County GOP steps out of bounds with fundraising letter

 It’s the BS that makes my head explode. One thing I’ve always appreciated about this place is that people can speak their truth, disagree on issues and get on with their lives. Sometimes that means deciding it’s better to not socialize with a neighbor but most times it’s an acknowledgment to “agree to disagree” and buy each other a beer after airing differences. But that takes being able to be honest about issues and not resorting to the Marjorie Taylor Greene type of bullsh*t that comes with framing issues in lies, innuendo and “us vs. them” attitude.

A recent Gunnison County Republican fundraising letter, apparently sent to people who own property in the valley but reside out-of-state, is filled with the BS of misinformation and innuendo that to my mind takes a sledgehammer to the local foundational principles of being able to civilly disagree about policy in the valley. It seems an outright attempt to raise money through fear. How Tucker Carlson!

An out-of-state resident sent me a copy of his letter this week and said I had his permission to print it. I decided I would first reach out to Neil Watko who signed the letter as vice-chair of the Gunnison County GOP. (The letter is posted under online extra on our website). We met Tuesday afternoon, and I bluntly told him I thought the letter was full of crap and we each made our points and agreed to disagree.

Neil is no stranger to writing letters and we have run several from him in this paper. I disagree with most of his stances but figure as an official of the local GOP, he should be able to put out his positions and people should be able to see them and remember them when they go to vote.

But in my opinion his letter penned under the auspices of the county Republican Party and sent to second homeowners was so incendiary and full of national right-wing bullsh*t talking points, my head exploded. The obvious purpose of the letter was to divide the community. The letter makes clear that the local GOP believes out of state property owners are “funding progressive activities in the Gunnison Valley.” Neil goes on to say that “The Gunnison Republican Party needs your support to battle the progressives in our valley.” Nothing like a battle to bring people together and make the community better.

Here are some specific examples from the letter:

—The letter states that “Progressive candidates receive funds from some of the large commercial landowners who surprisingly received no assessment increase this year!” Really? Quid pro quo?! Sounds like a bribery scandal that should be a major story in the CB News. But we reported last April that commercial properties owned by everyone throughout the county (whether you made a political contribution or not) are seeing the smallest increases in valuation. The GOP letter sure sounds like a clear insinuation of bribery and corruption taking place in our fair valley. Again, commercial properties, whether owned by progressives or people who consider themselves the alt right, will likely see a decrease in property tax bills this year and not because someone gave funds to a “progressive” candidate. 

—The letter declares that “the state of Colorado has mandated CRT and trans gender education be taught in public schools starting at the preschool level.” That’s just not true. Neil mentioned HB19-1192 when we spoke Tuesday, so I read that bill and it doesn’t say CRT and transgender education has to be taught in schools. It does say that when teaching history and civics, the contributions of a long list of minorities must be considered. That is very different from teaching 4-year-olds about transgender choices. Go ahead and Google anything like that “mandate” and you will not find any such decree, but for many folks, it sure sounds scary for the kids in Stepping Stones.

—The letter said that “we have several conservative school board candidates running in November’s election. Please consider donating to the Gunnison County GOP to help us with your investment in our County.” Fair. And I can’t wait to meet those “conservative candidates” and find out how they plan to guide our community schools. 

—The letter states the new Crested Butte Fire Protection District fire station hasn’t broken ground because the town of Crested Butte “required a zero-carbon building if built in Crested Butte…now Crested Butte is denying approval for water and sewer permits!” Huh? The town wanted the CBFPD to meet the building code that was in the pipeline to be implemented in exchange for free land, but the district balked and paid for land next to town. The town is now negotiating with the fire district on how to supply sewer and water to the project. Everyone involved seems to believe a deal is very close and very positive.

—My most irritating tweak in the letter however is that the county GOP vice-chair encourages couples not living here to game the local election system. “I urge you, if you are a couple, have at least one partner become a Colorado citizen and register to vote Republican.” In other words, dive into the cesspool of cynicism and don’t vote where you reside but change your residency so you can vote for a conservative school board member in a place you don’t live. Sounds perfectly legit.

Arrrrgh. 

A couple things: It’s not your valley. It’s not your county. It’s not the “progressives’” valley either but the local Dems (who are not all progressives by the way) seem to consistently carry the vote in the valley. 

A lot of out-of-state property owners actually like the weird little left-wing(ish) place this is. They enjoy the quirks and the beauty and the people and don’t want to “battle” to change it to downtown Jackson, Mississippi or Desantissville, Florida. They also don’t see it as just an “investment.” There is always Delta, after all.

In my personal interactions with Neil, he seems a nice fellow. We get along but no surprise, rarely agree politically. But hidden behind the big elephant of the county GOP logo, sending misinformation and innuendo to out-of-state people who have a connection to this valley is a MAGA step over the line. I have no problem debating issues on whether a school bond tax hike is worthwhile or not. I can argue about how best to spend taxpayer funds on a new fire station. But when the implication is that the valley is filled with corruption and statements are made that are simply not true, that feels a Ted Cruzian-type attempt to break the unique bonds we have in this small community and ramp up the fear. Encouraging anyone to register as a Colorado citizen in order to vote even though you might not live here? Sounds dangerously close to walking the line of voter…deceit. 

Frankly, I have made fun of people’s political positions and been made fun of for what I write. It’s part of the bare-knuckle charm of living here. But in what I see as peddling misinformation and innuendo to scare people to get them to open their wallet is contrary to the place.

Look, Gunnison County GOP — you can view every issue as a chance to “battle the progressives in our valley,” or you can take a step back from the crazy cliff and throw out some interesting ideas and good candidates that counter the other side and present viable policy alternatives that speak to our valley, not to Fox News. The bullsh*t in your fundraising letter just adds to the political crap most of us wanted to leave behind so we could have honest, if sometimes brutal, debate and arguments over all of our futures. That fundraising letter just seems so MTG and wallows beneath the ideals of our valley in general. It was sad to read and as you can tell by the swearing, the BS made my head explode.

—Mark Reaman

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