the party continues to invite political extremists to the Vail Valley, which might explain why the local GOP currently has just one county elected official – Sheriff James van Beek — to its credit in recent years.

After co-hosting a fundraiser in Cordillera for gun enthusiast, QAnon-sympathizer and Republican congressional candidate Lauren Boebert last week, Ferry is now welcoming the Steamboat Institute’s 12th annual Freedom Conference to the Park Hyatt Beaver Creek Friday-Saturday, Aug. 28-29. The confab will feature far-right conservative activist Charlie Kirk.

Charlie Kirk

Kirk is fresh off opening the Republican National Convention by proclaiming President Donald Trump the “defender of Western civilization” and the choice between Trump and Democratic nominee and former Vice President Joe Biden as “a decision between preserving America as we know it and eliminating everything that we love.”

The nonprofit Turning Point USA that Kirk cofounded in 2012 has a history of stirring racist allegations on college campuses and flirting with white nationalists. Kirk is also one of the founders of the Falkirk Institute with the disgraced Jerry Falwell Jr., who this week resigned as head of the conservative Liberty University in the wake of a sex scandal involving his wife and another man. Falwell has been a key Trump backer and bridge to evangelical Christians.

Organizers of the conservative nonprofit Steamboat Institute told the Vail Daily they were forced to moved the conference to Beaver Creek because COVID-19 regulations are too stringent in Steamboat Springs. Turning Point USA in late July deleted a tweet mocking mask wearing after Kirk’s cofounder, Bill Montgomery, died of complications from the virus.

Also speaking this weekend in Beaver Creek will be Chapman University law professor John Eastman, whose recent Newsweek column drew praise from Trump and national condemnation from others for echoing the disproved and racist Obama birther conspiracy Trump championed for years before finally acknowledging it wasn’t true. Eastman questioned the eligibility of Biden vice presidential pick Kamala Harris, who was born in Oakland, Calif.

John Eastman

Ferry, who resigned as head of the Vail Chamber & Business Association in 2008 after referring to Denver-area snow riders buying Epic Passes as “riff-raff,” has presided over a steady radicalization of the Eagle County Republican Party that has resulted in a unanimous Democrat board of county commissioners and overwhelming blue waves in recent years.

The party’s support of Boebert, who has been invited to the White House to watch Trump’s acceptance speech on Thursday, continues a trend of embracing fringe candidates. Boebert’s campaign has renounced QAnon despite the candidate saying in May, “I hope that this is real …”

The unfounded conspiracy promoted by the anonymous “Q” asserts that Democrats are part of a deep state of Satan-worshipping, cannibalistic pedophiles opposed to Trump. A growing number of Republican candidates follow the conspiracy, prompting Democrats and some members of the GOP to call on Trump and other Republicans to disavow it.

The FBI has warned QAnon poses a domestic terrorism threat, but Trump last week refused to reject the conspiracy and its followers – instead saying he’s heard they “love our country” and “supposedly like me.” After hearing the conspiracy’s false premise and being asked if he could support it, Trump replied, “Is that supposed to be a bad thing or a good thing? If I can help save the world from problems, I am willing to do it. I’m willing to put myself out there.”

On Monday, former Republican U.S. Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona and more than two dozen former Republican members of Congress endorsed Biden over Trump, saying “decency matters” and “civility never goes out of style.”

Beaver Creek, site of this weekend’s Freedom Conference, was put on the map by former Republican President Gerald Ford, who built a home there after pardoning the late President Richard Nixon in the wake of the Watergate scandal. Unlike Trump, who was impeached by the House late last year for pressuring Ukraine to smear Biden, Nixon resigned from office.

Ford pardoned Nixon to heal the country, even though he acknowledged it cost him the White House in 1976 when he was beaten by Democrat Jimmy Carter, who later became a friend of Ford. For many years Ford hosted the conservative and off-the-record AEI World Forum in Beaver Creek, which is a favorite playground of venture capitalists and corporate CEOs.

Beaver Creek’s central plaza area features the Leon Black Family Ice Rink atop the Vilar Performing Arts Center. Black is the founder of the private equity firm Apollo Global Management that plucked Vail out of bankruptcy in the early 1990s, acquired Keystone and Breckenridge and took Vail Resorts public in 1997, laying the groundwork for arguably the world’s most dominant multi-national ski company.

Black, who is being subpoenaed by the attorney general of the U.S. Virgin Islands in the ongoing investigation into the finances of the late convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein – a former business associate of Black’s – also made headlines recently for a trip he took with Trump right around the time Apollo owned Vail.

