Stephen Varela, a Pueblo Republican, has officially launched his campaign for Colorado’s 3rd Congressional District. The seat was previously held by U.S. Lauren Boebert before she switched districts in December.
Varela, an Army veteran, has represented the 3rd District in a statewide capacity since early last year, when he was appointed to Colorado’s Board of Education by a vacancy committee, but this campaign is set to be his first taste of national politics.
“As a battle-tested conservative and former Democrat, I’m ready to shake up Washington on day one and effectively advocate for rural Colorado’s jobs and conservative values, heritage, and way of life,” Varela said in a press release announcing his campaign.
Varela is indeed a former Democrat — and, more than once, a former Republican. According to the Pueblo Chieftain, he has switched his party registration between Democrat and Republican a total of 18 times since 2011.
In 2020, during his most recent stint as a Democrat, Varela helped form a political action committee which opposed Lauren Boebert’s initial campaign for Congress. He reaffiliated himself with the Republican Party in February 2021, and has remained a Republican since.
In 2022, Varela ran for Senate District 3 against Democrat Nick Hinrichsen. During this time, he faced a campaign finance complaint alleging that, prior to reactivating his campaign for State Senate, Varela had begun and later aborted a campaign for County Commissioner, for which he had accepted donations, without filing his candidacy. Varela told the Secretary of State’s office he had “never decided to run” for the seat.
Over the years, Varela has had multiple run-ins with the law. In 2007, while stationed at Fort Riley, Kansas, he was arrested after an altercation with another man in which Varela, in his own words, “beat him to a pulp.” In a Facebook video addressing the incident, Varela said that the man had been attacking a woman, and he had intervened.
“Because of my military training as a combatives instructor, I was arrested for it,” Varela said in the video. “I would do it again.”
During his campaign, Varela also served as board president of Chavez Huerta Preparatory Academy (CHPA). His tenure was marked by high staff turnover rates and concerns about the school’s finances. These concerns, among others, led staff and community members to repeatedly call for Varela’s resignation. Varela claimed these were political attacks propagated by Hinrichsen’s campaign.
Varela would ultimately lose the Nov. 2022 election to Hinrichsen. That same month, he resigned from his seat at CHPA.
In January 2023, a Republican vacancy committee appointed Varela to the State Board of Education following his predecessor Joyce Rankin’s resignation.
Education seems like it will continue to be a key factor in Varela’s newest campaign. In his statement, he named “woke indoctrination in our schools” as one issue which has caused many Americans to “give up hope.” In saying this, Varela has staked out a position within the broader Republican culture war, which has seen Republican lawmakers and activist groups work together to stoke outrage over equity programs and policies, especially those that are inclusive of LGBTQ people.
Varela previously told the Pueblo Chieftain that he was a “fiscal conservative, but socially awesome” and that he supported LGBTQ people.
Other issues Varela listed in his statement include foreign policy, inflation, and “complete chaos at the Southern border.”
Last year, Varela was one of numerous candidates to vie to become Chairman of the Colorado Republican Party. Notably, he was the only candidate to not openly promote conspiracy theories about the 2020 election. However, Varela dropped out of the race in February.
The race to receive the GOP’s nomination for the 3rd District will pit Varela against attorney Jeff Hurd, financial advisor Russ Andrews, and former state representative Ron Hanks, who is also an election denier.