Steve House: Stop fighting over support for Trump, look to future of state GOP

Author: Ernest Luning - February 14, 2017 - Updated: February 15, 2017

Colorado Republican Party Chairman Steve House addresses a meeting of the state GOP central committee on Sept. 26, 2016, in Pueblo. (Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman)
Colorado Republican Party Chairman Steve House addresses a meeting of the state GOP central committee on Sept. 26, 2016, in Pueblo. (Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman)

Calling the dispute a “useless exercise” and a distraction, Colorado Republican Party Chairman Steve House said Monday he wants the candidates competing for his job to stop arguing about who supported Donald Trump when, and whether they did so with sufficient gusto.

Instead of debating what happened last year, House told The Colorado Statesman, the election for state GOP leadership should be about winning elections next year.

Trump support took center stage last week in the Republican state chair race between former congressional candidate George Athanasopoulos and former El Paso County GOP Chairman Jeff Hays after officials with the Colorado Trump campaign endorsed Hays in an email to Republicans.

Athanasopoulos responded that he’d been the first federal candidate in the state to endorse Trump, calling the campaign’s endorsement of Hays “so preposterous as to be ridiculous.” He added, “Jeff Hays and his supporters represent what the Republican Party used to be. They represent exactly the party that Donald Trump had to defeat on his way to becoming president.”

Hays allies swung back, pointing out that Athanasopoulos, an unpledged delegate to the Republican National Convention in Cleveland last summer, had cast a vote for Ted Cruz more than a month after endorsing Trump. Athanasopoulos called the charge meaningless, saying he’d promised the GOP delegates who elected him months earlier that he’d vote for Cruz if the Texas senator was still in the running and was nominated at the RNC.

In his capacity as county chairman, Hays stayed neutral in the presidential primary until Trump was the nominee and then endorsed him without reservation, a Hays spokeswoman noted.

“Discussion about who supported the president and exactly when they supported him really needs to stop and not be part of the debate on who (our) next chairman should be,” House wrote in a comment to a Statesman story about the back-and-forth between Hays and Athanasopoulos.

In a later email to The Statesman, House said he wasn’t suggesting that the Trump team should stay out of the state chair race but wanted the candidates to move on.

“They have every right, all the way to the White House, to express their opinion on who they would like to work with,” House wrote. “What I am saying is that the two candidates fighting over who supported Mr. Trump at what time and how is a useless exercise that doesn’t yield any better information on who should be chairman and is distracting from what we should be talking about.”

House maintained that there was no point litigating the past.

“Both say they support the president and did at some point during the campaign/election process, and we should take their word for that,” House wrote. “If the Trump campaign wants to side with one or the other, then so be it. The candidates don’t need to fight over it, they need to tell us what they will do with the party and how they will support membership goals going forward.”

With Republican control of the presidency and both chambers of Congress, he wrote, the party needs to focus on the bigger picture.

“This is an opportunity not to be lost fighting over stuff that does not matter now,” he wrote. “The state chairman’s job is about winning elections in 2018, not fighting over what happened in 2016. It is not about policy or picking candidates, it is about winning, and the governor’s race must be won to complement the many gains we have made as Colorado Republicans since 2009, (when) we only held the (attorney general’s) seat in the state and two congressional seats.”

Colorado Republicans elect party leadership at a state central committee meeting set for Saturday, April 1, at Englewood High School. County parties meet in February to elect officers and bonus members to the state committee, which also includes elected officials. Athanasopoulos and Hays are the announced candidate for chair — House said late last month he wouldn’t seek a second term — while vice chair candidate Sherrie Gibson and incumbent secretary Brandi Meek are so far unopposed in their races.

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.

One comment

  • Matt Arnold

    February 14, 2017 at 1:30 pm

    Steve House makes a fair point (and there is ZERO evidence that Trump is taking sides) –
    but it’s also worth noting that the Hays claim to be supported by the Trump team was #FakeNews.

    Hays was supported by his longtime crony Bob Balink – who happened to be one of many on the Trump campaign team.

    The real question is how did Bob Balink get access to and use the Trump campaign mail/email list for his own purposes?

    Did Balink breach his fiduciary responsibility to the campaign team, in using campaign resources (lists and the campaign logo) to support a candidate in another race?

    Can Colorado Republicans expect to see their support for the party as a whole (or presidential races) exploited to serve the narrow, partisan personal interests of campaign operatives seeking a mealticket?

Comments are closed.