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March 1, 2009 — Former Eagle County Commissioner Tom Stone, who left office due to term limits in 2006, on Friday announced his campaign to be chairman of the Colorado Republican Party.
Stone is looking to take down current chair Dick Wadhams, who some Republicans blame for the sweeping victories by Democrats in the 2008 general election. Some in the party have pushed for more moderate leadership, but Stone says that isn't necessary.
"Liberal elements outside our Party suggest that our values are a thing of the past. They want us to become 'Democrat Light' and desert our conservative philosophy," Stone says on his campaign Web site.
"I firmly believe that the opposite is true. We need to find new ways of expressing our ideals that resonate with the entire Republican spectrum and also speak to Independent registered voters. I firmly believe that the majority of Americans agree with our Conservative principles.
"It is our fault that we don't convey our beliefs in an understandable fashion. We can and will re-craft our message. The future of our Nation and our State is in grave danger if we don't."
But partisanship may not be the answer in 2010, according to some moderates in the party, and Stone has a local history of polarizing the voting public.
Before the Republican Realtor rode into town in 1998, Eagle County was a largely nonpartisan place, leaning more to the right but a difficult place to tell the Dems and the members of the GOP apart.
Stone ran a highly partisan race for county commissioner in ’98, then toward the end of his first term took things to a whole new level by publicly chastising Democrat Arn Menconi for a perceived lack of patriotism.
Menconi, at the time a longhaired founder of a nonprofit snowboarding program for at-risk youth, had declined to sign a Stone resolution giving unconditional support to President Bush’s war on terror in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. Local veterans took Stone’s lead and launched a failed recall bid.
According to Vail Daily editor Don Rogers, who otherwise praised Stone for the mundane day-to-day work he did as a commissioner, that was a low point in the political history of Eagle County. Rogers had this to say in a 2007 editorial after Stone left office:
"Especially early, Stone was a relentless cheerleader for his Republican Party. With that came criticism that he amplified partisanship in an environment that had only nominally operated that way in the past. Stone rejects such claims, but he also was quick to publicly side with state and national GOP figures from a pulpit created by his position as commissioner.
"The low point for local politics came in late 2001 when Stone and then-Commissioner Michael Gallagher, a conservative Democrat, rushed out a county resolution supporting anything President Bush might do to combat terrorism, then scolded Commissioner Arn Menconi for failing to sign on.
"Hindsight certainly has shown plenty of error in such blind fealty. But the real problem lay in making a local wedge issue out 9/11’s national catastrophe. Passions inflamed to the point local military veterans waged a failed effort for a recall election to remove Menconi over an issue that had zero to do with running Eagle County.
"Not so private feuding from then on between Menconi and Stone — neither party innocent or entirely to blame — distracted from the dignity of the most powerful public office in Eagle County."
Menconi unsuccessfully tried to pass an ethics policy in the wake of a citizen complaint to the district attorney against Stone in 2003 charging the commissioner should have recused himself from voting on a county affordable housing project because as a Realtor he was also negotiating with the same developer to buy into a golf development.
District Attorney Mark Hurlbert, of Kobe Bryant fame, passed the case off to outside legal counsel and nothing ever came of the complaint, but there was lingering public perception that Stone did something shady. Stone fired back at Menconi for his relationship with Vail Resorts, the local ski company that funded his nonprofit.
Menconi left office in 2008 due to term limits, ending a long and bitter partisan feud. Now all three county commissioner seats are held by Democrats.
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