Douglas County Republican Commissioner Lora Thomas is set on winning a new political office this year. Term-limited in her current role, Thomas is the first and only candidate to date to throw her hat in the ring for House District 43, which includes Highlands Ranch.

Thomas served as Douglas County Coroner from 2011 to 2015 and was elected Commissioner in 2016 and 2020. Thomas ran an unsuccessful campaign for county sheriff in 2022.

The district’s incumbent, Robert Marshall, hasn’t announced whether he plans to run again, though he said Thomas’s entrance makes it more likely he will. Marshall became the first Democrat ever to represent the affluent district when he won in 2022 after a highly contentious race that ended in a recount requested by his opponent, Rep. Kurt Huffman. Marshall won by 405 votes in a district that leans 7.4% Republican.

Thomas, who says her goals are to keep the government small and taxes low, made it clear that she plans to win her party’s seat back. Upset by what she sees as an ever-expanding government creating a need for ever-expanding taxation, Thomas said she “will insist on practical solutions that provide real tax relief for Colorado taxpayers.”

Ready for a fight

Since entering the race Thomas has signaled she’s ready to go after Marshall and state Democrats.

State Rep. Bob Marshall

“We need to restore confidence in our government’s ability to directly and effectively deal with rising crime, rather than turning a blind eye to crimes deemed insignificant by Marshall and the Democrats. We need to empower parental oversight and control of public education instead of turning it over to the teachers’ union, which has Marshall and the Democrats in its pocket,” said Thomas.

This week, she accused Marshall of not understanding Colorado open meetings law and boasting that he was named in a recent lawsuit filed by the Public Trust Institute.

Marshall, an attorney, has filed and won lawsuits against the Douglas County School Board and members of both parties of the legislature for violating the open meetings statute. However, in July of 2023, the Public Trust Institute sued the entire Colorado Senate and Colorado House, as well as Democratic Sens. Jeff Bridges and Chris Hansen and Rep. Marshall, and Andrew Lindinger, a Democratic staffer in the Senate for using a secret voting system to allocate the state budge.

The institute is a conservative non-profit created by former statehouse speaker Frank McNulty and has targeted Democrats since its creation. In 2020, the organization filed an ethics complaint against Sen. John Hickenlooper, which was meant to hurt his 2020 bid for Congress.

Marshall said in a phone interview that the lawsuit is “complete retaliation” for the open meeting lawsuit he won in Douglas County. “The leadership (of the house) was shocked I was named because they (the plaintiff) demanded an injunction to order the legislature to stop using an anonymous voting system. I’m a first-year member. I have no authority to tell people what to do,” said Marshall.

Thomas also told news reporters that Marshall had done little to help the citizens of Highlands Ranch. When asked about the accusation, Marshall said, “I wish we could stop the mudslinging until after Memorial Day because we have another legislative session to get stuff done.”

Public battles

Thomas is no stranger to a public war of words. As commissioner, she’s battled openly with fellow commissioners George Teal and Abe Laydon. Teal and Laydon censured Thomas in August and stripped her of her positions on outside community boards after they said she publicly shamed county volunteers with inaccurate information in her newsletter.

Two weeks later, Teal and Laydon canceled her county credit card, preventing her from traveling on county business.

Thomas is suing Teal and Laydon to recoup legal expenses after they accused her of creating a hostile work environment. Thomas was cleared of those charges after a third-party investigation.

Public commenters defended Thomas at a council meeting in December, calling for the two to return her privileges and move on from the long-standing conflict.

Conservative talk show radio host Mandy Connell also defended Thomas on her show earlier this week. “I hope she wins, though her two fellow commissioners hate her so much that they have vowed to make sure she ‘never wins another race again.’ I know that to be true because Abe Laydon said it directly to me in an off-air comment,” said Connell.

“While the comment is not at all surprising, Abe Laydon isn’t my boss and cannot dictate to me what I can and cannot do with respect to my public service. I believe his actions over the years demonstrate his abject intolerance for anyone who dares to dispute or disagree with him on any issue,” said Thomas.

Last May, fellow conservative talk show radio host Steffan Tubbs called Thomas “one of the biggest patriots I’ve ever met in my life.” Tubbs also referred to the commissioners as a “very dysfunctional bunch.”

Track record as commissioner

Thomas, who spent 26 years with the Colorado State Patrol, voted in favor of a resolution condemning the state’s red flag bill that allows for temporary removal of guns from people the court finds to be at risk of harming themselves or others. The resolution also condemned former DougCo Sheriff Tony Spurlock, also a Republican, who strongly supported the legislation.

She also supported the county’s 2020 decision to leave the Tri-County Health Department after the department issued stricter mask-wearing requirements during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

In 2023, Thomas and Laydon fended off an effort by Teal to cancel the county’s annual Pride Fest. When asked if she considers herself an ally to the LGBTQ+ community, Thomas said, “I am an ally and unabashed supporter of the Constitution, which gives people the right to peaceably assemble. When Castle Rock Pride applied to use Douglas County facilities open to the public for its annual Pride Fest, I supported their application as I would any other organization that agreed to comply with all terms/conditions/regulations of our facilities. It is not a question of support for any particular organization or group, but my steadfast belief in equal treatment under the law.”

Thomas attended a drag show during the Pride Fest that attracted protestors from groups like Able Shepherd, a nonprofit that provides mass shooter training to churches and schools, Patriot Front, the white nationalist group arrested en masse for conspiracy to riot in Idaho last year, the Rocky Mountain Active Club, the local chapter of the white supremacist fight club started by Robert Rundo, and the Proud Boys.

After the protest, Thomas said on X that the drag show was “entertaining and followed the county’s contractual relations.” Yet, she downplayed the seriousness of the protest writing only that a group of men displayed T-shirts that said “stand to protect children” and delayed the performance. 

Thomas listed the three areas where she’s most proud of her work as county commissioner: working with a coalition to improve the county’s mental health initiative, her time serving as the secretary for the statewide commissioner association, Colorado Counties, Inc., and her reputation for listening to and responding to her constituents. 

At least one member of the legislature Thomas hopes to join has his sights set on her soon-to-be vacated District 3 Commissioner seat. State Sen. Kevin Van Winkle (R-Highlands Ranch), has already declared his candidacy. He’ll face former state GOP Vice Chair Priscilla Rahn, who resigned that position to run in this race, as well as John Carson, a former CU Regent and DougCo School Board member. The Republican primary takes place on June 25.