Retired Texas judge, former missionary Bill Rhea launches 'centrist Republican' challenge to Doug Lamborn - Colorado Politics
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Retired Texas judge, former missionary Bill Rhea launches ‘centrist Republican’ challenge to Doug Lamborn

Author: Ernest Luning - October 11, 2017 - Updated: October 11, 2017

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Retired Texas judge Bill Rhea, left, pictured with members of his family, announced he's jumping in the Republican primary for the 5th Congressional District seat held by U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn on Tuesday, Oct. 10, 2017. (Photo courtesy Rhea campaign)Retired Texas judge Bill Rhea, left, pictured with members of his family, announced he’s jumping in the Republican primary for the 5th Congressional District seat held by U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn on Tuesday, Oct. 10, 2017. (Photo courtesy Rhea campaign)

Calling himself a “distinctly centrist Republican,” retired Texas judge Bill Rhea on Tuesday jumped in the crowded GOP primary for the 5th Congressional District seat held by five-term incumbent U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn.

Rhea plans to focus his campaign on what he terms “a needed renewal of the core values of the Republican Party,” as well as fostering “respectful, bipartisan discourse.”

“I think independently and speak boldly, with common sense and a clear perspective,” Rhea said in a statement. “I do not lockstep with the Republican Party, but I am a true conservative. I see a crying need for civil dialogue, for a turning away from vitriolic name-calling and from talk that is often full only of contempt.”

He said his approach stands in stark contrast with the other candidates running in the heavily Republican district, which includes El Paso, Teller, Freemont, Chaffee and Park counties.

Although Lamborn hasn’t officially declared he’s running for another term, he told Colorado Politics he’ll likely launch his campaign by the end of the year or early next year. He’s already drawn three primary challengers — state Sen. Owen Hill, R-Colorado Springs; El Paso County Commissioner and 2016 Republican U.S. Senate nominee Darryl Glenn; and Colorado Springs City Councilman Tom Strand.

After working as a litigator, Rhea served 15 years as a state district judge, overseeing the Dallas County juvenile justice system. After retiring from the bench, Rhea and his family — he and his wife, Akemi, have raised 15 children, nine of them adopted — served as missionaries in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, for six years. They moved to Colorado Springs two years ago.

Rhea said his judicial experience has given him unique insight into how to draft anti-abortion legislation that can escape the usual political pitfalls.

“I am concerned that we who are pro-life have grown too silent on this issue. My wife and I both have had dramatic experiences around the issue of abortion. We are passionate about that subject and it will be central to our campaign,” he said.

During his years as a jurist, Rhea served on the Rules Advisory Committee to the Texas Supreme Court and was appointed to adjudicate high-profile cases outside his jurisdiction. He also managed large asbestos and other litigation for an entire region of the state.

“The current leadership has become complacent, and for many years we have witnessed a failure to demonstrate necessary levels of independent thoughtfulness or of commitment to a respectful, bipartisan discourse,” Rhea said in a statement. “My knowledge of the legal and judicial systems, my full and varied life experiences and my core values will help me bring new avenues of change in Washington, D.C. If elected, my focus will be to demonstrate bold leadership, with an open mind, as we address the many complex issues facing our community and our nation.”

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. Since 2009, he has been the senior political reporter and occasional editor for The Colorado Statesman.


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