Back in 2018, former Eagle and Routt County state Rep. Diane Mitsch Bush had come as close as anyone to toppling five-term Congressman Scott Tipton, losing to him by about 8 percentage points. It’s not surprising that she’ll get another shot at the seat in November.
What is stunning is that Steamboat Democrat Mitsch Bush on Nov. 3 won’t face Tipton, the Cortez Republican who swept in on a Tea Party wave in 2010.
“Our general election opponent ISN’T Scott Tipton,” the Mitsch Bush campaign wrote in an email blast to supporters on Wednesday, the day after her June 30 primary election defeat of newcomer James Iacino. “Instead, it’s a far-right extremist who does not represent the people of CD-3. After her upset win in the GOP primary last night, our race is going to have national attention, and it was even changed from ‘Likely R’ to ‘Leans R’ by Crystal Ball.”
That so-called “far-right extremist” would be Lauren Boebert, the gun-toting proprietor of Shooters Grill in Rifle who hopes to ride in on a Freedom Caucus (and maybe even QAnon) wave in 2020. Boebert lost now reliably blue Eagle County 1,176 votes to 1,635 for Tipton but was carried by GOP voters in other parts of the sprawling 29-county 3rd Congressional District.
Eagle County — home to Rocky Mountain Post — is the only county split between CD3 (western two-thirds) and CD2 (eastern third), where Democrat Joe Neguse did not face a primary challenger.
Statewide, former Democratic Denver mayor and Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper rather easily dispatched former Colorado Speaker of the House Andrew Romanoff to win the right to challenge incumbent Republican U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner on Nov. 3. Gardner is widely considered one of the most endangered incumbent senators in November.
The story of the primary, however, has to be Boebert’s takedown of Tipton, who, like Gardner, doggedly avoided the media during his time in office. I wrote about that tactic back in 2018 in a piece about diminished political coverage in the local news – a situation made even worse now by the COVID-19 pandemic and its crushing effect on newspaper revenues.
“…I’ve found that politicians have adjusted to the new normal of dramatically reduced coverage by in some cases assiduously dodging what little political press there is these days,” I wrote at the time. “Some members of Congress will never do a one-on-one phone interview with a reporter. You have to catch them at an event or join a pre-scripted conference call.
“That’s the case with my own U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton in Colorado’s 3rd Congressional District. He’s been in office since 2010 and I’ve only been able to ask him direct questions once or twice on conference calls, while his Democratic opponent, former state Rep. Diane Mitsch Bush, has always been very accessible.”
Ditto Boebert, who happily called me back for a story on health care for Colorado Politics and also spoke at length on a variety of other topics for RockyMountainPost.com. Tipton’s campaign spokesman, always reliable for some sort of snarky non-answer, gave me squat for those stories, never once offering to make his client available by phone.
That might be the message from this election: Even though CD3 is a largely conservative district, people demand some sort of accountability from their elected officials these days – and more than just occasional appearances in friendly settings.
It will be very interesting now to see if Boebert is part of some under-reported pro-President Donald Trump sentiment in the country, ala 2016, or part of a wide-reaching backlash against all things Trump – like his Colorado re-election co-chair Tipton. Certainly Trump’s tweet of support for Tipton last week did nothing to help the Cortez businessman in the primary.
Now here’s a Q&A with Boebert on gun-rights issues — her signature cause:
Lauren Boebert: Second Amendment warrior or QAnon Karen?
Since her improbable and nationally noteworthy June 30 primary win over seemingly entrenched five-term Republican U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton, the nicknames have been piling up for Republican Rifle resident Lauren Boebert: “Yosemite Samantha”, “Annie Oakley”, and “QAnon Karen”.
I interviewed her by phone in early May right after heavily armed anti-lockdown protesters stormed the Michigan capitol. I asked the fervent gun-rights advocate about that form of threatening protest, long before the largely peaceful and unarmed George Floyd police-brutality demonstrations, and just how she became so synonymous with Second Amendment rancor.
