Heidi Ganahl, failed gubernatorial candidate and host of the “Unleashed” podcast, has a new project in the works, one that aims to help Republicans regain control in Colorado. The former CU regent has already secured significant funding from prominent GOP donors, including Walter “Buz” Koelbel, chairman of the Common Sense Institute’s board of directors, and fellow developer, former state senate candidate Tim Walsh. In a leaked Zoom video, Koelbel joined Ganahl as she pitched her “Road to Red” to a wider group of conservative supporters.
“Here’s the reason that I have been involved in this for quite a while, like [Ganahl] said, eight or nine months, and in my personal opinions, I think a lot of us on the Zoom call agree with it, I really feel like there’s been an insidious undercurrent going on in the country, destroying our foundational principles, the very heart and fabric of our country and our families, which is so important,” said Koelbel while introducing Ganahl. “We may even be close to a tipping point, which has always got me involved.”
Ganahl’s double-digit loss to Gov. Jared Polis in 2022 was largely blamed on her refusal to say the 2020 election wasn’t stolen and embrace of an anti-LGBT conspiracy about students pretending to be cats at school. Following her defeat, Ganahl told the Zoom audience she looked to other states for inspiration. “One of the most impressive programs that we saw was in Texas,” she said. “Ten years ago, Texas was one seat away, a couple of seats away, maybe, from losing the legislature and turning blue. A couple of the families that [Koelbel] talked about realized that they needed to act and act fast. They did a few things that have made a tremendous difference in Texas, and really turned things towards red rather than blue, which is absolutely vital to protecting our country. Texas is such an important state, but so is Colorado to many of us.”
Ganahl and Koelbel described how wealthy, influential donors in Texas were able to have an outsized role in state politics. “This is not a new experimental startup,” said Koelbel. “We get to immerse ourselves in a template from Texas called Pale Horse Strategies, where over the last eight or ten years, two very prominent families, Tim Dunn and the Wilks family, spent $10 million trying to perfects something because they had a vision and saw in Texas what was happening in Colorado — a little lurch to the left.”
Koelbel isn’t the first Common Sense Institute board chair to support election denier conspiracists. Banker Earl Wright, who co-founded CSI, exchanged several emails with Trump lawyer and then CU Boulder Benson Center professor John Eastman, supporting his election denialism and sending him a debunked election fraud conspiracy video.
Ganahl’s Zoom call was recorded just before Thanksgiving, and in the interim Pale Horse Strategies, a firm owned by former Texas Rep. Jonathan Stickland, has rebranded as West Fort Worth Management following a scandal in which Stickland met with white supremacist Nick Fuentes and Kyle Rittenhouse, who was acquitted of homicide after killing two Black Lives Matter protesters in 2020. According to the Texas Tribune, “Fuentes is a prominent and avowed admirer of Adolf Hitler who has called for a ‘holy war’ against Jews; questioned if the Holocaust happened and compared its 6 million victims to cookies being baked in an oven; encouraged his followers to beat women; and fantasized about marrying a 16-year-old when he is 30 because that’s ‘right when the milk is good.’”
Ganahl identified key problems Republican candidates face in Colorado. “We need to build a messaging machine, a way to get our message out,” she said. “There’s lots of good conservative media folks in Colorado, but not a one-source that everyone knows to go to like they have in Texas, which is called Texas Scorecard. Doesn’t sound like a media organization, but it’s a million people strong.”
The Austin Chronicle describes Scorecard as a “right-wing news outlet/propaganda mill” that has served as “a propaganda arm” of the movement to ban books in Texas.
Ganahl’s version of the Scorecard for Colorado is a website called Rocky Mountain Voice. “That’s our first focus,” she told donors. “We’d like to launch this Jan. 10, which is the first day of legislative session. Now, what’s different about Rocky Mountain Voice from Complete Colorado or Campfire Colorado or Colorado Politics is that it’s an aggregator. So it’s one place, a website where you can go to get all of those news outlets. You can get the various podcasts, the various newspaper links, you can get the the radio links, all of the conservative voices or even the other voices will be on one platform that you can go to simply by just visiting the website. It’ll be updated every day with new content. We’ll also have our own writers, our own editor, who can help citizens across the state have a voice as well, and do op eds and columns, et cetera.”
Despite Ganahl’s disdain for Colorado outlets like 9News and Colorado Public Radio, she said she hopes to work with Phil Anschutz’s outlets. “I think we’ll work with the Gazette and some of the other great publications and organizations across the state,” she said. “[Independence Institute president] Jon Caldara — to highlight their efforts, not go against them, but to highlight and bring everybody up and raise the ocean on the media side, the messaging side.”
