Handcuffed county Republicans scramble as Wright stays in race

With the Mesa County Republican Party leadership paralyzed by the candidacy of Jared Wright, party members have embarked on a frenzied, but so far unsuccessful, search for an alternative to his candidacy.

One Republican even considered dropping out of the GOP, joining a minor party and mounting a ballot challenge that way.

“Everybody’s trying to figure out some way to get him out of the race,” said Kathy Hall, a former Mesa County commissioner and longtime party activist, “so we can have a candidate who lives up to the basic principles of our party: personal responsibility and integrity.”

Wright and Libertarian Tim Menger remain the only candidates on the general election ballot for House District 54.

Wright’s campaign said contributors were sticking with his candidacy and only one had demanded his money be returned. The contributor, Jerry Hunsinger, said the campaign gave his money back.

Another Republican, Alex Chaffetz, paid $400 for an automated phone call to Republican voters urging them to urge Wright to withdraw from the race. Another Republican, Gary Bailey, followed suit shortly afterwards.

That prompted Wright’s campaign to recruit Tom Tancredo to record a so-called “robo-call” in response. Tancredo, a Littleton Republican and former congressman, two years ago doffed his GOP registration to present a general election alternative to Dan Maes, the Republican nominee for governor. Democrat John Hickenlooper won the three-way election.

The behind-the-scenes battle hasn’t been waged by robo-call alone.

Duke Wortmann, who has limited his political activity to nonpartisan campaigning for School District 51 bond issues, said he considered dropping his Republican registration and enlisting with a minor party to get on the ballot.

Deadlines to do so, however, have passed and Wortmann said that in the end, he couldn’t abandon his 36 years of Republican Party registration to mount a minor-party challenge.

“I would be glad to step up,” Wortmann said, “but I can’t.”

Tancredo’s robo-call irritated Wortmann all the more, he said.

“He’s an East Slope politician,” Wortmann said. “He carries no water in Mesa County.”

In a public appearance last week, Wright apologized for his handling of his job and bankruptcy but said he was determined to remain in the race.

Since then, he has issued a news release announcing his endorsement by the Colorado Lodge of the Fraternal Order of Police, but he has otherwise declined public appearances. Allies and advisers said he has been busy walking precincts and talking to voters directly.

The county’s party officials remain handcuffed, having issued a statement earlier this month declaring that the party had no authority to reverse the District 54 assembly in which Wright was nominated.

Absent from the political yard signs around the county’s Republican headquarters at Sherwood Plaza, 1114 N. First St., however, are those for Wright’s campaign.

Wright’s path to the Legislature seemed clear until revelations about his departure from the Fruita Police Department and then about his 2011 bankruptcy raised questions in the GOP.

Mesa County Commissioner Steve Acquafresca called the series of events “an oddball deal” that could have legislative implications.

“All that any legislator has to sell over there (in the capitol) is his credibility,” said Acquafresca, who served in the Legislature representing parts of Delta County. “I’m not saying this in judgment of Jared Wright, but credibility is all important. You can gain the confidence of lawmakers on both sides of the aisle and that’s especially important for the West Slope counties.”


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