By Colonel Mike Angley
On June 26th, I lost my Republican Party primary race for Sheriff of El Paso County, CO. I had challenged the incumbent, Sheriff Bill Elder, undertaking what would be a tough fight given my opponent’s incumbency.
I garnered over 36,000 votes but lost with 43% of the vote to the incumbent’s 57%. While losing anything is always tough, I did learn a few things along the way. The experience was particularly eye-opening with respect to how local establishment Republican Party operatives work.
Background to El Paso County
El Paso County, CO for a very long time has been reliably red, staunchly conservative, and as the largest county in the state, a leader in matters of politics. Many of the elected officials in state government come from El Paso and still reside here despite the long commute to Denver, some 60 miles north.
I heard it mentioned quite often on the campaign trail that El Paso is considered the fourth most conservative county in the United States. I don’t know if it’s true, but I never saw anything to suggest otherwise.
It’s also a solid pro-military and pro-veteran county. Colorado Springs is the largest city in the county (second largest city in the state), and it is home to five major military installations: the U.S. Air Force Academy, Peterson AFB, Schriever AFB, Fort Carson, and the Cheyenne Mountain Complex (former home to NORAD).
There are an estimated 60,000 veterans in the county of about 640,000 total population. Layer on top of that another 75,000 active duty military, guard, reserve, dependents and civilian DoD employees, and about 20% of the county has some connection to the military. This is all very important because one factor I keyed in on during my campaign was how only 36% of the veterans in the community are registered to vote, and then when election time comes around, fewer still actually cast a vote.
The Establishment’s Mini-Swamp
During the campaign, I was at one particular meeting and happened to mention something about the establishment to a fellow tea party type Republican. A GOP operative overheard it and asked what I meant by establishment (BTW, if you have to ask, then you are one). I was about to respond when my friend said, “Fake conservatives. You know, people like you.”
It was priceless because it was both spot on and she served it up with the kind of bluntness I relish. I don’t know how most folks define the establishment, but that seems to be a good start. A few other monikers come to mind. Republican-in-Name-Only (RINO) is apt. Moderate Republican is another. One I coined that applies quite well to El Paso County is Democrats-Operating-in-Republican-Clothing (DORCs).
I suspect that Democrats in our county stumbled upon the only way to get elected, and that’s to pretend to be Republican. I’m convinced they switch parties and campaign as members of the GOP, but then govern as liberal Democrats. They study conservatism just enough to be able to recite a few convincing lines, but it’s their actions when governing that matter.
For example, there are five County Commissioners in El Paso, all allegedly Republican. Last November, the citizens of our county approved a handful of different ballot measures to raise taxes and give the Commissioners more money to spend. I attended one of their public meetings right after the tax measures passed.
Each one of the Commissioners was literally giddy with excitement over how wise the citizens were to part with more of their money. My mouth dropped open at the garish display of tax-and-spend enthusiasm that no true conservative would ever indulge in.
The most glaring problem with the establishment in El Paso County is the virtual death grip it holds on local politics. Many of the same people continue to occupy elected positions, moving from one political job to the next once a term limit is reached. We even have a few political dynasties, families of politicians who shuffle from one elected job to the next.
What goes on here, in the country’s fourth most conservative county, seems to defy the national trend. In recent primary elections, most places have seen a shift away from the establishment to true conservatives, many from tea party coalitions. But there’s a strange and powerful lock on GOP politics in our county – indeed our state – that is tough to decipher.
During the recent primary election, all outside challengers lost to establishment candidates. That bucked the national trend in a big way. One thing is for certain, the Republican Party out here is a small and insular circle, and they do not like outsiders coming in.
Cool Reception: With Friends Like These, Who Needs Democrats?
When I first announced I was running, I expected the GOP’s ‘Big Tent’ to pop open and welcome me with collegial arms. I was naïve.
I encountered an immediate, unmistakable cold shoulder. Without anyone saying this, the sense conveyed to me was, “Who the hell do you think you are? You aren’t one of us!”
There were a few folks who treated me nicely – at least overtly – but I managed to pick up feedback that most of them were as full of disdain as the openly hostile ones. Apparently, there was an apple cart in my path, and in challenging an establishment incumbent, I had knocked it over.
