Patrick Neville’s seat is safe, but is his leadership title?

With Colorado’s primary election just two weeks away, statehouse campaigns to be the major party nominees are heating up. The competition is particularly fierce among the Republican races, where so-called dark money groups are spending unprecedented amounts of money.

The disputed primaries are once again revealing an ideological split within the Republican party, one that is well-known to Colorado politicos: the rift between the establishment GOP and its far-right wing, led by House Minority leader Patrick Neville. Despite historic losses in 2018, Neville still controls the caucus, and at least one Neville supporter appears to be nearly as concerned with protecting his leadership role as with retaking the chamber.

Emily Williams, wife of state Rep. Dave Williams (R-Colorado Springs), posted a Facebook video warning of a leadership coup within the caucus, specifically that “outside money is trying to take out Patrick Neville as Minority Leader.”

She’s not talking about Democrats trying to flip conservative seats, but rather a group seeking to elect moderate Republicans to red districts. She went on to attack incumbent state Rep. Colin Larson (R-Littleton), who she claims is attempting to challenge Neville, by accusing him of sleeping on the job, literally.

“And so he [Justin Everett] is trying to get back in there and be a fighter and be amazing, which we desperately need, because I’m gonna be honest with you, alright? The current guy–I kid you not–taking naps while Republicans are up late fighting on the floor for your freedoms. This guy was going in the back and catching some Z’s while everybody else did the dirty work and the heavy lifting. And, oh, by the way, he’s trying to make a run on leadership against the likes of Patrick Neville.”

Asked for a response, Larson rejected both Williams’ accusations as fabrications:

“I can tell you unequivocally, I’m not running for Minority Leader- never contemplated it. It will never happen.” Larson said. “I find it funny that she’s accusing me of taking naps because I do believe that are pictures of Justin Everett taking naps in committee. He was actually kicked off a committee in 2014 for falling asleep.”

Six years ago, when then-Rep. Everett was in office, Republican leaders removed him from two of his committees in part because he had fallen asleep during hearings.

Asked if he was aware of any attempt to replace Neville, Larson said, “The caucus is not happy with Patrick Neville’s leadership, I can tell you that much. But those are internal caucus decisions. We’ll have to see what happens in November. I’d like to see leadership get focused on delivering actual results rather than telling people we fought the good fight and lost.” 

Williams doesn’t name the “dark money group,” she claims is trying to take out Neville. Instead, she only says it’s funded by a “Hillary Clinton mega-donor,” echoing the phrase used as a headline by a Neville-allied anonymous blog called the Colorado Citizen Press, which the Minority Leader has personally promoted to his email list as a “Great News Source For Conservatives.”

The blog is referring to a new independent political action committee called Coloradans for Constitutional Values, largely funded by Kathryn Murdoch (daughter-in-law of Rupert) through her Unite America PAC, which supports moderate candidates of both parties. Campaign finance reporter Sandra Fish documented the hundreds of thousands of dollars spent on these primary races by various groups in detail for the Colorado Sun.

A Facebook message asking Williams for further comment was not returned.

Longtime Neville ally Dudley Brown, who runs the ultra-conservative Rocky Mountain Gun Owners, has worked with the Nevilles for years and supports the same far-right candidates. He recorded a similar video reading the same blog headline and warning his viewers of the same “dark-money Democrat groups” trying to attack “true conservatives.” Brown also attacks charter school advocacy group Ready Colorado, calling out its staff by name:

“It’s run by a couple RINOS [Republicans In Name Only] named Luke Ragland and Tyler Sandberg. These guys can’t help themselves. They’re just funded by the left-wing Republicans and they don’t have any choice.”

Ready Colorado’s recent spending illustrates the challenge the moderate group faces with Patrick Neville still in charge. Ready spent over $120,000 in support of three establishment candidates (Tonya Van Beber, Dan Woog, and Michael Lynch), who were opposed by the House Minority Leader.

Yet last month the group also cut a $15,000 check to Values First Colorado, tying it with two other donors for the largest single amount the Neville-controlled entity has received all year.