The waves Lauren Boebert made last year while campaigning for, and subsequently winning, the seat in Colorado’s 3rd Congressional District were nothing compared to the tsunami she triggered during her first several weeks in office.
The freshman congresswoman started her term by vehemently opposing the presidential election results and hyping her pro-gun stance in a video that went viral. After the violent riots at the U.S. Capitol on January 6, Boebert was accused of aiding insurrectionists, refused to comply with the metal detectors installed at the Capitol in the event’s aftermath, and saw a key staffer resign. Since then, she has mocked a Florida school-shooting survivor on Twitter and is now the subject of an ethics complaint to examine the unusually large mileage reimbursement claims from her campaign fund.
It’s been just over two months since she arrived in Washington, but many Colorado voters and at least one partisan nonprofit have rallied for her resignation or expulsion from Congress via protests and petitions. But how do her supporters in western Colorado feel about her now?
Some Boebert voters assert that she’s standing up for exactly the issues—e.g., Second Amendment rights, oil and gas interests, the “stolen” election—that she promised to fight for. To these constituents, she’s the spunky heroine who’s stirring up the Washington, D.C., political establishment, calling out fellow legislators on their “bullcrap.”
Supporter Jamie Cure, a third-grade teacher from Glenwood Springs, told 5280 in a phone interview: “I feel like she’s my voice when I didn’t feel like I had one. She’s ignited me to be proud to be American again.”
But other Republicans in the 3rd District—specifically, several elected state and county officials and local party chairs—have been hesitant to comment on the congresswoman’s antics. Despite repeated requests, eight individuals contacted for this article (as well as Boebert’s office itself) refused to comment or gave only a brief statement, like the Pitkin County GOP representative, who emailed that the group is “proud” to continue supporting the congresswoman.
So why won’t some Western Slope Republicans talk about Lauren Boebert?
The reasons may be three-fold, says Robert Preuhs, chair of the political science department at Metropolitan State University of Denver. In the aftermath of the January 6 insurrection, some Republicans who traditionally vote along party lines may be having “buyers’ remorse.” Identity politics likely also play a role, with Boebert supporters viewing the recent negative coverage as not only an attack on their candidate but also on their own core values and beliefs. “We are at the height of polarization that we haven’t seen for a century,” says Preuhs. And then, of course, there’s the well-documented skepticism of the media among the Republican Party’s populist wing.
I went to Rifle last fall, where Boebert owns a restaurant, to talk to locals for an earlier story about the candidate. Most of the people I spoke with—many of them supporters—were happy to talk about her then. Now, three of my previous sources who I contacted for follow-up interviews either didn’t respond to requests or sent succinct replies, like Michael Clark of Silt, who emailed: “My support for Lauren remains as solid as ever,” adding that he didn’t think 5280’s first story was “fairly written.”
Amid the congresswoman’s many recent controversies, it may come as no surprise that Democrats are plenty willing to talk about Boebert, and several have already stepped forward with plans to run for her seat in 2022. One of those challengers is Colin Wilhelm, a criminal defense lawyer from Glenwood Springs, whose decision to run was spurred by the Capitol insurrection. “Our democracy isn’t dead, but it’s definitely in peril,” he says. Until the next election, he hopes that Boebert can tone down her rhetoric and realize the importance of working across the aisle, saying that the “no-Trump Republicans” he’s been hearing from are unhappy with her at this point. “But even if she starts playing nice,” he adds, “she’ll still have some ulterior motives.”
Without open discussion from Boebert herself or local party leaders, constituents have instead turned to the congresswoman’s Twitter account to hear her take on the issues and the headlines swirling around her. Much like her political inspiration Donald Trump, Boebert has mostly relied on her personal Twitter profile to levy attacks against Democrats and President Joe Biden, tout policy proposals, and raise funds for her reelection campaign.
But, as with Trump, her Twitter account has also been a subject of controversy. On the morning of January 6, prior to the insurrection at the Capitol, Boebert tweeted “Today is 1776”—a missive that many took as a reference to the Revolutionary War. That same day, while the mob of Trump supporters were within the Capitol, Boebert tweeted twice about the location of House members, including Speaker Nancy Pelosi, leading to rumors that she was aiding the insurrectionists (Boebert has denied such claims, and they remain unproven). Her use of Twitter has also landed her in legal trouble—former state representative and Pueblo resident Bri Buentello is suing Boebert in federal court for blocking her on the platform. Buentello claims the inability to view her representative’s profile violates her First Amendment rights.
