It's easy to understand why Kanda Calef, campaign manager for state Rep. Janak Joshi, is so pleased.
On Saturday, her candidate walked away from the Republican county assembly with the ideal outcome: His challenger failed to get enough votes to make it on the June 26 primary ballot.
"I think that it was a victory for liberty," says Calef. But she's not speaking just about Joshi's win.
Calef, a local activist who gained prominence last year with her opposition to the Colorado Health Benefit Exchange Act, was backing other victors from the assembly at Liberty High School. She was openly campaigning for Owen Hill in Senate District 10 and Rep. Marsha Looper in House District 19, and both won top-line ballot position for the primary.
To Calef, it's a sign that after more than a year (see "Anarchy in the GOP," cover story, June 23, 2011), a movement continues to sweep through the party to protect and promote "the tenets of the Republican Party, which are limited government, personal responsibility, free markets."
The sentiment is echoed by former state Sen. Dave Schultheis.
"It seemed obvious that, with only a few exceptions, the most-conservative candidates (i.e. those that hold strongest to the core values of the Republican Party) won," Schultheis writes in an e-mail. "Voters seem much more aware that issues are more important than how much one 'likes' specific candidates."
Indeed, two controversial issues — the Health Benefit Exchange Act (SB 200), and El Paso County's 2010 term-limits measure — were front and center.
"I think that the people are wide awake," says Calef. "The activists have not gone back to sleep. It's a forewarning of what's to come in the primaries."
Colorado Attorney General John Suthers, an establishment favorite, received a raucous welcome from House District 19 delegates as he spoke in support of House Majority Leader Amy Stephens. Looper and Stephens are locked in one of the state's most-watched primary battles.
Stephens inspired controversy last year when she sponsored SB 200 and ushered it through the House; Looper opposed the measure, and Saturday she called it Stephens' "multimillion-dollar legacy."
"I was absolutely flabbergasted," said Suthers, "when [Looper] accused her of being less conservative for making sure, instead of letting the federal government impose Obamacare on us, people in Colorado had something to say about it."
Yet, despite his endorsement, Looper edged Stephens in the day's narrowest vote. Says Calef: "John Suthers has lost credibility."
In Senate District 10, Liston defended his support of SB 200, stating, "I believe in the 10th Amendment and states' rights, and worked to create a firewall to protect Coloradans, while some argued to do nothing..." He was interrupted by a heckler in the crowd, the day's only such disruption.
Meanwhile, Hill invoked Ronald Reagan, saying that "in health care, government is not the solution to the problem, government is the problem." Hill bested Liston, 231-131.
In the race for County Commissioner District 3, newcomer Karen Magistrelli won a 168-140 victory over Sallie Clark, who is seeking her third term.
Former state Sen. Ed Jones, a Clark supporter, was stunned.
"I didn't think Sallie would lose, but I think that the reason was that term-limit, deceptive thing that they did," he says, referring to the misleadingly worded 2010 ballot measure that guaranteed commissioners a chance to run for three terms, and not just two.
But Commissioner Dennis Hisey, also trying for a third term, won the top line against Auddie Cox. And Commissioner Amy Lathen, who also supported the term-limits measure, crushed Phil McDonald, who didn't get enough votes to make the ballot and says he won't try the petition route. Jones suspects Lathen dodged the term-limit bullet because she is only running for her second term.
Cork that bottle
For David Kelly, organizer of the local Liberty on the Rocks meetings of liberty activists, it was overall a good outcome. But with primary ballots going out June 4, he won't really celebrate yet.
"What was there was a small representation of the community," he says. "I, for one, know way too many people who are not involved in politics, but feel it's their civic duty to vote. They're going to open up that ballot and recognize Larry Liston's name, and check off his name without even investigating Owen Hill. And the same thing with Karen Magistrelli."
The unknowns, Kelly adds, "have a ton of work ahead of them."
Jones makes the same point, noting that his 2002 primary opponent walked away from their assembly with the top billing, only to be bested by Jones on election day.
"What you saw at the assembly was a lot of great activists," he says, "but there are a lot of people out there who don't go to assemblies. I wouldn't be going out and drinking champagne, 'cause this is just the beginning."