Littwin: Secrecy and self-destruction in Colorado’s GOP (column)
June 20, 2015
Before we dig too far into the details of the Colorado GOP's dance with extortion and dysfunction, I think we can first all agree that Attorney General Cynthia Coffman has undoubtedly learned some valuable political lessons along the way. Unfortunately, we can also all agree that she learned them at the same time she was destroying her political career.
Coffman has just confirmed to National Review that she had already decided she wouldn't be running for U.S. Senate against Michael Bennet, but she might as well have told them that if she's ever seen running again, it would only be for cover.
Oh, the lessons are plentiful, starting with the one that it's never wise to find yourself on the same side of the barricade as Tom Tancredo. Tancredo loves The Godfather, and he must love the Barzini/Tessio references flying around the Internet. And the attempted coup of Steve House — a move so like Tancredo — is his best since he found himself on a park bench in a quit-or-else meeting with Dan Maes.
What we do have, though, is the unofficial record for the fastest time in blowing up your career while also being accused by your state party’s leader of blackmail or extortion or whatever the legal term is. Congratulations to Coffman, who should be able to help us with the legal terminology.
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I'm going to tell you something I thought I'd never say. This story is almost as good as Dan Maes. If we find out that someone was riding a United Nations-approved bike, we may have a new leader.
What we do have, though, is the unofficial record for the fastest time in blowing up your career while also being accused by your state party's leader of blackmail or extortion or whatever the legal term is. Congratulations to Coffman, who should be able to help us with the legal terminology. She's the lawyer. (Just wondering, but how long before we get a special prosecutor, and how special would this prosecutor have to be to untangle this mess?)
Putting it in the best light for Coffman, she engineered a coup three months ago to replace former GOP chairman Ryan Call even though state Republicans had enjoyed their best electoral year in a decade. And now she has demanded Steve House, whom she picked to replace Call, resign because, well, she won't say. Except that it's serious. Tancredo says gravely serious. So serious that it's too serious for the rest of us to know anything about.
OK, that's the best light. She's the AG who thinks her job is to run the state party. She's the AG who backtracked on her protege in embarrassingly record time. She's the AG who is accused by House of threatening him with lawsuits and threatening to spread rumors — ones he denies — of infidelity if he didn't quit, which sounds like it could be illegal.
And now for the worst light. Oh, it's exactly the same.
If you read the national political sites, you see one unnamed Republican operative saying the Colorado GOP is a "third-world backwater" (via Politico Pro) that may have to be cut off by the national party and another quoted (via Roll Call) saying he's glad both Coffmans are not running because "I think behind the scenes this is sort of a scary public display of what the rumors had been; it's pretty troubling that the attorney general is going around threatening people."
Or you can read ace reporter Lynn Bartels quoting Dick Wadhams — the state GOP chair before Ryan Call — calling out Coffman and Tancredo for refusing to reveal just what exactly led to their attempted coup.
"They have to reveal the charges," Wadhams said. "It's time to put up or shut up."
Shut-up time has passed, so we're left with a reveal. It can't be because House (wisely) refused to give Ted Harvey the job of GOP executive director, can it? I mean, can it? Who goes all Barzini over Ted Harvey?
Here's what Tancredo said in one of his many interviews (this one with CBS4) about the ambush/meeting: "Did we confront him with what we were concerned about? Yes. Did we absolutely suggest he should resign? Yes. We did not extort him."
But Tancredo has conceded to several reporters that infidelity did come up in the conversation. He has been advised, he said, not to say more, which is basically impossible for Tancredo, who did take the time to say that Cynthia Coffman was the ringleader of the coup and that many legislators were behind them.
My favorite Tancredo moment, though, comes in his quote to Bartels about first backing House and then stabbing him in the back (my words, not Bartels') just months later: "My bad," he said.
Well, it's not just his bad, although why anyone would follow Tancredo, the ultimate back-benching bomb thrower, I have no idea, except that the bomb-throwers have taken over the state GOP. I had never put Coffman in that group, but now?
Coffman and Tancredo were joined by Pueblo GOP chair Becky Mizel in the meeting/ambush, but this is really all on Coffman.
She has denied making "threats." Of course, she first said she wouldn't comment on "rumors and lies."
Yes, someone has lied about the meeting/ambush. It's either Coffman or Steve House, who first quit the job after the coup attempt and then un-quit. Maybe it's both. What we know for sure is that it was the House manifesto — reprinted everywhere now in all its glory — that blew everything up. The charges that he put out there are serious. Gravely serious. And they must be answered.
Coffman said she had no choice but to confront — if not threaten — House. Now, she's got no choice but to tell us what she knew and when she knew it. Otherwise, how can we know exactly who should be resigning from which job?
Mike Littwin writes a column for the Colorado Independent.
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