Eight House Republicans back Leonard for Keyser vacancy

Author: Ernest Luning - January 22, 2016 - Updated: January 23, 2016


Eight of “the most conservative members of the Colorado State House” are endorsing Tim Leonard, an Evergreen real estate developer and former state Senate candidate, in Saturday’s Republican Party vacancy election to fill the House District 25 seat.

“Your choice will determine whether our shared conservative values, our liberties, our freedoms will be defended here in our great State of Colorado,” wrote state Rep. Justin Everett, R-Littleton, in a letter signed by seven of his colleagues and sent late this week to vacancy committee members. He added, “Leonard is a rock-ribbed conservative who will be bold, who will fight and who will never cower in the face of adversity.”

The Republicans signing the letter endorsing Leonard were state Reps. Steve Humphrey of Severance, Janak Joshi of Colorado Springs, Patrick Neville of Castle Rock, Daniel Nordberg of Colorado Springs, Kim Ransom of Parker, Lori Saine of Dacono and Kevin Van Winkle of Highlands Ranch.

Tim Leonard
Tim Leonard

The vacancy came open earlier this month when state Rep. Jon Keyser, R-Morrison, announced he would be resigning his legislative seat Jan. 25 in order to run full-time for the Republican nomination for the U.S. Senate. He’s also stepping down from his job at the law firm Hogan Lovells.

Keyser is one of a dozen Republicans who are in the running for the chance to challenge U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet. The Democrat reported earlier this week that he raised nearly $2 million in the final quarter of 2015 and has $6.7 million in the bank, more than any other Senate Democrat in a competitive race.

A 21-member vacancy committee meets Saturday afternoon at the Jefferson County Government Center in Golden to appoint a replacement for Keyser.

At press time, seven candidates had thrown their hats into the ring, but Republicans watching the race said it appeared to be shaping up into a contest between Leonard and Judy Merkel, also of Evergreen, who terms herself a “lifetime volunteer” and counts decades of work helping elect Republicans.

The other candidates in the running include Tom George of Littleton, Mary Wagner of Indian Hills, Susan Ketchledge of Conifer, Derec Shuler of Golden Gate Canyon and Michael Olson of Conifer.

Judy Merkel
Judy Merkel

Vacancy committee veterans cautioned that anything can happen. “The only time you can trust someone is if he or she looks you in the eye and tells you they’re voting against you,” one said, adding that it’s often a “game-day decision” for committee members, and anyone who believes otherwise could be in for a surprise.

In an email sent earlier this week to vacancy committee members, Merkel said she “[has] full support of several past Colorado House Representatives, and several current HD Representatives,” although she declined Friday to tell The Colorado Statesman who those legislative supporters are.

“If they’ve endorsed me, they’ve probably sent letters to the committee, and I will let that be public record to the vacancy committee,” Merkel said. She did say in her email that former state Rep. Rob Witwer, R-Evergreen, who held Keyser’s seat several years ago, had encouraged her to run for the vacancy appointment.

Attorney Brad Miller — he represented the Jefferson County School Board for two years until the three-member conservative board majority was recalled in November — had praise for more than one candidate who might be seeking the vacancy appointment but wrote in an email earlier this week that he was backing Merkel.

Miller said that Shuler “would serve HD 25 well” and that recalled Jeffco School Board President John Newkirk “would be an excellent choice,” although he added that Newkirk — who since decided against seeking the vacancy appointment — could be “potentially hard to elect next fall.”

Derec Shuler
Derec Shuler

“But with Judy being willing to do this, it really is not a contest,” Miller wrote. “She is smart and capable and committed. She has exactly the right principles. And she would be very electable, which is clearly a key to your decisional process.”

Merkel said that she’s been getting phone calls from supporters all week ready to set up fundraisers and help her defend the seat in the Republican-leaning district, which covers most of the foothills within Jefferson County.

“I feel like I’ve got the ball rolling,” she said. “If the vacancy committee will see fit to elect me, I’ll be ready to win election in November.” Pausing a moment, she added, “I’ve raised a successful, happy family, now I’ve got time to commit to saving our country.”

A Keyser spokesman said he wouldn’t be taking sides in the contest.

“It’s up to the committee to choose the best person to represent the district and Jon supports that process,” said Matt Connelly, communications director for Keyser’s U.S. Senate campaign.

But the eight conservative House Republicans signing Everett’s letter sound convinced that Leonard is the best candidate.

“As a life-long Republican, I would truly love to tell you that all Republicans stand up for our values and fight for us, unfortunately that is not the case,” Everett wrote.

State Rep. Jon Keyser holding his daughter Elleanor
State Rep. Jon Keyser, R-Morrison, who will resign his seat effective Jan. 25, talks with outgoing House Speaker Mark Ferrandino, D-Denver, as he holds his daughter Elleanor shortly before being sworn in on opening day of the Legislature one year ago.

“Every day we face a battle: some days we charge the hill, some days we are fighting side-by-side in the foxhole, some days we fortify our defenses, some days we recruit more soldiers that we can trust to fight next to us and answer the call. Tim Leonard is one of those soldiers that we trust in battle. Personally, and I speak for my conservative colleagues, we would be proud to charge the hill and share a foxhole with Tim.”


Ernest Luning

Ernest Luning

Ernest Luning is a political correspondent for Colorado Politics. He has covered politics and government for newspapers and online news sites in Colorado for more than 25 years, including at the Highlands Ranch Herald, the Jefferson Sentinels chain of community newspapers and the Aurora Sentinel, where he was the city hall and cops reporter. After editing the Aurora Daily Sun, he was a political reporter and blogger for The Colorado Independent site. For nearly a decade, he was a senior political reporter and occasional editor at The Colorado Statesman before the 119-year-old publication merged with Colorado Politics in 2017.