Note: An abbreviated version of this column appeared in the Colorado Springs Gazette on July 10, 2016.

On June 28, Coloradans went to the polls to choose their Republican Party nominees for federal, state and local offices. In the outcome, several candidates better known for grandstanding than for effecting conservative change were sent packing.

Good.

In the aftermath, those showboats have done what they do best, trotting out the reliable card that it was a battle of “true conservatives” versus “establishment moderates”.

Nothing could be further from the truth, and to believe their spin discredits Colorado Republican voters.

As a board member of the American Conservative Union, founder of Colorado Pioneer Action and a former Republican state party chairman, I can say objectively that most candidates engaged in the Republican primary this year are true conservatives. They support our conservative principles and support free-market, limited government policies.

The question really before voters was this: do you want representatives who are strong-willed, independent-minded conservatives responsive to the people who elected them, or robots trained to answer to narrow special interests that have proven themselves far more effective at fundraising than advancing conservative policies?

Instead of good government and principled leaders we can all be proud of, too often some legislators leave us embarrassed and ashamed – not so much by their voting records, but by their ridiculous or insensitive statements and actions.

The effect of such coercive grandstanding is this: the quality and character of our legislature is degraded and many good men and women across Colorado decide never to run for office.

Let me describe the painful process of running for office in Colorado:

Suppose you are a successful small business owner and a positive presence in your community. You care deeply about your hometown, so you decide to run to for a seat in the state legislature.

On the surface, it seems as simple as filing out some paperwork, marching in parades, and knocking on your neighbors’ doors to ask for their support.

In Colorado, this couldn’t be further from the truth.

Within days of announcing, your mailbox is filled with questionnaires, surveys, and demands to sign pledges of fealty. Every special interest group you’ve never heard of suddenly cares deeply about where you stand on their pet issues.

You now have two options, and neither is ideal. First, you can sign every pledge and answer every questionnaire, effectively trapping yourself into ideological boxes that not-too-occasionally conflict with one another.

Or second, you can toss them in the trash. In Colorado, this is likely worse. By not meeting their arbitrary deadline, the more zealous organizations will punish your disobedience by declaring you an “enemy of liberty,” “anti-gun,” “pro-partial birth abortion,” and any number of other absurdities which clearly don’t apply to your beliefs.

All because you wouldn’t sign their special interest pledge, or check all the right boxes on their questionnaire.

For most special interest groups, this exercise is far less about who shares their values than it is about hyper-inflating wedge issues they can use to milk $5, $10 or $25 checks from citizens passionate about an issue.

The great political paradox, particularly in the Republican Party, is that the most tyrannical of these special interest fundraising machines profess to be defenders of freedom. In fact, by demanding strict fidelity to their whims, they deny the most fundamental freedom of thought, speech, and conscience of the legislators who submit to their demands. They are bullies.

Having had enough of this nonsense, last year I founded Colorado Pioneer Action, an organization devoted to encouraging principled, inspired, conservative citizens to actively participate in our representative democracy.

Just like the American Conservative Union, founded by William F. Buckley, Jr. in 1964, Colorado Pioneer Action has no questionnaire or pledge.

We support common-sense, free-market conservative policies and leaders who have demonstrated the principles and character necessary to exercise the judgement to effectively represent the best interests of their constituents and the great state of Colorado.

Rather than deny the freedom to think, speak, and act independently, Colorado Pioneer Action is dedicated to defending that most fundamental of our Constitutional Rights. Elected officials should be beholden to none except the communities they serve. No special interests, no needless interference, no grandstanding.

Don’t mistake our focus on character for a willingness to let moderates slide by. There are many who claim conservative bona fides, but who support big government policies at every turn. We have no use for those who betray our principles. Character, principles and empathy are all required of leaders who represent their communities well.

For example, State Senator Jerry Sonnenberg represents the best of Colorado. With top ratings from Principles of Liberty and strong ties to his district, Sen. Sonnenberg proves that principled leaders need not be callous, crude or judgmental.

Unfortunately, in today’s brand of conservatism, labels like traitor, RINO, sell-out and worse are tossed about indiscriminately by those whose paycheck depends on fealty and fear as well as their followers who adhere to their self-serving agenda. Liberals, meanwhile, advance their own destructive agenda, and love every second of it.

I have a message for every Coloradan who loves liberty, wants to make a difference, and is ready to serve for all the right reasons: We will stand with you, and together we will reestablish Colorado as the greatest state in the greatest nation on earth.

It is time for men and women of character to step forward. The era of mindless political grandstanding is over.

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