I also asked Boebert just how her Shooters Grill restaurant became an open-carry tourist attraction and why the mother of four started packing heat on the campaign trail – her origin story, if you will. But after finding out she and her contract natural-gas-worker husband haven’t had health insurance for three years – in risky jobs and during a pandemic – I wrote a CD3 preview for Colorado Politics focusing on health care and then other issues for RealVail.com.
For the most part, I stayed away from Boebert’s core issue, which I don’t think most residents of Colorado’s geographically massive 3rd Congressional District (CD3) – where I also happen to live – care too much about. To me, it seemed like a gimmick in a district that stretches from the borders of New Mexico to Utah to Wyoming and where even Democrats love their guns.
After her shocking takedown of Tipton, however, and given her growing international celebrity and circling of the GOP media-manager wagons, it seemed like a good time to revisit that early May phoner with Boebert and daylight her pistol-packing positions.
[Quick side note in the interest of fairness: Boebert will face Democratic nominee Diane Mitsch Bush of Steamboat Springs in the Nov. 3 general election – a former educator, social scientist, Routt County commissioner and state representative for Routt and Eagle counties. Mitsch Bush has been a steady and sane civil servant who seems to connect with everyone from ranchers to ski resort operators to farmers to even some folks in the energy industry. For all I know, she owns a gun or two, and I’ll be sure to ask her and follow up in this blog space before Nov. 3.]
Now back to Boebert. With all of these disturbing videos of gun-waving white women cropping up from St. Louis to Detroit in recent days, and in the context of the growing Karen-meme criticism of privileged and angry Caucasian women going off on liberals and people of color, I went back through my notes from my May 1 phoner with Boebert for this revealing Q&A:
RMP: Shortly after you opened Shooters Grill in 2013, you said a man was beaten to death behind your restaurant. How did that shape your strong beliefs on gun ownership?
LB: It prompted the question to me, ‘How would I defend my people?’ I went across the street to the trade and gun store, and I asked him, ‘What are Colorado carry laws? What did I need to do to carry a firearm on my person?’ And [the owner] told me about open carry laws and I was like, ‘Well, I don’t have time to go get a permit right now, sit through a class, pay my government fee to prove my innocence,’ and so I was like, ‘I’ll just open carry.’
And shortly after that, my waitresses began to carry. And then the next thing you know, [ABC News] was doing a story on us calling Shooters Grill the safest restaurant in America. So it wasn’t something that we had intended to do, but it just worked well. I started to see how our Second Amendment rights were just being stripped away.
RMP: What else was going on in 2013 that made you jump on that bandwagon?
LB: In 2013, Colorado passed their [high-capacity] magazine ban, and I just immediately saw how ridiculous that was, even down to if you owned a magazine that’s now illegal before the law passed, you’re grandfathered in. I saw the sheriffs that said that they weren’t going to enforce this, and I really just started getting into how often the left is trying to strip us of our Second Amendment rights.
[The Colorado Supreme Court last week upheld the legislature’s 2013 ban on magazines that hold more than 15 rounds of ammunition – a law passed in the wake of the 2012 Aurora theater massacre that killed 12. The killer in that mass shooting used a 100-round magazine.]
RMP: Talk about the role former Texas congressman and Democratic presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke played in your campaign – your outrage over his debate-stage remarks about gun control in the wake of a massacre that killed 22 at a Walmart in his hometown of El Paso.
LB: When Beto O’Rourke announced emphatically from the debate stage how he’s going to take your AR-15’s and your AK47’s, I kind of just sat back and bickered about it here at home and then that was it. Then when he announced that he was going to Aurora, Colorado, I said, ‘I’m not going to sit at home and complain about this because that doesn’t do anything. I’m going to go and talk to this guy.’
RMP: How did your family react to that decision?
