Colorado Republican Chair Kristi Burton Brown announced last week her plans for the party to partner with several candidate training groups to build the next generation of GOP leaders.
“I want to let you know that at the state party, we are vetting some excellent candidate and campaign manager training programs,” said Brown. “We’re going to be releasing a list soon, really just encourage you as county parties to get your people through those programs. And if you’re even thinking about running for office on any level, get in one of those programs, learn how to do it, how to message, how to fundraise, how to recruit volunteers and just know that we know that’s a huge priority and are going to be releasing a list very soon.”
Brown, who did not return a call requesting comment, is following through on one of her campaign promises–outsourcing candidate training to private groups. She criticized the party’s own candidate training efforts last cycle under previous chair Congressman Ken Buck, as well as the candidates themselves, at a campaign debate in January.
“There’s no question we don’t have a good field of candidates,” Burton Brown said then. She emphasized a need for recruitment and training, saying it was important to work with “effective third party groups.”
One such group is run by longtime activist and perennial Congressional candidate Casper Stockham, whom Brown defeated for the party chair position. Following that race, Stockham was able to refocus on running America First Republicans (AFR), the group he founded along with two other former GOP candidates, Laurel Imer and Nancy Palozzi.
Along with a few others, the trio founded AFR to address what Stockham sees as a failure of the Republican Party to follow three principles: the Constitution, the Party’s own platform, and the guidelines laid out in the 2012 RNC “Growth & Opportunity Project,” the “astonishingly frank” post-election autopsy report that made the case for Republicans to grow the party by broadening its appeal to moderates and minority voters. The report’s finding had minimal impact, especially after Trump’s victory on a decidedly nativist and anti-immigrant campaign.
AFR launched its first candidate training program in January with a 9-week $180 course designed to introduce aspiring elected officials to the nuts and bolts of running for office. Its next class begins May 8.
“It takes someone from not knowing anything about politics and walks them through the entire process of becoming a candidate,” explains Stockham. “It’s not like the information we’re providing is top secret information. It’s pretty common sense. But if you don’t know how to sign up to become a candidate, it can be hard to know where to start. I had to learn this the hard way. I just got thrown into it. I didn’t know how to do any of this stuff. So we’re trying to help people not have to try to figure it out and potentially waste a lot of time and money.”
Stockham expects to be one of the groups partnering with Colorado GOP:
“We’re being vetted, Stockham says. “The state party is very much aware of our program and we have spoken and we’re waiting for them to put out the official list. I would imagine that we would be on the list. But there are no guarantees in politics.”
Chairwoman Burton Brown and Stockham clearly agree on the state party’s recent failures as far as candidate training and on outreach to promote conservative values.
“I think [the state party] is dropping the ball on outreach, like hugely dropping the ball, says Stockham. “So I wanted to do a lot more that well. So in our candidate training, we teach them how to do outreach as well because [the candidates] don’t know how to do it, obviously, because they’re not doing it.”
The two also share an admiration for what they see as a successful program, Emerge the progressive training program for Democratic women.
During her campaign for party chair, Burton Brown said she’d like to have a mole signed up for the program to learn its secrets. Stockham also acknowledged Emerge’s achievements, mentioning the group as a model for AFR.
“I don’t mind telling anybody our goal is to be very similar to Emerge, just on the Republican side,” says Stockham. “They’ve been out for a while doing what they do and they’ve been very successful at it.”
In some sense the GOP is already working with AFR. Adams GOP Vice Chair Kawika Berthelette taught AFR’s first class back in January. For his first exercise, he asked attendees to introduce themselves and share their goals. The responses highlight some of the challenges currently facing AFR and Colorado GOP as they look ahead towards the 2022 election. Many of the potential candidates wanted nothing to do with the Republican Party.
