State Rep. Scott Bottoms is optimistic about his caucus’ new leader. The most extreme right-wing member of the House Republicans praised Minority Leader Rose Pugliese (R-Colo. Springs) and her Assistant Minority Leader Ty Winter (R-Trinidad) last week, telling his congregation that for the first time since he’s been a legislator, he felt that “leadership is actually fighting for us.”
Like Bottoms, Pugliese is in just her second year as a state representative. Nevertheless, her colleagues picked her to serve as Minority Leader Mike Lynch’ (R-Loveland)’s second-in-command last year. Her law degree, previous experience as a Mesa County Commissioner, and role as a spokesperson for the failed statewide ballot campaign opposing the national popular vote, are among the reasons she has long been tagged as a rising star in the GOP establishment. Given the undeniable chasm between the establishment and grassroots wings of the party, however, her acceptance by its most MAGA member is notable.
By all accounts Pugliese is personable and well-liked at the Capitol, but establishment GOP gigs like joining Advance Colorado’s Michael Fields to debate Gov. Polis on tax policy don’t carry much weight with extremists like Bottoms or his fellow fringe warrior, El Paso County colleague Ken DeGraaf. So just how far-right are Pugliese’s positions?
Before MAGA there was the Tea Party, and Pugliese’s was a prominent member since its early days, giving quotes to national news outlets about the tea party’s political goals in Colorado. In 2010, her local group, the Western Slope Conservative Alliance, joined forces with the fringe Save American Foundation to help organize a far-right “constitutional convention” in Grand Junction that featured speakers who promoted the chemtrails conspiracy and was headlined by the unapologetically racist former Congressman Tom Tancredo.
Pugliese also stepped up from a local to national role on another far-right position: climate change denier. As a County Commissioner she promoted a climate change denier’s speech at Colorado Mesa University. The following year her failed petition drive to demand that the Mesa County District 51 school board ban the teaching of manmade global warming, didn’t change any curriculum, but it did land her on Fox News to promote her “both sides” approach to global warming.
The following year Pugliese participated in the Leadership Program of the Rockies, absorbing its unique blend of libertarianism and far-right conservatism that characterizes democracy as “mob rule,” and teaches that “some cultures are hostile to human life and happiness.” Among her classmates that year was a young political operative named Kat Cammack, then a recent intern for Congressman Mike Coffman. The Colorado native eventually went on to win her own Congressional race in 2020, representing her adopted state of Florida. Four days after taking office, Cammack voted to overturn the results of presidential election which also carried her to Congress. Just a few months later Cammack held a campaign fundraiser in Colorado Springs. Pugliese, who moved to the Springs after leaving Mesa County, was among the long list of Republicans who attended.
Cammack’s fundraiser serves as another example of Pugliese’s unique appeal to both the establishment and MAGA wings of the Colorado GOP, as well as the oft-crossed wires between them. Eli Bremer, a longtime fixture of the establishment, says he hosted the event largely because “No one thinks that the party is going to host a credible Lincoln Day dinner this year.” The party he was referring to is the El Paso County GOP, which by 2021 had been taken over by MAGA extremist Vickie Tonkins, who still runs the party today and counts Reps. Bottoms and DeGraaf among her allies. So while most of the election deniers, like Tonkins, Bottoms, and DeGraaf count themselves among the MAGA wing, establishment folks are willing to give passes to some of the more palatable and prominent ones, like Cammack. Pugliese, while describing herself as a “huge Trump supporter,” has simply avoided making definitive statements about the legitimacy of the 2020 election.
Speaking of election deniers, Pugliese has been a longtime supporter of another such (now former) elected official, who is certainly prominent, if not so palatable: Tina Peters. As Mesa County Commissioner Pugliese endorsed Peters’ campaign for Clerk & Recorder, despite her having no relevant experience for the job. Local progressive blogger Anne Landman reported on the Republican primary race at the time, characterizing it as a choice between a senior staffer in the Clerk’s office with a decade of experience, and Peters, who had been a flight attendant and done the books for her husband’s construction firm.
Pugliese did not respond to an email request for comment on a number of subjects, including why she endorsed Peters. However both women did share a common experience. Earlier that year Peters completed the LPR political training course, just like Pugliese did seven years prior.
The Colorado Times Recorder also asked Pugliese where she sees herself on the party’s spectrum that includes both establishment and grassroots or MAGA members. She didn’t reply, but upon ascending to Minority Leader of a clearly divided caucus that she told Colorado Politics that she believes in caucus unity. The same goes for her number two, Assistant Minority Leader Ty Winter who expressed a similar sentiment (also to Colorado Politics) after gaining his new title, saying “I know that we have 19 different people here with 19 different sets of beliefs. My goal is to bridge that divide.”
Not all of Pugliese’s caucus members seem thrilled by her decisions. Fellow Western Sloper Rep. Matt Soper (R-Delta), who’s firmly on the establishment side of the GOP caucus, criticized her for removing him from a coveted seat on the Agriculture Committee over what he told the Grand Junction Sentinel was “crummy politics.” Rep. Bottoms, at least, clearly appreciates her and Winters’ support. He concluded his musings on his caucus’s new power structure by praising both Winters and Pugliese.
“Our Assistant Minority Leader, he literally told the Speaker of the House and the Majority Leader, he said, –and he was saying it loudly. We heard him all over the room– he said, have you guys not figured out Scott Bottoms yet? If you tell him not to say something, he’s going to say it ten times. Do you want to keep doing this? I’m like who are these people? This is the first time that has happened since I’ve been here- The first time that somebody had Ken and I’s back. Nobody’s had our back the whole time. And so who knows, maybe this new leadership is going to get on the pony and ride…”