As many as five candidates are hoping to replace Priscilla Rahn, who resigned in late June, just three months into her second term to run for Douglas County Commissioner. Of the five potential candidates, four have publicly questioned the legitimacy of recent elections, from raising doubts about the potential for forged signatures to flat-out insisting that the 2020 election was rigged in favor of President Biden.
Aaron Wood, a conservative Christian election conspiracist who previously ran for state chair, confirmed he’s considering a run, but says he won’t make a final decision until sometime next week.
The other two, Todd Watkins and Hope Scheppleman, have publicly launched their campaigns by posting announcements and platforms on social media.
The pair share some significant traits. Both are veterans (Watkins was in the Army and Scheppelman the Navy), and they each currently hold county party officer positions. Watkins is Vice Chair of the El Paso County Republicans and Scheppleman is Secretary for the La Plata County GOP.
They also share a notable belief: both have raised doubts about the legitimacy of recent statewide elections conducted with electronic voting machines.
Watkins is a full-blown election denier who not only promotes the debunked conspiracy that the 2020 election was stolen from President Trump, but also insists the 2022 election was rigged as well.
Prior to being elected to his county party position Watkins previously ran in the GOP primary for El Paso County Sheriff as a member of the far-right “America First” slate that was backed by extremist group FEC United and included current GOP Chair Dave Williams. As part of his campaign he promised that if elected he would arrest George Soros.
After failing to win the nomination, as did nearly all of the far-right candidates Watkins urged voters to “leave the bubble blank” and not vote for his fellow Republicans. He argued that handing traditionally red seats to Democrats would prevent the more moderate Republicans who would have won not just from representing those districts, but also from holding the party leadership positions that accompany elected office, thereby allowing more ideologically pure activists to take over the party infrastructure.
Watkins’ no-compromise philosophy continues with his new campaign, in which he says electing him will replicate the takeover of the El Paso County GOP by grassroots activists (including himself) at the state level. It will be hard to argue with his reasoning, given that with Dave Williams and QAnon believer Anna Ferguson already holding the other two offices, a Watkins win would mean full GOP control for MAGA election deniers.
“Our party has equivocated and compromised our values,” says Watkins. “This type of milquetoast approach to politics has led to losses in representation in our state assembly as well as losses in Republican votership. Weakness and timidity do not inspire membership.
“It’s time to say NO MORE. We are Americans and we are Republicans. We will fight for our state, our country, and our future. El Paso County did exactly this and we can do this statewide.
We need a CLEAN NEW SLATE in our Colorado Central Committee leadership that believes that Republican values are American values and will not allow them to be compromised or negotiated away. We want to save and restore our state and our nation. In order to do this, we must save and restore our party.”
Watkins announced his candidacy with a Facebook post. Responding to commenters who had questions about his campaign, he noted, “My phone number is on the flyer (at the bottom). If you call, I will answer.” The Colorado Times Recorder called. Watkins did not answer and did not return the voicemail request for comment. This article will be updated with any response received.
Scheppleman hasn’t nearly as many public statements as Watkins, but she has invoked the voting machine fraud conspiracy. Posting to Facebook on Election Day last year, she encouraged Arizonans to remain in line to vote, claiming that “they are trying to steal the election with bad Machines and DELAY.”
Prior to being elected La Plata County GOP Secretary, Scheppleman ran the statehouse campaign for Shelli Shaw, who lost the House District 49 race to Barbara McLachlan (D-Durango). During her race, Shaw, who now serves alongside Scheppelman as Chair of the La Plata Republicans, claimed she’d seen evidence of fraud in the 2020 election. Shaw also warned in a since-deleted Facebook post that America is “headed for a civil war.”
In her candidate announcement, Scheppelman stressed her experience with the party, the need to broaden the party’s membership, and her policy priorities of healthcare and education.
“I am an American, a Patriot, a Woman, a Daughter, a Wife of 18 years, a proud Veteran, a Critical Care Nurse Practitioner, and the Secretary of the La Plata County GOP,” wrote Scheppelman. “I live in the small Town of Bayfield, on the Western Slope of rural Colorado.