LB: My husband told me not to go: ‘That’s a three-hour drive, you have better things to do, a restaurant to run, don’t do it.’ But I went against his will and I really wasn’t expecting a bunch of media there. [O’Rourke] was polling at 1%. I didn’t think that anybody even cared to hear from him. I just wanted to go and give him a piece of my mind. But I was able to get ahold of the microphone with my Glock [handgun] on my hip, and I looked him in the eye and told him, ‘Hell no, you’re not,’ and so of course that went viral.
RMP: The March For Our Lives movement in the wake of the 2018 Parkland high school massacre that killed 17 school-aged children has inspired many young people. O’Rourke was clearly trying to speak to that movement, but you chose to confront him in opposition.
LB: That’s just an extension of what I’ve been doing. All of this, even my run for Congress, this is just an extension of what I’m doing. I don’t want to sit back and complain about what I see and not do anything about it. I want to be a part of the solution. And that’s why I’m stepping up. I didn’t see anyone stepping up to Beto. I don’t see anyone stepping up to our legislature like they should.
RMP: You also oppose Colorado’s red flag law, which provides a mechanism for family members and police to petition a judge to confiscate the guns of someone who may be suffering a mental health crisis and is deemed a danger to themselves or others. [The gun safety advocacy group Colorado Ceasefire recently reported on the law’s uses through its first six months.]
LB: Congressman Tipton vowed to remain neutral on red flag laws. He signed onto a coalition with a Democrat congressmen here in Colorado to remain neutral on red flag laws. And so I’m just tired of Republicans giving a conservative message but then voting Democrat-light and appeasing the Democrats in everything that they do, because I know that it is never enough for the Democrats. They always want more. And I know that their policies are failed policies. They’re empty promises that sounds really good but they’re not effective, and all they do is limit us and empower government. I want a limited government.
RMP: Gun-toting militia members in Michigan just stormed the state capitol (on April 30) and unsuccessfully demanded access to the floor of the legislature. Some lawmakers said they were intimidated by the show of firepower. Was that appropriate?
LB: I didn’t see that happen, but … I don’t see why they’re not allowed to. Denver, you can’t open carry in Denver, but right there at our Capitol doors, there’s metal detectors so the public can’t go in there with their firearm. However, even that is a violation of the way the laws read — whenever you are going to restrict law-abiding citizens to come into a public building like that with a firearm.
RMP: Do you think it’s wrong to protest stay-at-home public health orders in a threatening manner while brandishing an assault weapon? [Boebert defied a county cease and desist order by opening her restaurant too early in violation of public health orders in May, tweeting, “If you want freedom, you have to go out and take it.”]
LB: That’s not something that I would do. I don’t use my Second Amendment rights to intimidate others. It is for my protection and it is a protection against a tyrannical government, and so I don’t see that we would ever have to use our Second Amendment rights against our government, but that is what it’s for. It’s not for hunting. It’s not for target shooting or for sport. [The Second Amendment reads: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”]
RMP: Tipton tried to walk a fine line with President Donald Trump, who did not win Colorado in the 2016 election, but you’re all in with Trump, right? [Trump tweeted his support for Tipton last week, but now, via VP Mike Pence, says he’s never been more excited about a candidate than he is about Boebert, who reportedly attended Friday’s Trump rally in South Dakota.]
LB: [Tipton’s] never been enthusiastically in favor of President Trump, and anytime he mentioned him, it’s to get the crowd excited because they’re not getting excited over him. So when he mentions President Trump, people get happy because we love President Trump. There’s no enthusiasm for Scott Tipton. We all know that he’s just a very quiet seat-filler.
RMP: Certainly large swaths of CD3 are Trump Country (deep-red Mesa County leaps to mind), but overall the state is trending blue and polls show Trump and Republican Sen. Cory Gardner losing by significant margins statewide in November. That doesn’t give you pause in going further right than Tipton, who was first elected in a Tea Party wave in 2010?
LB: I believe that we are still a conservative district, but our leadership unfortunately has decided to go purple, and some of our areas are a reflection of his leadership. I’m ready to step up and change that and be a strong voice for the issues that matter most to our way of life here.