Elbows fly between Republican state treasurer candidates Justin Everett, Polly Lawrence

Author: Ernest Luning - August 25, 2017 - Updated: August 25, 2017

State Reps. Polly Lawrence, R-Roxborough Park, and Justin Everett, R-Littleton, both candidates for Colorado state treasurer, address Teller County Republicans on Saturday, Aug. 19, 2017, in Woodland Park. (Photos by Ernest Luning/Colorado Politics)State Reps. Polly Lawrence, R-Roxborough Park, and Justin Everett, R-Littleton, both candidates for Colorado state treasurer, address Teller County Republicans on Saturday, Aug. 19, 2017, in Woodland Park. (Photos by Ernest Luning/Colorado Politics)

The gloves are off and the fur is flying in the Republican primary for Colorado’s next state treasurer.

In a series of emails sent to state GOP activists and donors Thursday, state Rep. Polly Lawrence accused her fellow state treasurer candidate state Rep. Justin Everett and his allies — “his minions” was the phrase she used — of spreading lies and mounting “traitorous attacks” on her, while an independent expenditure committee backing Everett blasted Lawrence for “lying to get re-elected, only to conspire with liberals and vote like Democrats.”

Everett, for his part, called Lawrence “not ready for prime time” and charged she was lobbing dishonest attacks his way.

Meanwhile, it turns out that associates close to House Republican leadership are behind an independent expenditure group devoted to supporting Everett and assailing Lawrence, and she’s crying foul.

Lawrence, who lives in Roxborough Park, and Everett, who lives in Littleton, are among five GOP candidates running for the seat held by term-limited State Treasurer Walker Stapleton, a likely Republican candidate for governor.

“I’m under attack and I need your help!” she wrote in a fundraising email that arrived in Republican in-boxes Thursday morning. “State Representative Justin Everett and his establishment minions are already attacking me.”

Lawrence pulled no punches in the missive, repeatedly branding Everett’s attacks “lies” and invoking President Reagan’s famous admonition against Republicans speaking ill of each other.

“I knew that the liberal left would attack a conservative like me,” Lawrence wrote, “but I never expected a fellow Republican to spit on Ronald Reagan’s 11th commandment like this.”

Everett told Colorado Politics he didn’t know what Lawrence was talking about, in part because he says he doesn’t mention her name when he tells GOP groups, “There are some Republicans out there who get an F in fiscal responsibility from Principles of Liberty.”

He was referring to the Colorado-based conservative organization that rates bills and scores lawmakers according to what it calls its core principles — “free people, free markets and good government.” This past session, Everett ranked highest among Colorado legislators with an A-plus grade on the Principles of Liberty annual scorecard — he’s finished at or near the top every year he’s been in office — while Lawrence received a failing grade in the “fiscal responsibility” category, although she earned an overall grade of C from the organization.

Everett threw out the observation about “some Republicans in the treasurer’s race” and their poor Principles of Liberty grades Saturday at an event sponsored by the Teller County GOP in Woodland Park that also included Lawrence and fellow state treasurer candidate Routt County Treasurer Brita Horn, although few in the crowd raised eyebrows or seemed to understand he was talking about Lawrence. (State Sen. Kevin Lundberg of Berthoud and 14th Judicial District Attorney Brett Barkey, the other two declared GOP candidates for treasurer, didn’t attend the Teller County event.)

“Polly’s just not ready for prime time,” Everett told Colorado Politics on Thursday. “She’s drawing attention to her negatives. She doesn’t want people to know she supported a 21-percent tax increase, when she voted in favor of House Bill 1242, and she’s drawing attention to the fact that she got an F for fiscal responsibility. Why would she want to draw attention to that?”

The bill Everett referenced was a bipartisan transportation-funding package backed by leadership in both chambers that would have hiked the state’s sales tax for a period to finance road construction and other transportation projects. It passed the Democratic-controlled House — with Lawrence’s support — but died in a Republican-controlled Senate committee.

A website called — it’s basically one attack on Lawrence after another — run by an organization known as JET PAC, an independent expenditure committee formed in late July to support Everett, popped up recently. A few hours after Lawrence’s email attacking Everett went out, an email detailing JET PAC’s complaints about Lawrence started landing in Republican in-boxes across the state.

“No wonder she is widely regarded by Capitol insiders as Colorado’s John McCain – a ring-leader for liberal Republicans who live to sell-out their constituents and cut backroom deals with the Democrats,” the email claimed.

The email and website criticize numerous House votes cast by Lawrence — the vote on the transportation-funding bill Everett cited, as well as votes in favor of what it terms “Planned Parenthood’s radical agenda” during the most recent legislative session. Those include support for a bill to add gay, lesbian and transgender people to Colorado’s existing hate-crime statute, which passed the Legislature with broad, bipartisan support.

“They have just gone out of their way to bash my candidacy for this office,” Lawrence told Colorado Politics. “I’m running a positive campaign. I’m running for treasurer to make sure the money we collect is accountable and is handled transparently. I’m going to work to end the year-end spend, reform PERA and lock the revolving door.”

She took issue with another line of attack leveled by the committee supporting Everett.

“They seem to label me as an establishment Republican, but the establishment changed with the last leadership election, and the establishment is all lining up behind Justin, not me,” she said.

After serving as assistant House minority leader in previous sessions, Lawrence had been in line after last fall’s election for House minority leader — the top GOP leadership post — but decided against running when it became clear she didn’t have sufficient support among her caucus. Instead, state Rep. Patrick Neville of Castle Rock, a close Everett ally, won the minority leader position.

It was Neville and his closest supporters Lawrence called out in her Thursday email.

“The new establishment is afraid of me,” she wrote. “They’re afraid that the future of our state is built on accountability and real solutions that families and small businesses need and deserve. They’re afraid that the future doesn’t include them or their buddies now in power.” Later, she added, “Our state deserves better than a bunch of new establishment fools spreading lies.”

Everett threw Lawrence’s criticism — and invocation of Reagan’s famous commandment — back at her.

“I don’t know how she can claim to run a clean campaign when she sends out a hit piece,” he told Colorado Politics. “That’s the dishonesty we saw from her in leadership for three years, and that’s why she couldn’t muster the votes to get reelected to leadership last year.”

The website taking Lawrence to task was put together by operatives involved with a company run by House GOP leader Neville’s brother — political strategist Joe Neville — while a former deputy communications director for the House Republicans is in charge of the independent expenditure committee that’s spearheading the attacks, according to documents filed with the Colorado secretary of state and other public records.

“We don’t do anything half-way,” Joe Neville, president of political consulting firm Rearden Strategic, told Colorado Politics. While he noted that his company’s director of operations, Aaron Yates, who worked in the House GOP’s communications office until June, had primary responsibility for JET PAC and its activities,  Neville embraced the committee’s mission.

“I think the reason we set up the IE is because I believe Justin Everett is the best person for the job — he’s been a rock star in the Legislature and, frankly, he’d be a great treasurer.” He added, “We want to see the best candidate win.”

Everett said Thursday night he hadn’t been aware who was behind JET PAC and its attacks on Lawrence until Colorado Politics informed him.

Lawrence, however, isn’t the only candidate Everett will have to vanquish in order to win the Republican nomination for state treasurer, Joe Neville acknowledged, and she might not be JET PAC’s only target.

“We’re going to highlight the race and make sure the facts are out there for everybody to see,” he said.

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.