Dudley Brown's War
The executive director of Rocky Mountain Gun Owners has been aiming to remake Colorado politics using hyper-aggressive and confrontational political strategies.
Lately, though, state Republicans are beginning to wonder if Brown’s circular firing squad is killing the party by alienating everyone except its most devout conservatives. “We need women voters, and he goes after Jean White,” Nicolais says. “That says it all. If he’d spent that money on [moderate Republican state Senate candidate] Lang Sias, we might not have [Democrat] Evie Hudak.” (Hudak beat Sias by fewer than 600 votes.) Brown told me he might have supported Sias, a former Navy Top Gun pilot, if Sias had completed the RMGO questionnaire about his positions on gun issues. “If you won’t tell us how you’re going to vote and be explicit, we ain’t gonna help,” Brown says. “The people advising him not to fill out a survey have never won a fucking race. None of them have any juice in my book. They claim if you stand in the middle, everything will be fine. The only thing in the middle of the road is a yellow stripe and a dead armadillo.” That’s why Brown prefers candidates like Baumgardner. “Randy’s not going to win any award for being a brain surgeon,” Brown says. “But he’ll vote 100 percent better than Jean White would have.” (In July, Baumgardner announced that he’ll challenge U.S. Senator Mark Udall in 2014.)
Colorado Republicans currently lack a strong outside organization to support their candidates, leaving GOP primaries to play out within the party assembly process, where Brown has an outsized influence. “He’s a bully who belongs in a schoolyard,” Nicolais says. “But he only picks fights he can win.” By backing ideologues and undercutting more moderate Republicans, Brown “has done more damage to the Republican Party than anyone,” White says. “I believe he’s solely responsible for us being in the minority.”
State Senator Greg Brophy, who is perhaps Brown’s closest ally at the Capitol, calls White’s contention “a bunch of crap. We got put in the minority by Colorado Democracy Alliance, by [the GOP meltdown around unlikely gubernatorial nominee] Dan Maes, and by a liberal-controlled redistricting process.” Brophy, who is contemplating his own run for governor in 2014, agrees that Brown has cost Republicans the occasional seat, but he also argues that Brown’s influence on the party has been mostly positive. “I think his work in the Republican Party is done,” Brophy says. “He’s established that all Republicans are going to be Second Amendment advocates. Most of us are, naturally, but we all know: Don’t be wrong on guns. And no Republican will lose an election next year because of that position, which proves he’s right.”
Like many Americans, Brown was angry last December following the school shootings in Newtown, Connecticut. But in his outrage, he found opportunity. “My prayers and those of my staff here at the National Association for Gun Rights go out to the families of the victims,” Brown wrote in an email to his national membership list less than 10 hours after the massacre. “But already, like in so many cases from years past, the gun control lobby is shamelessly using the blood of innocents to advance their anti-gun agenda. Right now, members of the Washington, D.C. gun control lobby are gathered on the street in front of the White House. Their hands are wrapped around the black iron gates surrounding the complex and they’re screaming at the top of their lungs.” The note’s subject line read, “Circling vultures.”
Three months later, seven Democratic gun control measures moved through the Colorado Legislature. When the Senate debated the bills in March, the screaming and honking was coming from Brown’s side, from the couple thousand RMGO members who were summoned via email to descend upon the Capitol. That afternoon, Brown testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee as it considered a ban on magazines of 15 rounds or more. State Senator Jessie Ulibarri, an Adams County Democrat, denied Brown’s assertion that Colorado Democrats were bought off by the White House and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s group, Mayors Against Illegal Guns. When Ulibarri asked Brown if his organizations had donated to any Republican lawmakers weighing the bill, Brown eagerly responded (after GOP committee members’ objections), “Yes, Senator. And we’re going to give money [to] your opponents, too.” Cheers erupted from the RMGO supporters packing the hearing room.
Weeks earlier, during another gun package debate, state Representative Cheri Gerou, an Evergreen Republican, faced a similar threat, even after voting against two of the Democratic bills. She couldn’t understand why so many of her constituents were emailing and calling her, concerned she might support the other Democratic bills, until she realized Brown had been riling them up with postcards and emails. (He calls the tactic “suppression fire.”)
Gerou confronted Brown’s lobbyist, Joe Neville, outside the House chamber. “I said, ‘Stop scaring people, it’s intense enough down here,’ ” she says. “And he just looked at me with a smirk.”
Gerou snapped, “Go fuck yourself.”
“You just earned yourself another round of mailers in your district in the primary before your next election,” Gerou says Neville responded. Gerou had him escorted out of the Capitol and later filed an ethics complaint. The formal investigation into the incident is still pending.
Brown warned all the GOP’s incoming lawmakers at a forum for conservatives. “I told them, ‘Vote for one of these bills, and you’re vulnerable. We will hold you accountable,’ ” he says. “That pisses people off. Well, I don’t care. If I wanted friends, I’d buy a puppy. We want to change the public policy in Colorado.”
Although Gerou might be a strong GOP candidate to challenge Democratic state Senator Jeanne Nicholson in 2014, Brown prefers a more conservative Republican: former state Senator Tim Neville (Joe’s father). Gerou’s angry response, perhaps the first time a lawmaker has challenged Brown so publicly, encapsulated the wider GOP establishment’s increasing concern about Brown’s impact on the party. “It’s all about intimidation with Dudley,” Nicolais says. “He wants people to fear him and his tactics, and that’s dissuaded many credible, moderate Republicans from running for office.”