“Bluntly, the GOP needs more voters. Republicans, Independents, Moderates, Conservatives, older and younger voters. As Vice-Chairman, I will vigorously work to get people to vote GOP.
“I am passionate about educating our community on legislation. Throughout the 2023 Legislative session, I had the honor of giving expert testimony for our Colorado State Republican Legislators. Using my expertise in healthcare and knowledge of the Constitution. I advocated for the individual rights of children and their parents. We need better representation on the School Boards. I will get it. We must have better rural healthcare. Our senior citizens and veterans are suffering. As a nurse practitioner, I know how to get it. We need to speak up about our land rights and property tax. Lastly, we need to protect our Taxpayer Bill of Rights (TABOR). I will help lead the charge. My experience as a United States Navy Corpsman (2000-2004) has prepared me to work with everyone.”
Reached via phone, Scheppleman said she was in a meeting and couldn’t talk but offered to answer questions over email. The Colorado Times Recorder immediately sent the following four questions, to which she has yet to respond. This article will be updated with any response received.
- Why do you want to run and what would your top two or three priorities be as Vice Chair?
- What’s your take on the current state of the Colorado GOP? Much has been written about the ongoing rift between the so-called grassroots and establishment factions of the party- do you see yourself as part of one or the other? Do you have a plan for bringing all Republicans together?
- Chairman Williams has endured a lot of criticism for his statements about the legitimacy of 2020 election. Do you agree with him that Trump was the true winner? Why or why not, and if not, do you think it will impact your ability to work with the Chair?
- One of your opponents, Todd Watkins, publicly told Republicans not to vote in the 2022 general election after he and other grassroots candidates lost their primaries. He argued that it was better to have Democrats win those red seats so that “RINOs” would be there representing the districts and also holding the party leadership positions that come autotmatically by being in public office. Do agree with that strategy, why or why not?
Also running, according to GOP Chair Dave Williams, are Gunnison County GOP Chair Stu Asay, and Alex Mugatu, a perennial candidate from Pueblo who’s run for the statehouse five times since 2010. Mugatu did not return email and voicemail requests for comment.
Aside from the faith in democracy he presumably has in order to run for office that many times, Mugatu’s views on voter fraud or the 2020 election are unclear.
Gunnison GOP Chair Asay, who in 2021 told the Gunnison Times that he is a member of Gunnison County People’s Rights, the local chapter of Ammon Bundy’s anti-government militia, has also raised doubts about the fairness and legitimacy of recent elections. Speaking to the Crested Butte News last summer, Asay raised concerns about the possibility of illegal “ballot harvesting,” senior citizens potentially being pressured into voting a certain way, and even forged signatures.
“The county’s staff strives to provide an accurate count of the ballots received. There are a number of issues to be resolved however,” [Asay] stated. “Consider for example students at Western University that pay out-of-state tuition and taxes, but register to vote in Gunnison County because they are transitory residents. It is not a fair representation. Ballot harvesting is difficult to monitor. For example, someone could go to an assisted living property, help people with the voter registration process and then aid them in marking their ballots. It is difficult to catch. That type of ballot harvesting cannot be caught through the ballot drop boxes, as an individual may drop 15-20 ballots at once. Have you noticed the number of unopened ballots either on the floor, counter or trash at the CB post office? They need to be returned to the county clerk through the USPS marked as ‘undeliverable,’ and not left for someone to casually walk by to collect and proceed to mark with a forged signature. The list is too long for this article, but it is a representation of why the Gunnison County GOP is striving to make the process fair for every registered voter.”
In response to an email inquiry about his campaign and policy position on election integrity, Asay sent an image of his campaign flier but did not answer the questions.
The Colorado Republican Central Committee Colorado Republican leaders will meet on Aug. 5 at The Rock Church in Castle Rock to elect a new Vice Chair and to vote on several proposed changes to the party bylaws.
At least one long time party activist, who declined to be named, is decidedly unenthusiastic about the upcoming election.
“It’s like giving away roadkill,” said the activist. “No one in their right mind would want that position.”