It’s possible Boebert’s connection to the events on January 6—she gave a speech on the House floor against certifying the election results just minutes before the mob broke into the Capitol—as well as her purported ties to the far-right militia groups that participated in the insurrection, are thwarting some of her support. “My impression is that she and a lot of other Republicans figured [January 6] would be seen as this moment of heroism,” says Seth Masket, director of the Center on American Politics at the University of Denver. “Instead it came off as borderline sedition. For a lot of people to say, ‘Wow, I made a mistake’ or ‘I misjudged her’ is a hard step. It’s psychologically easier to avoid the question.”
Republican officials who won’t discuss Boebert, adds Masket, may indeed be uncomfortable with some of her actions and positions, but fear alienating their base of working-class, white, rural voters. Instead, they’re taking a wait-and-see stance. This could be especially true in Boebert’s backyard, Garfield County, where voters actually favored opponent Diane Mitsch Busch by more than 1,700 votes (but supported former Republican Senator Cory Gardner by a narrow margin). Says 40-year Rifle resident Leslie Robinson, a Democrat who unsuccessfully ran for a county commissioner seat last fall and chairs a local conservation group: “What I discovered in running is how desperately [the incumbent commissioners] needed the far-right vote to win the election.”
Unlike some of his other GOP counterparts, Mesa County Republican chair Kevin McCarney was willing to weigh in, dismissing the allegations against Boebert as “a bunch of lies.” He’s confident that the congresswoman will successfully represent western Colorado on economic issues like water, energy, and protecting small businesses and thinks the controversy will even help. “I believe that the more people go after her, the stronger she will get,” he says.
But not everyone has expressed full-fledged support. Dianne Coram, the women’s committee chair for the Montrose County Republicans, says of local reaction to the violence at the Capitol: “Most everyone I’ve talked to has been terribly disappointed [about Boebert’s alleged involvement], and rightfully so if it’s true.”
Additionally troubling to many constituents is Boebert’s apparent unwillingness to engage with those beyond her supporters and whether she will speak up on a broader range of interests over time. After the Capitol attack, “When I heard about some of the messaging that she was putting out on social media, I felt as a local representative that she was not really representing her constituents,” says Glenwood Springs City Council member Shelley Kaup. An independent, Kaup was one of 68 elected officials in the district who signed a letter asking House leadership to look into Boebert’s actions before and on January 6.
In mid-January, the Basalt Town Council invited Boebert to what they called a “non-confrontational” virtual town hall to discuss topics like Western Slope water and wildfire. “We really want to hear more than the Second Amendment issue,” Basalt Mayor Bill Kane told the Aspen Times. The congresswoman’s office responded to the invitation on February 11, but town manager Ryan Mahoney said no date for such a session has been set.
Boebert did hold a district-wide online town hall on February 4, which was announced a few hours ahead of time and required advance registration. While some critics called in—“When you are tried for treason, which prison do you want to do your time in?” asked one caller—most participants were supportive, according to the Aspen Times. Boebert, who now serves on the House Budget and Natural Resources Committees, spoke about increasing multiple-use access to public lands, allowing for responsible energy production, decreasing the national debt, and eliminating the current National Guard protection and fencing around the Capitol, among other things.
Still, the Second Amendment has remained her primary focus, even as some constituents wonder how much the crusade will amount to in the end. One-time Mesa County GOP chair and former state legislator Dan Thurlow, who now lives in Parker, points out that it’s unlikely she’ll even get to vote on a federal gun bill in the next two years. A lifetime Republican, Thurlow became disillusioned and left the party in early January. Part of what made him leave, he says, was the lingering dispute over the election results, which also made him question how accurately Boebert and others interpret the Constitution. “If you try to overturn [the results] in Congress and say it’s constitutional, it’s not. It’s against the Constitution,” he says.
As Boebert settles into her role in Congress, will more of the elected officials and others who supported her in the first place rejoin the public conversation? Or could the current reluctance to speak out indicate that Republicans are quietly shopping for other candidates to challenge her in 2022? Masket puts it this way: “When your own party doesn’t talk about you, it’s not a very positive sign.”