Colorado Democratic chair Rick Palacio is stepping down this spring, and George Athanasopolous is making a run for state Republican chair

Rick Palacio has headed up the Colorado Democratic Party for the last six years. This spring, he won’t seek another term as chair.

Rick Palacio speaks at the Democratic watch party. (Chloe Aiello/Denverite)

Rick Palacio has headed up the Colorado Democratic Party for the last six years. This spring, he won’t seek another term as chair.

Rick Palacio speaks at the Democratic watch party. (Chloe Aiello/Denverite)
Rick Palacio speaks at the Democratic watch party. (Chloe Aiello/Denverite)

In an email to party members Tuesday morning, Palacio said he would be seeking a “new adventure” when the party undergoes its annual reorganization in the spring.

Also on Tuesday morning, military veteran George Athanasopolous, who lost a race against incumbent Democratic Rep. Ed Perlmutter, went on The Peter Boyles Show on 710AM to say he would run for chair of the Colorado Republican Party.

The announcement was first reported by Jason Salzman on Colorado Pols, who also reported that current chairman Steve House has not made a decision about whether to seek another term. House’s name has been floated as a potential 2018 gubernatorial candidate.

House put a very positive face on the 2016 election results, but Athanasopolous wasn’t buying it.

“I had a lot of people talk to me about it, ask me to run … having been a candidate for federal office, having been on the inside, having been a delegate to the national convention, we are broken as a party in this state of Colorado,” he said. “… We are a blue state. Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, they go red and we’re blue? That’s terrible.”

These potential party leadership battles reflect both ideological differences between different wings of the party and practical concerns around organization.

Athanasopolous was a supporter of Donald Trump, while House was perceived as backing Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, who took all the state’s delegates at the convention, though he ultimately supported Trump’s campaign in the general.

Colorado Republican Party Chair Steve House at the 2016 GOP watch party at the Double Tree Hotel in Greenwood Village on Nov. 8, 2016. (Jessica Taves/For Denverite) election; republican; campaign; vote; voting; politics; colorado; copolitics; kevinjbeaty; denverite; denver; colorado;
Colorado Republican Party Chair Steve House at the Election Night watch party at the Double Tree Hotel in Greenwood Village. (Jessica Taves/For Denverite)

Palacio could not immediately be reached for comment. In the email, he described accomplishments in 2016 like increasing Democratic registration, gaining seats in the state House, taking control of the State Board of Education for the first time in decades, re-electing Sen. Michael Bennet and winning Colorado for Hillary Clinton.

“It has been an honor to lead the Colorado Democratic Party and I am proud that we are stronger than we’ve ever been,” he wrote. “Not only is our fiscal house in order, but also with the help of our county parties, we have a statewide grassroots infrastructure that stands ready to elect a new generation of Democratic leaders. I am confident that together we have expanded, and fortified our reach and that we now have an organization built to last. Knowing this, I have great peace of mind that our party’s future is safe in your hands.”

It’s also been a difficult year for Colorado Democrats, with deep divisions even going into the Democratic National Convention between supporters of Clinton and of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders. State Sen. Morgan Carroll could not unseat Republican Rep. Mike Coffman in the Sixth Congressional District, and Rep. Scott Tipton trounced former state Sen. Gail Schwartz in the Third Congressional District. Coffman, in particular, was thought to be vulnerable, but he ended up winning handily. Donald Trump narrowly prevailed in Pueblo County, which is supposed to be a Democratic stronghold, and the Republicans held onto the state Senate.

Palacio fended off a challenge last year from campaign consultant David Sabados, who sought to give more representation to activist voices in the party. That election became controversial when Palacio appointed 46 men to the committee making the selection to comply with a decades-old rule that requires gender balance.

The spring’s leadership debate is likely to feature another push from the more progressive wing of the party to shape the next two years.

Erica Meltzer

Author: Erica Meltzer

Erica Meltzer covers government and politics. She's worked for newspapers in Colorado, Arizona and Illinois and once won a First Amendment Award by showing up in the wrong place at the wrong time. She served in the Peace Corps in Paraguay and can swear fluently in Guarani. She gets emotional about public libraries. Contact Erica Meltzer at 303-502-2802, emeltzer@denverite.com or @meltzere.