Last Friday’s Hold the Line conference at The Road Church in Colorado Springs featured not just national evangelical thought leaders Sean Feucht and Eric Metaxas and federal legislators Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-CO) and Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-CO), but a slate of local elected officials as well. El Paso County Commissioner Stan VanderWerf, Colorado Springs City Councilor Dave Donelson, and Academy School District 20 and Pikes Peak Library District board member Aaron Salt spoke with Steve Holt, pastor of The Road Church, during a brief panel discussion.

Salt is one of three El Paso County school board members who have been the subject of complaints to the Freedom From Religion Foundation, a nonprofit that advocates for a separation between church and state. Salt described his work on the D20 as part of a broader, spiritual battle.

“We have a lot of people who are against us,” Salt told the crowd at The Road Church. “We have a lot of people who come to the board and are against everything that I stand for and everything that I say. I do not see those people as my enemies, I see them as people who are hurting, and they’re fighting for the things they believe in just as much as I’m fighting for the things I believe in, but that doesn’t make it any easier to sit there and take that verbal assault and character assasination all the time. With that, we know this is a spiritual battle. We know that we’re not fighting against flesh and blood, we’re fighting against principalities and spirits. With that, we’re seeing that manifest in some really interesting ways. We had two priests from the Satanic Temple come to our last school board meeting. One of them explained what their organization was about, the other one had some prayer thing that he did during their public comment. My first reaction was, ‘Wow, it’s really cute that they think they have any authority or power here.’ Number two, it showed me that we’re striking a nerve. You don’t get that kind of reaction if you’re not doing something. We know there is a spiritual battle going on and we’re winning that spiritual battle right now, as we move forward because of the physical manifestation that we’re seeing.”

VanderWerf discussed the passage of a “Liberty Proclamation” in response to COVID-19 restrictions, and the county commissioners’ involvement in recent legislation. “We’ve been very, very engaged in state legislative issues,” he said. “I can tell you every commissioner on our board has been a fantastic part of this. This particular year, we took it to Denver and we fought several battles on the collective bargaining bill alone, which would have cost you, the taxpayer, across the state of Colorado $400,000,000 so that a certain party in Denver would be able to get their campaign contributions from the unions. That was actually what it was all about. We were able to get amendments into that bill — and when I say ‘we’ it wasn’t just county commissioners, all the great patriots that were up in Denver were willing to fight this battle as well. We got an amendment into that bill that allowed us, as county commissioners, to veto a collective bargaining agreement if we disagreed with it.”

Donelson, who is currently running for House District 16, discussed his opposition to former Pikes Peak Library District head librarian John Spears. “City Council was going to give a resolution of appreciation to our librarian, our head librarian, a man named John Spears, as he was leaving Colorado Springs,” he said. “The reason he was leaving, he didn’t like what was happening to the school board elections. Too many conservatives were elected, parents got involved, and then on City Council and County Commissioners, we had elected two conservatives to the library board, and Aaron Salt was one of those. After that, the head librarian resigned and he spoke out in a newspaper and on television and said that things are changing in Colorado Springs and it’s becoming dangerous here for free expression and freedom of speech. This is a guy who, as the head librarian, he had Ru Paul dress up dolls for children passed out at the library, I don’t know if you know about that. He had also had a drag queen dress up story hour for kids. A lot of folks don’t know that happened here. That’s just part of his background. When it came time to give this guy his resolution of appreciation as City Council, I was the one that said, ‘I’m not going to do that.’ The reason why, part of the reason why is my faith, it comes back to that, but what he was saying was that when people like you vote and you change things because things have gone too far to the left, too far with CRT in our schools, and when you do that you’re now a threat. Things can only change in one direction and we can never push the pendulum back to the center. …  Some good came out of that. He went off with his husband to Buffalo, New York, and we’ll get a new librarian.”

Donelson also discussed his opposition to a proposed transgender inclusion policy from the city’s Human Relations Commission. “When I first came on to council, a little over a year ago, I got assigned to what’s called the ‘Human Relations Commission,’ as a liaison,” he said. “When I attended this first meeting they were talking about this transgender inclusion policy for the city. I kind of scratched my head and said, ‘This doesn’t sound good to me.’ This kind of goes with what we talked about a lot today. This policy was going to force the city to have gender-neutral bathrooms. We were going to have any private citizen that built a business would then be required by our code to have a gender neutral bathroom. This commission got off track. It was full of very left-leaning folks, so I wouldn’t allow the alternates to move up to this committee. I immediately started jamming it up like that, and just in the last month this commission was dissolved.”

