Colorado Republican Party Chair Ken Buck, a U.S. representative from Windsor, pressured a local party official to submit incorrect election results to set the primary ballot for a state Senate seat, according to an audio recording of a conference call obtained by The Denver Post.
“You’ve got a sitting congressman, a sitting state party chair, who is trying to bully a volunteer — I’m a volunteer; I don’t get paid for this — into committing a crime,” Eli Bremer, the GOP chairman for state Senate District 10, told The Post on Wednesday, confirming the authenticity of the recording. “To say it’s damning is an understatement.”
Buck says he was merely asking Bremer to abide by a committee decision.
At issue is the Republican primary for the District 10 seat currently held by Sen. Owen Hill, who’s term-limited. State Rep. Larry Liston and GOP activist David Stiver both ran for it. To qualify for the November ballot via the caucus and assembly process, a candidate must receive 30% of the vote from Republicans within the district.
During a district assembly in March, Liston received 75% of the vote and Stiver just 24%, according to documents filed later in Denver District Court. Stiver complained the election was unfair, and the issue was taken up with the state central committee, which agreed, Buck said in an interview Wednesday.
The central committee consists of nearly 500 members, including elected officials and county officers. About 200 were on the line during an April 17 conference call in which the group voted to place Stiver on the ballot for the seat, even though he failed to receive 30% of the district’s votes. After the vote, Buck asked Bremer, the District 10 chair, whether he would comply with the committee’s decision.
“Do you understand the order of the executive committee and the central committee that you will submit the paperwork to include Mr. Stiver and Mr. Liston on the ballot, with Mr. Liston receiving the top-line vote?” Buck said on the call.
“Uh, yes, sir, I understand the central committee has adopted a resolution that requires me to sign a false affidavit to the state,” Bremer replied.
“And will you do so?” Buck said.
Bremer: “I will seek legal counsel as I am being asked to sign an affidavit that states Mr. Stiver received 30% of the vote. I need to seek legal counsel to find out if I am putting myself in jeopardy of a misdemeanor for doing that. ”
Buck: “And you understand that it is the order of the central committee that you do so?”
Bremer: “I will consult with counsel. Yes, sir, I understand the central committee has ordered me to sign an affidavit stating that a candidate got 30% who did not. And I will seek legal counsel and determine if I am legally able to follow that.”
Buck: “All right, Mr. Bremer, I understand your position; we will now move on.”
Buck, a lawyer, told The Post on Wednesday that it has been the tradition in both parties for their committees to make such decisions.
“What I was asking Eli to do was not to commit fraud, I was asking Eli if he understood the decision of the central committee and if he was willing to follow the request of the Republican central committee,” he said. “It wasn’t like I was asking him to do something because I have a personal stake in the process.”
The assembly process to select the District 10 candidates, carried out as coronavirus was quickly spreading through the state, was flawed, Buck said.
“We have two choices,” he said. “We’re going to allow an unfair election to stand, or we’re going to require the chairman of the Senate district to put the candidate’s name on the ballot and let the primary voters decide.”
Bremer never filed the paperwork. Three days after the phone call, the district’s vice chair filed a “friendly lawsuit,” Bremer said, to prevent him from doing so. Bremer told the court he had no position and would abide by its decision.
District Court Chief Judge Michael Martinez ruled Monday that any certificate of designation filed with the Secretary of State’s Office showing Stiver as a candidate would violate state law because he did not receive at least 30% of the district’s votes.
The state Republican Party appealed the case to the Colorado Supreme Court, which declined Tuesday to hear it. State party spokesman Joe Jackson expressed disappointment in the Supreme Court’s decision, predicting it will set a new precedent in which the courts will be inundated with political fights every two years.
But the April 17 conversation struck Colorado politics expert Seth Masket as brazen. The political science professor at the University of Denver said it’s also likely an uncommon occurrence.
“There are plenty of examples within Colorado and elsewhere of party leaders pressuring subordinates to sort of fudge results or to change their views on things, but it’s very rare you see someone directly ordering someone to commit a crime,” Masket said.
The aftermath is likely problematic for both Buck and the state Republican Party, Masket said.
“But also potentially for Buck as a member of Congress,” he said. “This is something his colleagues probably don’t think highly of. But I can’t imagine it’s about to flip his district blue or anything like that.”
Joe Webb, former chair of the Jefferson County Republican Party, said he counted the votes for the District 10 race and Buck’s comments angered him so badly that he hung up the phone.
“Eli was being asked, and this is very serious, to attest to something as true when he knew it was false,” Webb said. “There’s a word for that in the legal jargon; it’s called perjury.”
Buck, a former district attorney, should have known better, Webb said.
The entire ordeal was disheartening and would not have happened if the coronavirus hadn’t forced the party’s assemblies into a truncated timeline, Webb said.
Bremer said the court rulings were a vindication for him, and Buck’s actions were a betrayal.
At a minimum, Bremer said, Buck owes him an apology.
“How in the heck is the Republican Party going to go out and say we’re for the rule of law except when it applies to us — we can do whatever we want to?” Bremer said. “That’s not my Republican Party.”
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