What follows is perhaps the strangest political story I have ever reported on…this story includes major revisions from the first published version. This is the story as I understand it at 10 PM Mountain Time on June 23. Further updates will be posted at the top of this article over time, if necessary.
Colorado Republicans have a remarkable way of screwing up, making bad decisions, pulling defeat from the jaws of victory, and airing disagreements about those decisions publicly in ways even gleeful Democrats hadn’t imagined possible.
This year the controversy surrounds new Colorado Republican Party Chairman Steve House and a rather insane few hours last Monday; the situation and has become even more chaotic and confused with new revelations in the past several hours.
It began when what House assumed would be a routine strategy meeting with Colorado Attorney General Cynthia Coffman convened with two unexpected additional participants: Pueblo County Republican Chairwoman Becky Mizel and former Congressman Tom Tancredo.
Coffman, Mizel, and Tancredo were among House’s most prominent supporters when he ousted prior chairman Ryan Call in party leadership elections; House would surely have lost to Call if not for these three people. Indeed, Coffman nominated House on stage at the state convention (while Tancredo, ill that day, sent a written statement of endorsement). Mizel was key in organizing county chairs to support House — something for which she now feels a need to apologize.
Coffman, Mizel, and Tancredo intended to address with House their concerns over his leadership including administration of the party’s finances (despite House’s declining to take a salary so that more of the party’s war chest could be directed toward elected candidates), and his overall management style as demonstrated during the first 100 days of his tenure.
The concerns were significant enough — and were shared and discussed by enough other leading party members (including state legislators) prior to the meeting — that the trio intended to ask for House’s resignation.
Toward the end of the meeting, Steve House, unprepared for the sudden confrontation and unconvinced (as he remains today) that the issues raised were significant enough to warrant his resignation, asked, “What else have you got?” (or words to that effect), to which someone in the room mentioned the first name of a woman: “Julie.”
House adamantly denied the existence of an improper relationship with Julie (or with any other woman) and the word “affair” was apparently not mentioned during the meeting though its meaning was implied. House also denied an affair to me when I asked him the question specifically, though I suppose no other answer would be possible.
This afternoon (Tuesday, June 23) “Julie” (that is her real name) allowed a story – admitting the affair and apologizing to House’s wife, Donna – to be published online.
AS OF TUESDAY EVENING, HOUSE CONTINUES TO DENY AN AFFAIR EVEN AFTER JULIE’S CLAIMING THERE WAS ONE. And one of House’s strongest supporters tells me that there are details which the public remains unaware of, implying that those details vindicate House.
Audio of an interview of Julie by a friend and political supporter of Steve House’s, who is also a private detective and former federal agent, is available here. In that interview, which occurred prior to the publication of the online story in which Julie says there was an affair, Julie strenuously denies the existence of an affair. In the printed article, the reporter says Julie “confessed that she lied to help cover the affair. She said, as House’s critics also do, that House texted her with instructions to deny their relationship…” If Julie can produce such a text, House is sunk. If not, this ridiculous saga continues and others will have the harder questions to answer.
In the audio, Julie says that she does not want “anybody to think that I would in any way make stuff up or embellish something or endanger anybody else’s reputation…” But clearly, Julie has done just that in at least one of her interviews since they completely contradict each other; one must be based on “making stuff up.”
Back to last Monday’s meeting: After brief consideration — which included reminding himself that he was working for free and that if these were his “friends”… — House texted Cynthia Coffman to tell her that he would resign the next day, adding “If anyone attacks me, I will attack back.”
Coffman sent the message along to Mizel who, in consultation with the others, decided to post the news on Facebook. Mizel is taking a lot of criticism for her posting with some arguing that it was inappropriate for a county chair to announce the resignation of the state party chairman. I suspect that Becky Mizel felt little choice given her belief that Mr. House frequently changes his mind, such as with his prior promises to hire particular people.
Her concern was prescient: Over the ensuing few hours, House spoke with his wife and other close advisers about the situation and decided that he would not be “bullied” out of office and he let Coffman know that he had changed his mind. But Facebook is forever and the GOP’s activist base had already heard the news.
Suddenly, a very messy situation which the trio had intended to avoid or at least keep private for the benefit of the party, themselves, and even Steve House, was exposed for all to see.
In a statement issued last Tuesday afternoon, House said, “If I refused to meet their demand to resign, they threatened that a potential lawsuit may be filed and that false rumors that I have been unfaithful to my wife would be made public.” The trio have publicly denied the latter charge and Tuesday’s revelations by Julie would seem to offer truth as an impenetrable defense except that House continues to insist that there was no affair.
