House candidate says GOP opposing him, will switch his affiliation
Believing that he won’t get a fair shake in the GOP caucus process in next year’s primary race for House District 54, Palisade businessman J.J. Fletcher plans to switch his party affiliation today.
As a result, Fletcher will run as an unaffiliated candidate challenging the incumbent, Rep. Jared Wright, R-Fruita, for the district that includes all of Mesa County outside of Grand Junction and the western half of Delta County.
The move also will set up a three-way race between those two men and Democrat Brad Webb, an Orchard Mesa vintner.
The longtime Republican said he didn’t make the decision to leave the party lightly, saying he believes local and state GOP party leaders are trying to stack the deck against him.
“We feel like we can’t get a fair caucus,” he said. “I want to send a pretty strong message to the party that you pushed the wrong buttons. I think I’d feel differently about it if (Colorado GOP Chairman) Ryan Call wasn’t on the other side of the coin manipulating the local party heads.”
Fletcher’s consternation stems from a disagreement he and some of his supporters have with the HD54 Central Committee and its chairwoman, Linda Sorenson, who also is chair of the Delta County Republican Party.
For most of this year, Fletcher has asked the committee to double the number of delegates it plans to elect when the GOP caucus process begins in March and update its bylaws that govern how delegates are selected.
While Sorenson said in August she agreed the bylaws should be revamped, and promised to do so, that still hasn’t happened, Fletcher said, adding she’s refused to have more than the planned 45 delegates.
“She said she would change the bylaws, but we couldn’t meet until after Thanksgiving, and we haven’t,” Fletcher said. “Part of bylaws restructuring was that no one on the central committee board could be a delegate. That sounded more equitable, but nothing’s happened. It’s just been kind of a stall, and time is running out.”
By law, in order for Fletcher’s name to appear on next November’s ballot, he would have to be unaffiliated before Jan. 1.
Fletcher is concerned about having central committee members acting as delegates because he says that panel already includes several Wright supporters, including Michael Holmes, who acted as Wright’s attorney in his dispute last year with the Fruita Police Department.
Wright resigned his post as a police officer after an internal affairs investigation questioned his honesty and integrity. The department gave Wright the option of resigning, threatening that it would fire him if he didn’t.
Wright could not be reached for comment, but has previously said he believes Fletcher and Webb have orchestrated this three-way race in order to divide the Republican vote and put the Democrat into the seat.
Both men have called that allegation laughable, saying the registration numbers still make it difficult for a Democrat to win even if the conservative vote is split. As of Dec. 1, more than 47 percent of district voters are Republican. Unaffiliated voters, who historically have voted for conservative candidates, comprise more than 33 percent of the electorate.
“I’ve never had a conversation, nor have I ever spoken with J.J.,” Webb said. “It’s just more tactics from the Wright camp. I feel that the voters of the district are ready for a change, and I think they’re ready to look beyond party lines and focus on the issues. People are sick of this extremism politics and that’s what you get with the other two candidates here.”