The state Republican leadership’s failure to opt out of Colorado’s open primary at Saturday’s central committee meeting garnered the headlines, but another significant rule change did pass, with less fanfare if not less controversary. After a short debate and a “standing count” rule vote tally determined solely by Chair Dave Williams, the Colorado GOP changed its bylaws to allow leaders to both endorse and oppose their own candidates in primary elections, a likely unprecedented break from the longstanding party neutrality.

The Colorado Times Recorder first reported on this proposed amendment last month, when Williams circulated the draft language and recommendation from the party’s bylaw committee to the full central committee membership list. The rule is punitive against candidates who choose to skip the caucus and assembly nomination process in favor of gathering signatures. In recent years, petitioning on to the primary ballot has become the preferred path for well-funded Republicans who enjoy more support from high-dollar donors than grassroots conservatives.

Conservative Complete Colorado reporter Sherrie Peif, who also serves on the party’s central committee as GOP chair for the 8th Congressional District, recounted last weekend’s vote to KNUS talk show host George Brauchler yesterday.

Peif: “There was another amendment that was that was put forth that will allow party leaders in the state party, the county parties and the congressional parties, it allows the members of their executive board to endorse candidates prior to the primary. So if you have two Republicans running against each other for a primary seat, leadership can now publicly endorse them….

Brauchler: Hold on- candidates?

Sherrie Peif: Yeah. So let’s say you have Barbara Kirkmeyer versus Lori Sane for a congressional district like last time. The amendment allows the Eighth Congressional District Board to come out and say, ‘we hereby support Lori Saine.’

Brauchler: But based on what?

Sherrie Peif: Based on the fact that Barbara Kirkmeyer petitioned on and didn’t go through the process. So we get to that amendment, which requires two-thirds majority. Keeping in mind that when we voted on an amendment to the bylaws [raise the proxy limit for each member] from 3 to 5, Williams did not believe that he could tell by a standing vote exactly how many members were going in each direction, so he had a count. He had his teller committee come out on the floor and count us one by one, all the Yeses and all the Noes. When it got to this amendment, he had already lost the proxy challenge, he had already lost the opt-out. He was clearly frustrated. We go to vote on this amendment. They did not have a two-thirds majority, but they didn’t do the count this time. He just ruled in the favor of the amendment and basically said sit down and shut up.”

Appearing on Brauchler’s show this morning, Williams clarified details about the change and confirmed the voting process described by Peif, although he disputed her claim that he overcounted the Yes votes.

Asked if party leaders are permitted to support any candidate they choose, or solely those who make the primary ballot via assembly, Williams said that “his reading of the rule” is that it only allows leaders to support assembly candidates. Brauchler asked him if this would make it awkward for candidates openly opposed by the party officers to believe they were really getting equal access to data and other resources to which they are still entitled.

“It might feel weird, but you have candidates who are petitioning on who don’t feel the need to submit themselves to scrutiny from the most educated voters in our process,” said Williams. “They want our branding, they want to be under our umbrella, but they don’t want to court the party faithful? There’s got to be a balance. One way to look at it is it encourages you to go through both. If you’re going to petition on, fine, do what Heidi Ganahl did- go through both processes, go get a vote at the assembly and petition and you don’t have to worry about it.”

Asked about the process, Williams defended his decisions.

“We allowed for debate,” said Williams. “I figured there was going to be some robust debate and sure enough there was a number of folks who came up and opposed it and made a good case for why it should be opposed. Then the other side mostly said, ‘We’ve got petition candidates who don’t care about us… I was a bit surprised that there was legitimately two-thirds there who said let’s try this. We did a straight standing vote, because it was clear. It was clear it was two-thirds.”

Brauchler asked how voters’ proxy votes are tallied, to which Williams responded that those carrying proxies had to hold up badges for each vote and he then counted those visually from the stage.

A stunned Brauchler replied, “Oh my God, you had to eyeball that over hundreds? That’s a tough one.”

Following his interview with Williams, Brauchler read texts from audience members who claimed to have been at the meeting disputing the chair’s account and agreeing with Peif’s version from Monday.

The bylaw currently reads: “No candidate…shall be endorsed, supported, or opposed by the CRC, acting as an entity, or by its state officers or committees, before the Primary Election, unless such candidate is unopposed in the Primary election…”

The new amendment adds:

“…Or the candidate has gained access to the primary election ballot but has not participated in the applicable authorized Republican assembly/convention. Additionally, the CRC, and the various Republican county and district central committees, have no obligation to support, and may oppose, any candidate who has gained access to the primary election ballot outside of the assembly/convention process. Personal contributions of time or money to candidates by CRC officers or CRC committee members shall not be considered to be “endorsements” or “support” or “opposition” in violation of this Section unless the officer or committee member uses their official position to encourage other people to support or oppose a pre-primary candidate going through the Convention/Assembly process. After the Primary Election is over, nothing in this Section shall impair the CRC’s obligation to support the Republican nominee to the General Election.