For now, the three who confronted House will not comment on potential litigation (started by either side or a third party) that they would rather avoid. While the trio deny that they have done anything wrong, rumors persist that House has hired a legal team and intends to sue. One Denver news outlet is reporting that House “has contacted the Denver DA and the US Attorney about his accusations” against Coffman. This is far from saying that any crime has actually been committed; in this roller-coaster political drama, almost nothing can be taken at face value.
It is worth noting that House’s non-resignation statement following the meeting appears to be the first mention of the word “affair” ensuing from the meeting; in other words, House was effectively the one to publicly spread the rumor about himself.
The back-and-forth about infidelity makes for the most salacious blog notes and headlines but it is a distraction from the serious questions offered about House’s leadership. The trio did not intend to raise an affair as an issue; at least one of the three who met with House only learned of the alleged infidelity within a week of the meeting — far after discussions about confronting Chairman House over substantive work-related issues began.
Another issue that remains at the center of local media coverage but is being misconstrued is House’s failure to follow through on a promise to hire former State Senator Ted Harvey to be the party’s executive director. The fact that there was such a promise is not denied by House but his supporters say it was made before he understood the party’s financial situation, including debts remaining to be paid off. It is also known that Attorney General Coffman recommended against the hiring of the “too controversial” Mr. Harvey.
The real concern appears to be statements made by Mr. House about Mr. Harvey — statements that sources tell me are utterly false but potentially harmful to Harvey should, for example, a future potential employer believe them. House said that his statements were made with the specific caveat that they were based on rumor. His critics suggest no such caveat was offered and that the statements were made as if House knew them to be true. Recently, Mr. Harvey has said that under no circumstance would he now work for Mr. House.
In short, the real concern about the Ted Harvey job situation was less the broken promise — again, some see a pattern of House saying yes to things he couldn’t or didn’t deliver — and more the poor judgment exercised by House in how he spoke about Harvey to third parties. The question of whether House’s comments were given with the rumor caveat is therefore significant, not least if any potential legal action surrounds them.
Significant questions remain about Mr. House’s hiring practices, about the use of contractors rather than employees and the accounting for their costs, about his day-to-day consistency on both tactical and strategic issues, and about his honesty – separate from whether he’s lying about an affair. Any one of these questions could have a reasonable explanation but the breadth of them – even prior to Julie’s assertions of an affair – would be a daunting gauntlet should House choose to try to stay in office. House, however, is not yet backing down from a willingness to challenge such a gauntlet as made up of overwrought if not fabricated claims.
Steve House is facing an activist Tea Party base which, frankly, does not always make the wisest decisions (most conspicuously their support of Dan Maes in the 2010 Colorado Governor’s race). How that plays for Mr. House who won with their support but now faces their opposition remains to be seen.
House’s critics as well as House himself believe that an affair on its own should not be relevant to whether he remains as chairman. But even the possible affair – which a woman admits but House denies – is now no longer a stand-alone issue.
A major step is scheduled for this Friday when the party’s Executive Committee is to meet with Chairman House to discuss these issues. Will we see fireworks or will all involved try to make this story go away quietly? (Quiet, that is, except for the belly laughs of the state’s Democratic Party.)
An important question: If Steve House were to resign, who would replace him? Although I am not closely tied to GOP party politics, no obvious successor comes to mind.
Colorado is a key state in the 2016 elections, capable of choosing either a Democrat or a Republican for both U.S. Senate (our incumbent Democratic Senator Michael Bennet is vulnerable in his re-election bid) and for the presidency. Our State House of Representatives has a small Democratic majority while the State Senate has a single-vote Republican majority. In this purplest of states where both campaign discipline and fund-raising matter so much, neither local Republicans nor the national GOP can afford a dysfunctional state Republican apparatus.
After concluding multiple interviews and adding Tuesday’s revelatory news, I have reached a few conclusions:
Note: This article was written after interviewing multiple sources including more than one person who attended the key meeting last Monday and more than one party activist who is close to the situation, of which at least one is a supporter of Mr. House and at least one thinks he should resign. Additionally, I know several of the people involved in this story (though none of them extremely well). I am not a registered Republican; I generally avoid party politics and took no part nor offered any endorsement in any campaign for the state party chairmanship.
I am going to post a major update to this story shortly…
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