“My goal is to get everyone who is sane to jump ship from the Republican party because we know they are RINOs in Washington and we form a new party,” said one participant. If we can get 75-80 million people to leave, then we can leave the Republican party in the dustbin because to me the party is do-nothing. They’re a jellyfish on the high seas…I’d really like to see us get rid of the Republican name because it’s tainted and go with something stronger.”
The next student, Pamela Chapman, described herself as leading a group of “Trumplicans” in Eagle County. She said the Eagle GOP’s reluctance to support Lauren Boebert led her to run for party leadership, apparently despite the fact that Eagle GOP Chair Kaye Ferry hosted a fundraiser for Boebert last August.
“We want to infiltrate and take over the party, unless a new party comes along,” said Chapman. “[The GOP] does nothing! Nothing has happened up here since 2009 and we’re sick and tired of it.”
Chapman lost her bid to oust Ferry, who still leads the Eagle County Republicans.
According to Stockham, 40 students have attended at least one AFR class, with 20 having graduated from one of the two completed candidate training programs. The third programs begins May 8.
He adds that graduates have access to more than just campaign know-how. Those willing to sign AFR’s pledge (which is still in the works) will also receive help finding volunteers, staff, and other forms of campaign support once they officially declare for office. AFR is a 501c4 nonprofit, but it also promotes for-profit political consulting companies run by its founders. AFR’s “Services” page lists Prodigy Consulting, owned by founder Weston Imer, La Prensa de Colorado, owned by founders Joel & Mary Flores.
AFR isn’t the only candidate training program available to Colorado conservatives. Woodland Park pastor Andrew Wommack runs the Truth & Liberty Coalition, another 501c4 entity that offers political training to those thinking about running for office. The group’s goal is to “mobilize believers in Jesus Christ to affect the reformation of nations through the seven mountains of cultural influence.”
Like AFR, the Truth & Liberty Coalition is also offering a candidate training on May 8, but this one is a single, all-day class. Promoting the training, in a recent online “Citizens Academy” video, Wommack expressed his desire to “take over Woodland Park” and eventually El Paso County. State Rep. Stephanie Luck also appeared in the video. She encouraged those considering running to start with “prayer and fasting.”
The online event focused particularly, but not exclusively, on the need for school board members, which is technically a nonpartisan position, though races have become increasingly politicized in recent years.
Via email, Truth & Liberty Coalition spokesperson Michael Pernini clarified that the T&L program is not affiliated with the Colorado GOP.
“This particular event was planned independently of the Republican party,” said Brown. “It has no connection to the initiative by Chairman Burton Brown.”
A third group conducting trainings, also for school board candidates, is the far-right activist group FEC United, which also has its own militia. Founded last year, FEC United has already been working closely with the state party and claims to be recruiting candidates “in all 178 Colorado school districts for the November 2021 election.”
FEC United would also appear to be a likely partner for Colorado Republicans, since Chairwoman Burton Brown may eventually lead FEC United’s proposed “Law & Policy Center,” the vision for which she helped craft. FEC United did not respond to a Facebook message requesting comment.
AFR, FEC United and the Truth & Liberty Coalition are all 501c4 “social welfare” nonprofits organizations, which means that unlike political parties, they aren’t required to disclose their funding sources.
UPDATE: Full Truth & Liberty Coalition Full statement, May 5:
The Truth & Liberty Coalition Candidate Academy will be held on the campus of Charis Bible College in Woodland Park, Colorado on May 8, 2021. It is being offered as a one-day program developed by the Truth & Liberty Coalition.
The purpose of the event is to educate interested persons about civic responsibility and how they can be a positive influence for good in society.
Colorado Republican Party Chairman Kristi Burton Brown has reportedly expressed a desire to collaborate with candidate training activities by grass roots organizations, but this particular event was planned independently of the Republican party and has not connection to the initiative by Chairman Burton Brown.
“This is a ‘home grown’ course acting as an extension of our Truth & Liberty founder, Andrew Wommack, in cooperation with the Practical Government School of Charis Bible College,” said Michael Perini, T&L spokesperson.