Donelson wasn’t the only panelist to brag about obstructing government bodies. “We wrote 26 amendments, passed them to Commissioner [Carrie] Geitner, Commissioner Geitner gave them to [Rep.] Tim Geitner [R-Monument], and Tim Geitner passed them out to several of the legislators up in Denver and we bottled up the proceedings in Denver sufficiently that they ended up dropping 87 other bills to get their collective bargaining bill,” said VanderWerf. “In those 87 other bills there was a bill to ban lawnmowers. I am not kidding. In there was also a bill to control guns. We got 87 bills bottled up because we took action.”

Photo courtesy Stephanie Vigil.

Donelson is facing opposition in his House District 16 bid from Democratic challenger Stephanie Vigil, who describes herself as a survivor of childhood abuse and neglect, from her experience growing up in an evangelical faith community. Vigil, who has a background in the service industry and is currently a gig worker, ran unsuccessfully for the House District 16 seat in 2020, losing to Rep. Andy Pico (R-Co Springs), who won with 54.5 percent of the vote.

“That whole crew of folks who had that training [Friday], they’re really coming out and saying out loud what I’ve already known for a good 15 years, which is that this evangelical political movement is extremely hostile and inhumane,” said Vigil. “They will not accept a loss anymore, we’ve seen that with Jan. 6 and the other things they’re doing, trying to figure out how to rig elections in their favor. It was wild, actually, hearing some of the things they’re saying. Aaron Salt came right out with it, he said, ‘This is about spiritual warfare.’ These are people in elected positions, ostensibly to serve the public good, but that’s not what they think they’re there for, clearly. They’re there to wage spiritual warfare.

“A thing that they don’t realize is there are people in this race like myself. I was raised to be like him. I was raised to grow up and fight the evil, godless, liberal forces all around me in this country. I went to spiritual warfare camp. I did internships at New Life Church to train to be like this guy, I just freed myself is the thing. I got out.”

Vigil says the antagonism against transgender people demonstrated by speakers at the Hold the Line conference stems from the lack of an actionable legislative agenda by Colorado conservatives. “I believe to my core that self-determination is a basic human right,” she said. “I think it’s a core Colorado value, which is pretty evident by the way we keep voting for things like abortion and LGBTQ rights and looking out for trans kids and all of that. The fact that they think that the public library should have refused community space to drag queens because — why would the library do that? If they were to forbid a church group from meeting there or the Boy Scouts from meeting there, that would be a violation of their civil liberties. It’s a public space. They really do have it out for trans folks lately, and honestly I think it’s because they lost the culture war around marriage equality. … It really breaks my heart.”

Donelson is not just facing Vigil in the HD16 race, but also faces opposition from right-leaning third party candidates like John Hjersman of the Libertarian Party. Hjersman has run, unsuccessfully, for the House District 16 seat since 2016.

“All my runs, I’ve been trying to make people aware of the Libertarian message, let them know that there’s an option other than the Republicans and Democrats, who are kind of betraying us right now, in my opinion,” he said. “The Republicans are promising to cut taxes and all that and they never do. There needs to be another choice.”

Libertarians are often presented as a solution for voters who embrace the fiscal policies of conservatism, but don’t think government should be involved in legislating culture war issues like LGBTQ rights. “I do not favor censorship in any form, and I think people have a right to be who they are,” said Hjersman. “My personal feeling — and this is not the Libertarian Party feeling, necessarily — is if you have a Y chromosome you’re a man, and if you choose to behave differently, well that’s fine, but I have no problem with people being who they are. … We’re way beyond the scope of what is the role of government.”

In addition to Hjersman and Vigil, Donelson will also face David Rawe of the American Constitution Party, who previously ran for the seat in 2012.

“They don’t have a platform for the people,” said Vigil. “They don’t have any solutions for anything, and everything on their agenda is destructive. If they’re just going to run for office so they can use political power to force their religion on other people and gut and privatize everything that was once public, so that ordinary working poor people don’t have a chance, then we can’t allow any of these people to take office. I didn’t get into this to run against Christian nationalism, but that’s a major threat. It goes hand in hand with everything else I’m running on.”

This is story is part three of a three-part series on the Hold the Line event. Read part one here. Read part two here.