The La Plata County Republican Central Committee took an unprecedented step last week when its members informed The Durango Herald through a letter delivered to the newspaper that its reporters are uninvited from all party activities indefinitely.
The letter cites “inaccurate and biased” opinion editorials and “bullying and denying the publishing of many conservative letters to the editor,” and says party members will only communicate with the newspaper digitally (presumably by email) going forward.
But telling reporters they aren’t welcome at Republican events does not appear to jive with what some La Plata County political figures are looking for out of their local newspaper.
Brad Blake, former chair of the La Plata County Republican Party, said in a phone interview on Friday many rural, conservative county residents, including himself, believe the newspaper doesn’t fairly cover conservative activities or consider conservative letters to the editor, which makes them feel alienated.
But when he led the La Plata County Republican Party, blocking reporters from events was never considered, he said.
He suggested the newspaper should be at and report on conservative events — something he said the Herald doesn’t do enough of.
“I would probably tend to think it would be better to have you guys at any events,” Blake said. “I do know that if you want to be more inclusive in the community, then you have to be inclusive.”
The La Plata County Republican Party is holding its annual Lincoln Day Dinner, a major fundraiser, at the Sky Ute Casino in Ignacio on Saturday. U.S. Reps. Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.) and Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) are scheduled to attend. However, the La Plata County Republican Party rescinded its invitation to the Herald when it organized its boycott.
Blake said he doesn’t know what the La Plata County Republican Party will accomplish by excluding the Herald from community events, but his guess is it’s a statement that “they’re not getting a fair shake.”
He indicated discontent among La Plata County conservatives might have deeper roots than just grievances with the Herald, although the newspaper plays a role.
“Rural people absolutely feel like they have no representation politically or community-wise in the Durango area. And a lot of it is directly related to the paper,” he said, adding there’s not a single “conservative-minded person” on the county commission. “How would you feel if everybody that was supposed to represent you in the community was completely opposite of your ideologies?”
For Blake, he feels he wasn’t treated fairly during the La Plata County Board of County Commissioners election last year. Blake campaigned for the District 1 seat on the Board of County Commissioners against Jack Turner, an independent candidate, and Democratic incumbent candidate Clyde Church.
During his campaign, Blake named the lack of affordable housing as one of the Board of County Commissioners’ most pressing concerns. His platform included repealing a section of code requiring the land-use permit approval process to reset entirely if a permit holder requests alterations that increase the scope of the project.
“The Durango Herald failed to run one of my ads on one of the most critical ads that I had during the last campaign. Everybody else’s ads were in there, but mine wasn’t,” he said. “They said, ‘Well, it was a computer error,’ and so it becomes awfully suspicious.”
Turner said on Friday he has heard people involved in politics criticize the Herald and other media before, but he had never heard of a local political party outright boycotting the newspaper. He wondered aloud how banning reporters from events would be enforced.
The more information is available to people, the better, he said. He digests news from a variety of sources and filters out what he doesn’t find useful.
He said the La Plata County Republican Party’s boycott of the Herald is an “eye roll.”
“There’s a lot of things that come out of both political parties that makes one want to roll their eyes,” he said. “Today on the Hill, they’re discussing the Senate dress code. The country’s in dire straits right now and needs to figure out a lot of things, and they’re talking about the dress code on the Senate floor.”
Turner, who is enthusiastically independent from either major United States political party, said partisan politics is what turned him off from both. He also suspects many La Plata County residents feel similarly disappointed.
“Everything you hear on the news about both parties is rather disappointing, to be quite honest with you,” he said. “Especially when I hear that every single vote breaks down along party lines. Are you telling me there isn’t some good idea that Republicans have that a Democrat couldn’t vote for, and there aren’t some ideas that a Democrat might come up with that a Republican couldn’t vote for in good conscience?”
Despite different takes on the La Plata County Republican Party boycotting the Herald, Blake and Turner share common ground on topics such as housing.
Turner said more workforce housing is needed to accommodate the working class. But planners, builders and developers are telling him “everything is just bogged down in an incredibly tedious, cumbersome process.”
He said he’s fed up with partisan politics because “there’s too many things that we can all agree on.”
“Even a lot of those people that I’m disappointed in for their partisan behavior and their extremism is that I grew up with a lot of these people. I know them locally. Many of them, I enjoy their friendship,” he said. “On both sides of the aisle, so many people make positive contributions in everyday life. And it’s too bad those contributions get overshadowed by some overarching political acrimony that breaks people up. Politics is breaking up families, and that’s a shame.”
Turner pointed to the Hundred Club of Durango, a nonpartisan community organization that financially assists families of first responders killed or maimed on the job, as an example of how people can shed their political differences and effect positive change.
“This is a generous place and a kind place overall, and I think we lose sight of that sometimes,” he said.
La Plata County Republican Central Committee chairwoman Shelli Shaw, past chairman Dave Peters and secretary Hope Scheppelman were present at a protest of about 20 people outside the Herald, located on Main Avenue in downtown Durango, on Sept. 12 when the letter barring reporters from Republican events was delivered.
“Put the information out there and let people decide for themselves,” Shaw previously told the Herald. “It doesn't need to be censored or decided by The Durango Herald or any other media outlet. It needs to be presented and let people have the ability to think for themselves.”
The protest was organized after the Herald reported on an event featuring Moms for Liberty’s El Paso County chapter at the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 4031. The La Plata County Republican Central Committee noted an editorial error in a photo caption and also accused the Herald of misstating the number of attendees at the event. That photo caption error, in which a number was left off the title of VFW Post 4031, has since been corrected online.
Moms for Liberty is a controversial conservative organization that’s garnered nationwide attention for advocating against school curriculum acknowledging LGBTQ rights, opposing critical race theory and attempting to remove books from school libraries.