In addition to a media platform, Ganahl also hopes to utilize a new data platform to provide services — for a fee — to local activist groups. “We need top notch data and technology to execute our plan,” she said. “That’s where Nucleus comes in. The founder of Nucleus is Brad Parscale, who ran Donald Trump’s campaign in 2016. I don’t know if you’ll remember, but they did an amazing job at leveraging digital technology and social media to win that election. He has worked with some of these families in Texas to develop a proprietary platform because the left kept canceling every platform he used, so he built our own. This is something that is very inexpensive for grassroots groups and candidates to use. We will be the parent organization and so we can get the price down to about $50 a month for a group. So Women of Weld, Stand for the Constitution. Jeffco Kids First. They pay $50 a month. They have access to all the data that we are going to purchase.”
Ganahl later clarified that she hasn’t yet confirmed the various groups she listed, such as Stand for the Constitution, but rather was using them as examples.
In 2020 Parscale was arrested by SWAT officers when he didn’t obey commands after his wife told Fort Lauderdale police that he had guns and he was threatening to harm himself. Parscale was taken into custody under state guidelines allowing for an involuntary mental illness commitment. Two years later he worked on Ganahl’s failed gubernatorial campaign, earning a shout-out from the candidate during an interview on Steve Bannon’s podcast.
Ultimately, Ganahl hopes to unite Colorado’s disparate and fractured conservative movement by bringing various activist groups together with the Colorado arm of Pale Horse Strategies/West Fort Worth Management, which she calls Red Horse. “The first one we absolutely are going to start with is Coloradans for Fiscal Responsibility,” she claimed. “We saw that this is the one place where Republicans can come together, conservatives can come together in Colorado and agree and build a movement and get something done with Prop HH. It was a huge success getting that turned down 60-40. Now, what happened to the Capitol last night is a whole different story, but at least we were able to see our side come together and stop a very, very detrimental ballot initiative that was going across in Colorado. We’ll have the Coloradans for Fiscal Responsibility. We’ll have a legislator scorecard where we’ll rank them on their fiscal responsibility to the state. We’re thinking we’ll probably start with the Colorado Family Project, also around school choice, around what’s happening in the schools and families, parental rights. That’s a really important issue for conservatives and unaffiliated and Democrats in Colorado that we can come together on. And finally, Coloradans Defending Freedom, which will defend our First Amendment, Second Amendment and other critical rights, too, that are being trampled on right now in Colorado. So this is the Road to Red.”
Getting Republicans back into power in Colorado won’t be cheap. “We’re trying to raise $1.2 million to launch by Jan. 10,” said Ganahl. “As [Koelbel] said, we’re at about $600,000. [Koelbel] and Tim Walsh have each put $75,000 in. We’ve got some other key players that have put in some significant amounts to help us get there, and we need to raise it pretty quickly.”
Other donors on the Zoom included Chris Jenkins, the CEO of Norwood Development Group, which owns 85% of all developable land in Colorado Springs. Jenkins is also a member of the state’s most powerful business lobby, Colorado Concern. Greenwood Village City Councilman Tom Stahl, who also works in real estate, wealthy philanthropist and real estate developer Louis “Dutch” Bansbach, and Wendy Merritt, the wife of failed Senate candidate Joe O’Dea’s longtime business partner Xernie Merritt, all appeared as well. Merritt is also an election fraud conspiracist who attended the January 6 insurrection.
“We do have people that we met down when we were with the O’Dea campaign, such as Harlan Crow and some of those types of people that are really behind Texas politics, which are really behind Colorado politics because of all our events that we had down there,” offered Merritt following Ganahl’s financial pitch.
Crow is the Texas billionaire who made news for paying for lavish trips for Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and paying the tuition for Thomas’ teenage grandnephew to Hidden Lake Academy, a private boarding school in Georgia.
Before signing off, Ganahl urged the Zoom audience to be discreet. “We’re going to record this also, so we’ll send out a link to everyone who attended and everyone who couldn’t attend,” she said. “Feel free to share that. You may want to be a little careful about who you share it with. We don’t want to give the Democrats all of our ideas or our roadmap. They probably already figured it out, but that’s not going to stop us. But please feel free to share it with your friends and folks that you think might be interested in this.”
A month later, the recording was shared to Facebook by an anonymous conservative account that accused Ganahl of attempting “to organize a profiteering shadow party.”
Reporter Erik Maulbetsch contributed to this article.