With County Commissioner Chuck Brown fighting for his political life and a surprise reemergence by the formidable former Colorado Springs mayor Bob Isaac, gyrations in local Republican politics have turned downright incestuous.
Brown, who was initially booted from the ballot by County Clerk and Recorder Pat Kelly, was reinstated this week -- at least for now.
The maneuvering is the latest evolution in a power play over what is arguably the most important local race in the November election.
And the cast of characters is equally rich in hardball GOP players, the victors of whom will likely set the policy and tone of how the county government is run for at least the next four years.
The tempest intensified last week when Isaac stunned observers by announcing his plans to run as a write-in candidate for the District 3 seat, which represents much of the north-central and western portions of the county, including the Broadmoor neighborhood and Manitou Springs.
East meets west
The seat is currently held by incumbent Brown, who is being challenged by newcomer Rich Brenner, who in turn was allegedly recruited to run by anti-zoning zealot Commissioner Betty Beedy.
Beedy, with reported ties to citizens' militia groups in eastern El Paso County, was first elected four years ago. The Calhan resident has since made national headlines with her often outrageous statements, including her belief that single mothers who date are sluts and that civil rights hero Martin Luther King, Jr. is unworthy of having a stretch of highway named after him.
Embittered by her defeat last year in keeping eastern El Paso County unzoned, Beedy has responded by recruiting candidates to run against her nemeses Brown and County Commissioner Jeri Howells, who are both running for reelection this year. Beedy, herself up for reelection, is being challenged by Republican Tom Huffman in the August 8 primary.
Until recently, incumbent Brown has not made aggressive efforts to keep his elected post, leaving some fearing that Beedy and her like-minded cohorts will seize majority control of the board.
"You suddenly have the militia movement from eastern El Paso County trying to dictate who's going to be elected commissioner from the western suburban areas," said Bob Gardner, the attorney representing Brown in his court battle.
Gardner is also a former local GOP chairman and is working on Huffman's campaign to defeat Beedy.
This year, Brown -- a member of a local Republican Party that has grown increasingly conservative in recent years -- decided to petition onto the election ballot rather than vie with Brenner for the party's nomination.
But last week, County Clerk and Recorder Kelly -- himself an elected Republican -- threw out some of Brown's petitions on a technicality.
The snafu over the validity of Brown's petitions stems from inconsistent rulings from the Secretary of State and the Attorney General's offices, Kelly said. Essentially, Brown submitted signatures from people who lived in the county, but not in District 3.
Brown subsequently sued Kelly and this week Brown won, with Gardner arguing that anyone in the county should be allowed to sign his petitions for candidacy. Pending a possible appeal, Brown will be reinstated to the ballot.
In yet another possible political move, Kelly hired attorney Wayne Williams to represent the county in the court hearing.
Williams is the immediate past chairman of the local Republican Party, and was elected to succeed Gardner to the post in 1997 after nasty political infighting. At the time, the conservative Gardner was accused of being too "liberal" for El Paso County.
Kelly, the husband of city attorney Pat Kelly, said he hired Williams to avoid any potential conflicts because Brown is currently a county commissioner. The county clerk said he chose Williams as the "most qualified" attorney available, and cited his "background and experience in county election issues."
"There's the old adage -- you never want to represent yourself because you don't want to have a fool for a client," Kelly noted.
However, when pressed for specific election cases Williams has litigated, Kelly said he couldn't name any. Williams practices employment law. After his court loss, Kelly said he has not decided whether to appeal.
Name out there
Meanwhile, in a surprise maneuver, Isaac entered the race at the 12th hour.
"Nobody knew," said Isaac, of his decision to sign on last week as a write-in candidate for the commissioner seat, which pays $50,000 a year. "My friends were all mad at me, and said 'I was with you yesterday, and you didn't say a word,' or, 'I talked to you twice yesterday and you didn't mention a thing.' "
Isaac said he simply realized it was the last day to register as a write-in candidate, so he went down to the clerk and recorder's office and signed on.
"There was no cabal, no encouragement, no right-wing conspiracy," Isaac said. "I used my own initiative."
Isaac dominated Colorado Springs politics as a gruff, no-nonsense mayor for 18 years before he resigned in the middle of his term three years ago. He said he considers Brown, who he served with on the City Council in the 1970s, a friend, and supports his candidacy.
However when the legitimacy over Brown's petitions was disputed, Isaac decided to get his name out there. Last week Isaac said he doesn't plan to seriously campaign if Brown is reinstated to the ballot.