Jon Caldara

Jon Caldara

The Colorado Republican Party is on the verge of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory…again.

They might rather be right than win, forfeiting what looks like a growing likelihood of election gains in 2022.

The Colorado Republican State Central Committee is made up of 517 voting members and on Sept. 18, they will vote on ending their party primary, denying one million Republicans, and 1.6 million unaffiliateds their voice and vote.

This would be the biggest gift yet (and there have been many) Colorado Republicans have given the progressive Democratic machine.

Traditionally Colorado was closed primaries. Registered Republicans vote in the Republican primary, Dems in the Democratic primary. This gave a real incentive to pick a party since an unaffiliated voter could only vote in the general election.

A pet peeve of mine is an unaffiliated voter calling himself an “independent” like he is above any petty allegiance to a party. But he’s not a member of the Independent Party (there is one by the way). Before 2016 the smug “independent” couldn’t vote in the caucuses, the assemblies or the primary, all where his vote would have been much more powerful.

Things changed after 2016 when the voters of Colorado passed Prop 108 allowing unaffiliated voters to vote in any major party’s primary. If a major party wants its ballot mailed to all its members, the ballots now must also go to all the unaffiliateds, too.

A party could opt to cancel their primary, so whoever won their closed assembly (made only of a small group of people of delegates who were voted out of local caucuses) would go on the general election ballot.

I opposed, and still do, the idea behind prop 108. Political parties are private organizations, and one should be a member to vote on who represents them. Walk into your local Elk’s club, where you’re not a member, and tell them you want to vote for their next Grand Poohbah and see what happens.

But we must live in reality. U’s may now vote in R or D primaries. So, if you’re a person who doesn’t participate in the local party caucus process, you gain a bit more power by being unaffiliated.

When this change was made, the Libertarian Party chose to close their primary so only their leadership decided who would be on the general election ballot. I told them they were nuts. The state was going to send out their primary ballot to some 1.6 million unaffiliateds, at no cost to them, advertising there was a Libertarian Party. But being the purists they are, they refused. And thus, the Libertarian Party remains the dominant powerhouse party it is today.

Republicans are now considering following the Libertarians to perpetual tiny-party status.

The Republican Central Committee, these good 517 folks, are being tempted to limit the delegates to the state and federal assemblies (around 1,000 people) to choose the sole Republican nominee for U.S. Senate, U.S. Congress, governor, treasurer, A.G., secretary of state.

While perfectly legal, it bolsters the silly claims that Republicans like voter suppression. Telling 1.6 million unaffiliateds and 1 million Republicans their voice doesn’t matter, well, fits the narrative.

It also prevents Republican candidates from petitioning onto the primary ballot, because there won’t be a primary ballot anymore. That leaves “hardcore” (read “often unelectable”) candidates in the driver’s seat since it is the more extreme of the party that participate in the caucus system.

I love these hardcore conservatives, I am one, but in our new Colorado where Republicans are only 26% of the registered voters (compared to 29% for Dems and 42% for U’s) they usually can’t win in the general. From Dan Maes to Darryl Glenn, wearing your social conservative bona fides on your sleeve doesn’t work in statewide contests.

For Republicans to win in our new unaffiliated-dominated reality, they must tempt U voters to pull the lever in their direction while exciting the R base not only to vote but to give money, walk and work phone banks.

Telling 1 million Republicans they can’t vote doesn’t make them want to give time and treasure.

But getting freedom-leaning U’s to vote for an R in a primary makes them more likely to do the same in the general.

Central Committee members, please don’t steal my vote.

Jon Caldara is president of the Independence Institute in Denver and hosts "The Devil's Advocate with Jon Caldara" on Colorado Public Television Channel 12. His column appears Sundays in Colorado Politics.

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