EDITORIAL: Williams' defeat spotlights a party living on life support

May 18—Mayor-elect Yemi Mobolade's victory on Tuesday speaks volumes about the soiled brand of the state and local Grand Old Parties. The Republican establishment hit bottom by losing with a top-tier politician in the state's most reliable bastion of center-right politics.

The Springs mayoral race is officially nonpartisan. In practice, it has always been partisan with right-of-center Republican candidates easily defeating those to their left. The imprimatur of Republican leadership was a sure path to victory — the seal of approval by a brand most Colorado Springs voters understood and respected. Not anymore.

Mobolade is neither a Democrat nor Republican. As a Christian minister, he founded a church and cultivated a faith-based following. As an entrepreneur, he relates well with small-business owners. His overarching philosophy appears more pragmatic than politically doctrinaire.

Mobolade's public persona epitomizes "independent."

The man Mobolade defeated, former Colorado Secretary of State Wayne Williams, resides in the highest echelons of old guard Republicans. He is a class act who left his election night party to visit Mobolade's event and personally congratulate him.

Williams has served his community and state as a proud Republican for decades in multiple county, state and local positions. A few years ago, that would have helped him.

Williams has succeeded in public office, with a list of positive accomplishments few others in his party can match. Locally, he found and implemented methods of efficient water use that benefit rural and urban consumers. As secretary of state, he was lauded by the right-wing Trump administration and the left-wing Washington Post for running the country's most safe and secure election in 2016.

On social issues, Williams toes the GOP's long-held positions of respect and dignity for all individuals — a Republican ethic dating back to President Abraham Lincoln's war on slavery.

In past mayoral elections, Williams could have won on his Republican credentials alone against someone with no clear agenda and a lack of elective service. In 2023, by contrast, Williams needed the impossible: erasure from the public conscious his lifelong affiliation with the state and local GOP.

The organized Republican establishment that made Bill Owens the 40th governor of Colorado for eight years ending in 2007 no longer exists. The party image so respected it inspired a Republican transition by former Democratic Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell has vanished. Same goes for the party that elected former Republican Sen. Cory Gardner and State Senate President Bill Cadman in 2015.

Gone are the days when "Republican" meant good management of education, transportation, tax dollars and public safety.

Colorado's Republican establishment subsists in the political ICU, with a brand characterized by self-serving internal battles having no connection to sound public policies.

The public sees lawsuits between the state party and the El Paso County Party, which serves the state's largest bastion of center-right voters. The public sees GOP leaders and candidates so extreme they demonize their own if deemed moderate and willing to reach across the aisle. Far-right purists openly and unapologetically sabotage good to stand for their perception of perfect.

The party's image has gone from one of staid statesmanship to that of aggrandizement through self-righteous navel gazing.

The GOP should take some advice from a reputable source.

"Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation, and every city or house divided against itself will not stand," Jesus said.

Former Republican President Abraham Lincoln quoted this truth in advance of the Civil War.

Former President Ronald Reagan implored "thou shalt not speak ill of any fellow Republican."

Colorado Republicans speak more ill of their own than their Democratic opponents. The unwritten motto is "you're with me 100% or you are the enemy."

Lack of party cohesion was on full display during the mayoral runoff. Former Trump appointee and longtime Colorado Republican Sallie Clark endorsed Mobolade after losing in the general. If she couldn't be mayor, neither could Williams.

Former two-term Republican sheriff Bill Elder — a man long frustrated by the Republican Party's circuslike dysfunction — endorsed Mobolade in a TV ad that rivaled the saturation of Kars4Kids.

For most voters in the middle, this election became a choice between a man intertwined with a broken party and one with no established brand who could fit any mold.

Mobolade earned an enormous network of loyal friends on a mostly apolitical basis. He stood out as an affable figure who could be all things to all people.

Conservatives see Mobolade is one of them — a hard-working, successful business owner who believes in capitalism and worships God. Liberals are certain he's a left-wing messiah — a burdened minority so progressive he will turn the Springs into Boulder 2.0.

We suspect, and hope, Mobolade serves no political masters or ideologies. Either way, Mobolade provided an attractive alternative to a brand so divided and mercurial it does traditional conservatives more harm than good.

The Gazette Editorial Board