Teller County Commissioners Blast Actions of State GOP Leader

Local Leaders Denounce Move to Remove Journalist From Assembly

 Trevor Phipps

“Democracy Dies in Darkness” was the title of an email sent out by the editor of the nonprofit news source, The Colorado Sun, after one of their veteran reporters was escorted by armed law enforcement agents from the Republican State Assembly earlier this month.

The move sparked outrage by journalists and politicians on both sides of the political aisle.


Locally, this incident hit the radar last week, even among a group of elected leaders who rarely criticize the actions of their fellow GOP leaders.

Teller County Commissioner Dan Williams sent out a message to the press, days after the incident took place, saying that he supported a free press and condemned the actions of his party. Then, at last week’s county commissioners meeting, all three local representatives used a bit of their official report time to speak out against the recent actions made by the state’s GOP leader Dave ‘Let’s Go Brandon’ Williams (as he introduces himself on the state GOP website). Williams is one of the main contenders for Doug Lamborn’s congressional seat. (Lamborn has announced plans to retire and not to seek re-election this November for Colorado’s 5th Congressional District seat, representing Colorado Springs.)


The incident in question took place on April 6, when the state Republican Party held their assembly at the Colorado State Fairgrounds in Pueblo. In the early hours of the morning when the event was slated to start at 8:30 a.m., Sandra Fish a political reporter for The Colorado Sun who has reported on politics since 1982, received a shocking text message from a representative of the political party.

“The state party has made the decision that today’s assembly is not an ‘open’ press event. This is to inform you that your name is not included in my final press credentials list currently being typed up,” GOP Representative Eric Grossman said in a 3:45 a.m. text message to Fish, according to The Washington Post. “The state chairman believes current reporting to be very unfair.”


But since Fish already had the press credential in hand, she decided to go anyways. Just before the assembly was slated to start, security staff came up to Fish and asked her to leave. She refused, which prompted a Pueblo County Sheriff’s deputy to remove her for not being welcome by the event organizers.


The day after the incident, The Colorado Sun’s Editor, Larry Ryckman, sent out an email to their readers condemning the actions made by the GOP Chairman. He pointed out that neither he nor Fish were ever given an example of the “unfair” reporting that prompted the decision to have the reporter removed from the event.


“This is not a partisan issue. The Founding Fathers understood that a free press is a pillar of a healthy democracy – and not just when reporters write stories politicians might like,” the editor said in the email. “That’s why they enshrined freedom of the press in the First Amendment to the Constitution. The public has a right to know. Public officials should be accountable and willing to have their words and actions scrutinized in the light of day.”


After the incident made national news, several representatives of the Republican Party spoke out against the state GOP’s actions and reiterated the importance of a free press.

All of the Teller County Commissioners, who are members of the Republican Party and often lobby against Democratic-sponsored legislation, said that the removal of the journalist from the assembly upset them.


“I have long respected the ‘4th Estate’ our free press for its role in communicating to the American people,” Williams said in a statement posted to social media pages a few days after the assembly. “From the press that accompanied me on the battlefields of Afghanistan and Iraq to the press that bears witness to the political processes of today. I was embarrassed and angered to hear that members of the press were thrown out of this past weekend’s GOP assembly. In a free society we do not silence our press, nor do we hand select only those who represent us in only a positive light.”


Commission Vice-chairman Erik Stone also spoke out against the moves made by his party during his report. “There were things that happened at the assembly which go against the principles of the Republican Party and they frankly go against our founding documents and what our nation is as a representative democracy,” Stone said. “That is not how government should operate. Democracy doesn’t thrive behind closed doors.”


Party Leader Stands Behind Move

However, despite receiving backlash from several members of his own party, GOP Chairman Williams stood strongly by his decision. The Republican Party went as far as choosing to endorse Representative Lauren Boebert for the state’s 4th Congressional District over opponent Deborah Flora due to Flora’s criticism over the incident.


“We make no apologies for kicking out a fake journalist, who actually snuck into our event, because her publication is just an extension of the Democrat Party’s PR efforts, and the only backlash we see is from the fake news media, radical Democrats, and establishment RINOs [Republican in name only] who hate our conservative base and who always look for opportunities to boot lick the crooked press or pundits who hate true Republicans and President Trump,” the Colorado GOP Chair told Newsweek.


Williams, though, didn’t back down from his previous comments, despite the state GOPs stand.  He reiterated that he supported transparency and free press when he told the public at the commissioners meeting that he was “pissed off.” “Government by the people and for the people, only works if the people are informed,” Williams concluded.