At least 18 graduates of Colorado’s most prominent conservative training program are media figures who, over the decades, have mostly dragged the Republican Party to the right, initially helping energize Tea Party Republicans to win elections but now contributing to the party’s current isolation, infighting, and increasing irrelevance.
Graduates of the training, called the Leadership Program of the Rockies (LPR), mostly populate right-wing talk radio shows and podcasts.
Two of the first LPR media yappers to have an impact in Colorado were Jason Worley and Ken Clark, who took over KLZ’s Grassroots Radio Colorado in 2011 from founder Jim Pfaff, a hard-right social conservative, and helped shove fellow Tea Partiers toward future Sen. Cory Gardner, who in turn would bear hug the Tea Party on air.
It worked, as Gardner rode the Tea Party/Anti-Obamacare wave into the Senate.
Media Platforms Promote GOP Extremism in Blue State
But it’s been pretty much downhill from there, as LPR graduates in the media have largely pushed conservatives further and further to the right, as the state has veered more and more to the left, culminating in the disaster Republicans currently face: They hold not a single statewide governing body or have any office holder elected in a statewide election.
Bob Schaffer, the LPR’s board chair, says LPR’s goal isn’t to assist the Republican Party anyway. It looks to recruit people with an established “leadership profile” in any area of civic life, including the media, he says.
But the program is aimed partially at spawning media figures, he said. It does this by “empowering individuals to be effective leaders” in civic affairs broadly, including in “health care and academia and ministry and education and — or just, anywhere — in the Scouts, in the nonprofit world or in the media.”
KOA Ross Kaminsky credits LPR for launching his radio career. He’s a libertarian who often has left-leaning views on social issues but leans heavily Republican, urging his listeners last year to vote for every single federal and state Republican candidate on the ballot, including election conspiracists Erik Aadland, Lauren Boebert, and Doug Lamborn.
“LPR introduced me to the world of state-level politics,” said Kaminsky. “I knew more about national politics. I met a lot of interesting people and the state-level politics angle got me invited to be on radio shows to be a guest to talk about state politics. That is what ended up getting me on this road. I would not be on the radio if not for LPR. It absolutely launched my career.”
Of 18 LPR graduates who have become media figures either before or after attending the program, seven should be categorized as “extreme right,” six as “right,” four as “conspiracists,” and one as “libertarian.”
And unfortunately for the Republican Party, eight of 10 LPR media figures who are still actively involved in Colorado media are conspiracists or right-wing extremists, as you can see by perusing their archives: KNUS radio hosts Randy Corporon, Matt Dunn, Deborah Flora, and Jimmy Sengenberger; KLZ radio hosts Al Mauer, Kim Monson; and podcasters Karen Kateline and Shume Navarro.
The most influential among them — in terms of influencing Colorado Republicans — appears to be GOP activist and KNUS radio host Randy Corporon, who was elected in 2020 by fellow Republicans to the Republican National Committee and has done pretty much everything in his power to take his Tea Party roots, grow them as deep as possible in Colorado, and use them to strangle any hint of moderation among fellow Republicans.
Since he founded the Arapahoe County Tea Party — which continues to be a hotbed of right-wing fever-swamp organizing — Corporon has emerged as an unflinching promoter of Trump and an outspoken election and Covid conspiracist. He uses his KNUS platform to organize right-wing events, promote extremist candidates, mobilize fellow conspiracists at pivotal moments, and mostly slam fellow Republicans who have so much as a toenail in the camp of moderation.
For example, speaking to fellow conspiracists Chuck Bonniwell and Julie Hayden on their podcast Monday, Corporon criticized current Republican Committee Chair Ronna McDaniel, who’s no slouching righty, as being too aligned with the GOP establishment.
Corporon said he hasn’t yet decided on whom he will support in Friday’s election for National Republican Committee chair — though he said again that he likes Harmeet Dhillon, a former Trump lawyer who most recently represented Kari Lake in her efforts to overturn Arizona’s midterm election.
“We’ll lose grassroots energy if we move forward with Ronna,” said Corporon on the podcast. He compared the RNC’s selection of a new chair with the University of Colorado’s picking Deion Sanders. “Of course, I’m not comparing anyone here with that elite talent like Mr. Sanders,” he said.
Kaminsky, who reaches a less hard-right audience at KOA than Corporon does on KNUS, doesn’t seem to excite Republicans as much as Corporon, even though Kaminsky’s radio audience is bigger.
Corporon’s headshot has been featured on door-sized panels along with fellow KNUS hosts at the annual Western Conservative Summit, a giant conservative gathering organized by an arm of Colorado Christian University.
Kaminsky frequently boosts LPR on his show. Introducing Republican House Minority Leader Mike Lynch of Wellington this month, Kaminsky dropped in a love note to LPR.
“And Mike Lynch is a fellow graduate of the Leadership Program of the Rockies, which is part of the reason I’m a big fan,” said Kaminsky on air.
Mike Lynch is likely not the face Republicans need to win over Coloradans, having, for example, sponsored a failed bill in 2019 to create an “abortion registry,” which would have required state officials to compile personal information about women who have abortions, including the reason for the “failure of family planning,” potential opposition of their partner, and the number of children they had at the time of their abortion. He also supported a 2018 resolution calling into question the legitimacy of Biden’s election.
Asked about all the LPR graduates who promote extremism on media platforms, Kaminsky said, “I don’t mind that there are different opinions out there, even if I don’t agree with all of them.”
“The only reason that conservative talk radio is such a target-rich environment for critics is that there is no demand for liberal talk radio,” Kaminsky added. “LPR is a truly non-partisan organization, not just because they’re required to be as a non-profit, but because their focus is on principles, leadership, communication, and other important skills for civic leaders, broadly defined.”
Denver Post columnist and LPR alumnus Krista Kafer was ostensibly booted from KNUS for opposing Trump. She uses her platform to try to reign in some of the Republican Party’s worst excesses, most recently noting that the McCarthy fiasco did not make U.S. Rep. Lauren Boebert “class up her behavior.”
But don’t expect most LPR media figures to criticize any right-wing politician, especially Boebert. The majority are bunkered down in the conservative underworld, hardening their audience against compromise, even for the sake of winning elections in Colorado.
In fact, as my colleague Erik Maulbetsch documented in the first article of the Colorado Times Recorder’s three-part series on LPR, “LPR’s speakers are further right than ever, while its graduates and leadership both include a disturbing number of far-right conspiracists.”
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Still, Kafer thinks LPR is “very mainstream” but acknowledges that there are some “wackies definitely” among the LPR media figures.
“They are not representative of LPR,” she said. “All the times I’ve been to a retreat — or the class I went through — I’ve never heard a speaker saying all that crazy garbage.”
“I don’t think the Randy Corporons are representative of LPR,” said Kafer. “The broader list of people who went through the program are mainstream.”
List of LPR graduates who are — or were — media figures in Colorado:
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CTR reporter Heidi Beedle contributed to this report.