In 1996, Black and Trump, while on a business trip to look at various properties and potential deals, hit several discos and maybe even a strip club together, according to a Senate Intelligence Committee report. The bipartisan report from the Republican-controlled committee, which details the extent of Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election that helped propel Trump to the White House, also examines the counterintelligence threats to and vulnerabilities of Trump.

The Vilar Performing Arts Center at Beaver Creek is just beneath the Black Family Ice Rink and is named for Alberto Vilar, an investment manager and philanthropist who spent 10 years in jail for fraud.

The Park Hyatt’s primary conference area is called Ford Hall for the president who died in 2006, and Beaver Creek and nearby Vail have a long history of presidential and vice presidential visits from both parties, including most recently Mike Pence in 2018.

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David O. Williams

Managing Editor at RealVail
David O. Williams is an award-winning freelance reporter based in the Vail Valley of Colorado, writing on health care, immigration, politics, the environment, energy, public lands, outdoor recreation and sports. His work has appeared in 5280 Magazine, American Way Magazine (American Airlines), the Anchorage Daily News (Alaska), Aspen Daily News, Aspen Journalism, the Aspen Times, Beaver Creek Magazine, the Chicago Tribune, the Colorado Independent (formerly Colorado Confidential), Colorado Politics (formerly the Colorado Statesman), Colorado Public News, the Colorado Springs Gazette, the Colorado Springs Independent, the Colorado Statesman (now Colorado Politics), the Colorado Times Recorder, the Daily Trail (Vail), the Denver Daily News, the Denver Gazette, the Denver Post, the Durango Herald, the Eagle Valley Enterprise, the Eastside Journal (Bellevue, Washington), ESPN.com, the Glenwood Springs Post-Independent, the Greeley Tribune, the Huffington Post, the King County Journal (Seattle, Washington), KUNC.org (northern Colorado), LA Weekly, the London Daily Mirror, the Montgomery Journal (Maryland), The New York Times, the Parent’s Handbook, Peaks Magazine (now Epic Life), People Magazine, Powder Magazine, the Pueblo Chieftain, PT Magazine, Rocky Mountain Golf Magazine, the Rocky Mountain News, Atlantic Media's RouteFifty.com (formerly Government Executive State and Local), SKI Magazine, Ski Area Management, SKIING Magazine, the Summit Daily News, United Hemispheres (United Airlines), Vail/Beaver Creek Magazine, Vail en Español, Vail Valley Magazine, the Vail Daily, the Vail Trail and Westword (Denver). Williams is also the founder, publisher and editor of RealVail.com and RockyMountainPost.com.

5 Responses to Beaver Creek extreme: How the Eagle County GOP came to embrace the radical right

  1. Pat Parrish Reply

    August 27, 2020 at 3:54 pm

    Good for you, David! Keep it up!
    Some of my Dem friends and I are doing a big postcard writing session to other Democrats and independents to get out the Vote. Not just in Colorado but to people in swing states. This election is SO important and I know Biden has a good lead, but Trump could pull this out of his ass …. because people believe what he says!!!!
    It’s crazy and scary how many bigoted and stupid people there are in this country! I never knew before.

    • Michael Sanner Reply

      August 28, 2020 at 2:06 pm

      Great article and insight into the demise of the moderate wing of the Republican Party here in Eagle County and nationally. Trump has poisoned the political arena with his hatred and bile. I hope after he and his ilk are defeated in the upcoming election that the GOP will look to moderates like Romney to reinvent themselves in a more compassionate party. We need two parties that care about the commonweal.

  2. Capt. John Ritter Reply

    August 28, 2020 at 3:10 am

    Yeah this county has turned to shit and that’s a big part of the reason I’m voting straight Republican this fall. Tipton was a Rino, Boebert and Trump are exactly what this country needs. The way things are headed I might never vote for a Democrat for the rest of my life. I can’t stand what that party has turned into and I have no interest in any of the proposals I see coning from that morally bankrupt party. I’m so sick of their theft and redistribution buying votes with the money they steal from the taxpayers they can rot in hell as far as I’m concerned. Only lazy bums benefit from voting for Democrats the rest of us get the shaft stuck paying for the bums that want a free ride on our backs.

  3. David O. Williams Reply

    August 28, 2020 at 6:42 am

    And that’s exactly why you’ll continue to lose here and across Colorado. To consider a staunch conservative like Tipton a RINO is laughable. Boebert told me Tipton, a hardcore climate change denier and ally of oil and gas, was a Green New Dealer. Deny science all you want but global warming and global pandemics cannot be denied.

  4. Zach Reply

    August 28, 2020 at 11:59 pm

    Great article, but there is no “Vail Valley”. There’s Vail, Eagle County, Eagle Valley, Gore Creek Valley… But “Vail Valley” is an elitist made up marketing term

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