One of the county party officials falsely accused me being in league with a website (www.DirtyElder.com) that reports on the corruption of the incumbent sheriff, Bill Elder, a website that had been around almost a year before I even registered as a candidate.
That happened within the first month of campaigning and became an issue I was constantly hammering down. The point I’m making is that the intra-party dirty tricks began almost immediately.
I guess what struck me the most about the incredible arrogance of the party elites was how high a pedestal they put themselves on, despite thin resumes and lackluster accomplishments outside of running for office. People who had never led organizations even once deigned to lecture me – a five-time military commander and retired colonel – on leadership.
It became laughable after few months.
“What Makes You Better?”
Early on as I would attend various Republican Party group meetings and events, I was typically offered an opportunity to give an elevator speech. My first few times were merely introductory, helping them get to know me and my background.
Some of the matriarchs and patriarchs of local politics would give me unsolicited feedback. “Well, you seem qualified, but what we want to hear is what makes you different from Sheriff Elder. What makes you better? We want contrast.”
And contrast I gave them. In spades. When the contrast began to expose Bill Elder’s lousy record, the party elites got uglier. They began to accuse me of negative campaigning.
Suddenly, the same people who demanded contrast, now wanted me to sell myself based solely on my own credentials and to stop the comparisons. They literally demanded I go back to my introductory pitch, the approach they had criticized me for.
Yes, there is no shortage of duplicity in our own party.
I quickly discovered the local Republican Party definition of ‘negative campaigning.’ It was applied anytime I said anything even remotely critical of the incumbent – even if that criticism was 100% accurate and truthful (which it always was).
I would push back and tell them that a candidate’s record and leadership are fair game. If what I say about my opponent sounds negative, it’s because his record and leadership are lousy. They didn’t like that truth bomb.
In contrast, my opponent and his sycophants engaged in actual negative campaigning. I have a collection of some of the vilest, most disgusting, nastiest things ever said about me – all untrue.
One of the things Sheriff Elder himself called me was a ‘f-ing cripple’ because I happen to have a service-connected disability from the Veterans Administration.
The GOP elites grew angry with me each time I’d remind voters of what the Sheriff said, but they never called him out for actually saying it. You get the picture about the kind of mind-numbing phoniness I dealt with.
I also knew that the people telling me to tone it down were not vested in my success, so any suggestions they had for me were designed for my failure. I had hit a nerve and that only inspired me to swing the pick axe harder.
Local Media is a Hot Mess
The local media in El Paso County are an enigma. What they have in common with the national outlets is that they sold their souls to politics, becoming the mouthpieces and advocates for certain candidates. Fake news is fake news nationally and locally.
Where they differ is in how they are in bed with local establishment Republicans, vice the Democrat Party. They write puff pieces about establishment candidates and hit pieces on outsiders like me.
When it comes to bad news about the establishment, they ignore it. The only honest news outlet in the county is the Colorado Springs Independent. It continually scoops stories about corruption in the Sheriff’s Office, leaving its nearest competitor eating dust on an almost daily basis.
When one considers that the establishment are really mostly Democrats — DORCs, as I noted earlier — then perhaps the local media are more similar to the national outlets in their sloppy wet love affair with liberals.
I saved discussion of veterans for the end because it is a special case. I had commented previously that we have a large veteran demographic, but it is oddly disengaged from local politics (about 36% are registered to vote). I have my own theory about why, which I’ll outline below.
To its credit, local GOP party officials recognized this problem and decided to create a veteran outreach group. I attended one of the initial meetings, but the sense I got was a desire for the party to sell itself to veterans, rather than to understand veterans’ needs first and adapt the party to the demographic.
It reminded me of how the establishment reacted to the Tea Party Coalition when it first formed in 2009. Sen Mitch McConnell said, and I’m paraphrasing: “We have to look for ways to co-opt these people into supporting our platform.” He didn’t get it. Completely missed the point.
I see the same happening in our county. My wife – also a veteran – was with me at this meeting and she suggested they conduct a survey of veterans to find out why they are not engaged. She was met with a few tepid nods before discussion quickly moved to a different subject.
