Loveland grandmother Mickie Nuffer grew more concerned by the day as she watched people on television shouting about “defunding the police” and later, in her own county, when businesses required proof of vaccination to enter.
In Highlands Ranch, mom and former teacher’s aide Donna Jo Tompkins was growing increasingly frustrated with mask mandates, last-minute school quarantines and the latest curriculum controversy: critical race theory.
And in Arvada, Angela Marriott was alarmed by the way people on Nextdoor pounced on any conservative sentiment, especially against masks, and was exasperated pretty much every time she watched the news.
“I would turn on the news and just be enraged within minutes, watching our police being abused, properties being destroyed and trying to erase our history with tearing down and damaging statues,” she said. “I just decided one day I had had it. I was going to take this negative energy and put it into something constructive, to fight for freedom and my children’s future.”
None of the three women had ever been political, but said they were compelled by the 2020 COVID-19 shutdown and other government policies of the past two years to get involved. Similar to the way Democratic women mobilized after the election of former President Donald Trump, conservative women who never before attended a caucus or canvassed a neighborhood are organizing in living rooms across Colorado.
Tompkins formed Liberty Girls in Douglas County, which has grown from about 20 women who first gathered in her house for coffee and snacks a year ago to more than 300, all standing, she said, for God, country and family.
Nuffer is creating her own version, called the NoCo Ladies for Liberty, with about 250 members in Larimer, Weld and Boulder counties. Marriott, meanwhile, started Arvada Grassroots Conservatives, which also includes men. And in the Douglas County town of Castle Rock, a group called We the Women formed last year.
The rise of the liberty mom voting bloc is the latest in a line of suburban-women influence on elections, from the middle-class “soccer moms” of the 1990s, to the “security moms” after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, to the “rage moms” exasperated by Trump and racial injustice.
Tompkins, feeling helpless about the state of the nation, logged onto a Facebook group for conservative women in Colorado and began sending private messages to women in the group who were her Douglas County neighbors. Immediately, she had 30 women who were interested.
Their first meeting last March turned into an emotional, four-hour bonding session, as women circled their chairs in Tompkins’ living room and unloaded about how the pandemic had affected their families. One woman who was pregnant with her fourth child told the group her toddler had regressed and had received no services. A Cherry Creek teacher said she left her job because she couldn’t stand the level of politics that had seeped into classrooms. “How are we in this place?” Tompkins recalled them asking. “How am I going to raise my kids?”
But, going forward, the group hasn’t been about venting. “I didn’t want this to be a group where we sat around and grumbled and cried,” Tompkins said. She got to work setting up workshops so the Liberty Girls could learn about the upcoming school board race, held in November, and the caucus process where voters gather by precinct in the spring to start selecting GOP candidates.
As the group grew, Tompkins, who used her maiden name in this story, vetted each person, requiring that anyone who wanted to attend first call her to answer questions about their politics. She said she does this to prevent an interloper or a mole with a hidden tape recorder from infiltrating one of their meetings.
The caution is necessary, she said, in a time when people are divided and attacks are sometimes vicious, particularly after the new conservative school board abruptly fired the superintendent, setting Douglas County parents against each other. Liberty Girl meetings are a place where “you can speak your truth and not be censored or canceled,” she said.
The meetings grew so quickly that Tompkins started placing chairs on her second floor, where a foyer with a railing overlooks the living room. They called it mezzanine seating.
Liberty Girls’ first big push was the school board election, where four conservative candidates were attempting to flip the left-majority board that had been in power since 2018. They packed school board meetings. They knocked on doors, reaching Douglas County residents who no longer had kids in school and hadn’t kept up with school politics. They spoke of mask mandates, Zoom classrooms and 10-day school quarantines.
And they won.
In February, three months after the new board was elected, the 4-3 majority fired Superintendent Corey Wise and is now searching for his replacement.
But the Liberty Girls’ work is far from over, Tompkins said. On caucus night in early March, 60 Liberty Girls were elected as delegates, precinct committee chairs and election judges. The group has hosted candidates in a heated race to replace the county’s longtime sheriff and is working its way up the ticket toward the Republican candidates for governor and U.S. Senate.
Members aren’t told which candidates to support, only how to get involved in the process. “We are really wanting to stand on our own, apart from the GOP,” Tompkins said. “We are a group of intelligent women who are getting smarter.”
Jen Masten, a Highlands Ranch mom and member of Liberty Girls, attended caucuses for the first time in her life earlier this month and was elected a delegate for the next two years, meaning she’ll attend assemblies and have a role in selecting candidates for the GOP ticket.
“I thought I was doing my due diligence by showing up and voting Republican and being on the PTO and by finding people that I really liked that were running and being behind them,” Masten said. “What Liberty Girls has done for me is educate me, and it’s educated me without telling me what to do, but how to do it. They said, ‘Here is what caucus is. Go do your thing.’”
Masten summed up the group this way: “We’re women that love God, our family and country. We’re activists for medical freedom. We are activists for the truth. And we want to preserve our constitution. Everyone should carry the constitution around and know exactly what it says and know when our rights are being infringed upon.”
