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GOP: local women's club

City Sage

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Republicans hate smart young women, right? And smart young women don't much like Republicans, do they? Just listen to the dialogue in a current romantic comedy, Friends With Kids.

A 30-something woman tells her girlfriend why she broke up with the latest suitor. Reciting a list of faults, she ends with the dealbreaker: "And he voted for Bush!"

And what about Rush Limbaugh's latest foul tirade (for which he grudgingly apologized once his show's advertisers headed for the exits)? No surprises there — after all, nasty personal attacks are Limbaugh's stock in trade. But what about the response of the presidential Gang of Four: Mitt & the Three Dwarves? Not one would criticize the blusterer-in-chief, presumably afraid of alienating his angry male audience.

Are Republicans really anti-woman?

That's our new national narrative, but here in one of the nation's most conservative counties, things are different. Smart, young (and young-ish) Republican women aren't content to stuff envelopes for Mr. Big and limit their political ambitions to a seat on the school board. They'd rather be out in the tall grass with the big dogs, fighting it out for positions on City Council, the Board of County Commissioners or the state Legislature.

While the guys weren't paying attention, the women took over.

Three of five county commissioners are women, as are four of nine City Councilors. That's perfect gender balance, but age distribution is even more significant. Six of those seven women are in their 30s, 40s or very early 50s, while only one of seven men is younger than 50.

Last year, Brandy Williams won an at-large Council seat, while Sean Paige was ousted from his. Political novice Lisa Czelatdko defeated veteran legislator Mike Merrifield for the District 3 seat, while Angela Dougan easily dispatched a male opponent in District 2.

At the county, Amy Lathen, Sallie Clark and Peggy Littleton are tough, seasoned Republican politicians. Clark runs the west side of the city as effectively as Boss Tweed ran Manhattan in the 19th century, while Lathen and Littleton are politically impregnable in their areas.

And in the Legislature, House Majority Leader Amy Stephens exercises significant power. But redistricting has put her and Rep. Marsha Looper in the same district. They're running against each other in the HD 19 primary, ensuring that one Republican incumbent will be ousted.

"That was a Democrat plan," says state Republican chairman Ryan Call, "and it had the effect of removing an incumbent woman from the Legislature."

Stephens or Looper might be joined next fall by Jennifer George, a 40-something Republican attorney opposing another attorney, Pete Lee, the incumbent Democrat in HD 18.

The path to real political power has always been through local elected office. That's where you build a reputation, learn to govern, build a network, and position yourself to run for the next level. Congressman Doug Lamborn came from the Legislature, as did his predecessors, Joel Hefley and Ken Kramer. U.S. Sen. Mark Udall started in the Legislature, while Gov. John Hickenlooper was a popular Denver mayor.

If anyone from El Paso County achieves high elected office in 2016 or 2018, chances are that it will be one of the women listed above. That's not just because they're good — it's because there are very few young men in office, even if you define middle age as the new youth.

Our local male elected officials are mostly superannuated (e.g., county treasurer Bob Balink, a Nixon delegate to the Republican National Convention in 1972); stuck permanently in lesser office (county clerk Wayne Williams); or eccentric (names withheld to protect the incompetent). Only University of Colorado Regent Kyle Hybl, state Rep. Mark Waller or state Sen. John Morse might be credible statewide candidates someday.

And that's not going to change, according to Call.

"We're very actively recruiting women candidates," he says, naming several, including George. "It will be very difficult for young men to get nominated [for the Legislature]. Republicans will continue to have this problem."

Eat your hearts out, guys! On the other hand, you'll have more time to stuff envelopes and fix dinner...

hazlehurst@csindy.com

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