Therein lies the problem. In my discussions with veterans – and especially because I am one and I speak the same lingo – I heard their concerns. It’s reflected in comments like these:
“Why bother? The party won’t listen to us anyway.”
“They keep electing the same people all the time.”
“They’re not as red as they say they are.”
When I’d point out that four of the five County Commissioners are veterans, many would chuckle and ask me when and how they are doing anything to help the veteran community.
Our party’s problem is it doesn’t listen. That comes with hubris and a sense of know-it-all, something I know firsthand from the campaign. If they weren’t lecturing me on leadership, they were downplaying my record, indirectly mocking my military service.
Veterans in our community picked up on that. And the party wonders why only 36% are registered to vote?
One of my main reasons for running for Sheriff was to end the rampant corruption and cronyism in our county. Since I lost the primary, I cannot do that from inside government. But I’m not done. My original mission continues, but this time I’ll wage war from the outside.
I garnered 36K votes, a sizeable number, and I am in the beginning stages of starting a movement to change the complexion of local politics, root out establishment candidates, and end corruption.
Many of my voters were veterans, and they will be a significant factor in this movement. I want to get many more of them registered to vote, and when they do, steer them to genuine conservative candidates, grassroots tea party types like me.
Our objectives are to:
- Root out and expose corruption in the county.
- Ensure prosecution for those who have broken the law.
- Drive out of office any incumbent establishment type.
- Put an end to the career politician, those who hop from one position to the next.
- Get behind and elect genuine Reagan conservatives.
- Restore government back to ‘We the People.’
- Empower veterans to become a voice for their needs and make sure elected officials listen.
- Hold the local media accountable for failing to engage in real news and genuine journalism.
- Install true conservatives in official positions within the county GOP organization.
I am going to do my part to right the ship at the local level. We all must become engaged to make such efforts bubble up to the Beltway and do the same at the national level.
We need a new tea party movement, but unlike 2009 when we formed to end the Democrat Party’s grip on power, we need one to clean house of our own party and take down the establishment cancer that is eating away at conservatism every single day.
Colonel Michael (“Mike”) Angley is retired from the United States Air Force, a published thriller author, and a conservative writer who fashions himself as Attila the Hun with a laptop. Mike wrote for Andrew Breitbart’s Big Government and Big Peace blogs before the Breitbart consolidation, receiving superb feedback and kudos for typically weaving in pop culture references with his far right perspectives. He enjoys writing about military affairs, national security issues, and politics and is an avid Second Amendment advocate. When he’s not writing, he’s busy annoying liberals with FaceBook posts and Twitter tweets that point out the obvious flaws and fallacies of the left.
During his 26-year USAF career, the Colonel was a Special Agent with the Office of Special Investigations (OSI). The OSI is a sister agency to the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) and has an identical mission that includes felony-level criminal, fraud, and narcotics investigations as well as counterintelligence and counterterrorism operations. His USAF experiences spanned multiple regions around the globe with five command assignments and duties at foreign, regional, theater and national levels.
He is a seasoned counterintelligence and counterespionage officer from the Cold War era, and if you ask him he’ll tell you the spy-vs-spy days were indeed the heady, glory era of espionage. During the latter half of his career he focused on counterterrorism missions in the Middle East and the Far East and operationalized many of today’s concepts for this unique arena while working the sand dunes of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and a few other “choice” locations. When Colonel Angley retired in 2007, he was a Senior Supervisory Special Agent and was in command of all worldwide OSI matters at Air Force Space Command in Colorado Springs, CO.
Mike Angley is also a published, award-winning author of three thriller novels in the “Child Finder” trilogy. His debut novel, “Child Finder,” received a glowing review from the Library Journal which placed it on its Summer Reading list in 2009. “Child Finder” and its companion sequel novels all won various awards from the Military Writers Society of America (MWSA) and the Public Safety Writers Association. In 2012, Mike was named MWSA’s “Author of the Year,” largely for work on his third novel, “Child Finder: Revelation.”
As an avid user of social media, Mike can be found and friended on Facebook (mike.angley) and followed on Twitter (@MikeAngley). His website is www.mikeangley.com. Following his USAF retirement, Mike and his family stayed in Colorado Springs, CO where they enjoy daily, majestic views of Pikes Peak and the Rocky Mountains.