Her enthusiasm, and that of many others, was obvious at GOP caucuses at ThunderRidge High School, where about 150 voters met by precinct, separated into various classrooms and a computer lab.
Fired-up attendees talked about secretary of state candidate Tina Peters, calling her a “good guy” despite her involvement in an election tampering scandal, disgust over Colorado’s sex education law that requires lessons to include dialogue on consent, and anger at term-limited Douglas County Sheriff Tony Spurlock for supporting Colorado’s red flag law that allows a judge to temporarily remove a person’s firearms. Outside the high school, one woman shouted “Red wave! Red wave!”
Stu Parker, chairman of the Douglas County Republicans, said voters – particularly women – are more engaged than they’ve been in years.
“They got involved in the school board race and started to understand what’s going on,” he said. “They saw what happened in the pandemic and they are fed up and wanting change.”
Nuffer, in Loveland, said the collective energy is coming from a desire to improve life for her children and grandchildren.
She decided to start NoCo Ladies for Liberty after Sherronna Bishop, a former campaign manager for U.S. Rep. Lauren Boebert, interviewed Liberty Girls founder Tompkins. Bishop, who calls herself “America’s Mom,” posts her interviews with conservative politicians and activists on her website.
At first, Nuffer dismissed the idea of leading a group, telling herself she was “just a mom and Nana.” Then the 59-year-old decided not to “disqualify” herself, realizing that her status as a mother and grandmother was her “greatest strength and my largest ‘why.’”
“I do not want to see my family continually stripped of their constitutional rights,” she said, adding that she regrets not doing more sooner in life to “preserve our American way of life, founded on our Judeo-Christian values.”
Nuffer, who is a health coach, heard Tompkins speak on Jan. 20. And on Feb. 10, she had 38 women in her home who came despite a snowstorm. Nuffer, who also vets attendees, wanted like-minded women to learn together in a non-intimidating environment, one where no question about the political process was too elementary.
She and a few others circulated an invitation promising “conservative community, cocktails and civics,” and invited the local GOP chairman to teach a room full of women enjoying wine and cheese about the caucus process. A month later, 26 women from the group were elected as delegates, 16 as election judges and nine as precinct committee chairs – and that’s just among the 71 who attended the NoCo Ladies for Liberty’s last meeting.
They’re also holding forums for the local sheriff’s and state House seats, and women from the three-county group are considering branching out to start their own groups in their hometowns. NoCo Ladies for Liberty is also working on a website to communicate with each other, since many of its members quit Facebook over the platform’s censorship policies.
And last week, Nuffer brought a carload of women to the state Capitol, where they protested against a bill that would affirm abortion rights in Colorado. The experience was a first for many in the group, who were jarred by a person shouting in an air horn to drown out the words of the anti-abortion speakers, a woman who was topless and a request by police that the NoCo group stay within the bounds of yellow tape for their own protection, she said.
Women in the group are getting involved in ways they would never feel comfortable doing alone, she said. NoCo Ladies for Liberty is restoring a lost sense of community among women, Nuffer said.
“We do better in community,” she said. “The way that our country has changed, our lives have changed, women now, many of them have to go to work. What has happened is when we’re working a 9-to-5 job, trying to raise our children, something has had to give. It’s in large part been our social interaction with other women.”
Marriott, who has a 14-year-old daughter and 17-year-old son, has scheduled candidates for City Council all the way to the governor’s office to speak to her Arvada group. Plus, the group connects via Zoom to meetings of the Liberty Girls and other groups around Colorado when a statewide candidate is speaking at a meeting, said Marriott, a property manager.
“We are just a bunch of passionate momma bears,” she said, echoing language used by Republican women all the way up the ticket.
Women are leading the GOP in this year’s statewide elections, including for governor, the U.S. Senate and secretary of state. Heidi Ganahl, a University of Colorado regent and the Republican front-runner to challenge Democratic Gov. Jared Polis, calls herself a “mom on a mission.” Deborah Flora, who is emerging as a top Republican in the race to unseat U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, said she’s running “because I want to be able to look at my children in the eye, and yours, and we have to be able to say to them, ‘We did everything that we could do in this day to hand them the same liberty that we enjoy.’”
As Marriott’s group has grown, gathering in her house for her creamy Italian sausage pasta and another member’s now-famous soups, she’s booking candidates for various races and scheduling educational workshops. The group has held a concealed weapons class, a session on the U.S. Constitution and events on “prepping,” including how to grow microgreens and prepare in other ways for a massive food shortage. Some in the group have volunteered for election audits, analyzing Jefferson County ballots from 2018 and 2020.
They campaigned for conservative candidates for the school board, though they lost, and fought against former Jefferson County Public Health Director Dawn Comstock, who resigned last month. Marriott was particularly active in fighting against COVID-19 testing for students in order to attend sports practice.
The Arvada group has grown from 10 to about 130 people.
“It was really the moms that stood up and started to fight,” Marriott said. “It was eating me up and I thought, ‘I have to take this and turn it into something constructive.’ We have to fight for our freedom.”
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