Constitution Week draws allegations of partisanship
September 27, 2016
Grand Lake's annual Constitution Week is creating some turmoil in the high mountain community, sparking several letters of complaint and prompting the Grand Lake Board of Trustees to take the issue up for discussion.
The civic minded and ostensibly educational week long yearly event has drawn some outspoken local dissention this year as several community members and Grand County residents submitted letters of complaint to the Grand Lake Town Board regarding what they perceived as the partisan political tenor of the event and controversial comments made by its headlining speaker, Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke Jr.
LETTERS OF COMPLAINT
After Constitution Week ended, on Saturday Sept. 17, the Town of Grand Lake received four letters from local citizens complaining about the event. The letters can be viewed within the Grand Lake Board of Trustees Sept. 27 Meeting agenda, from pages 102 through 106.
A letter submitted to the Board by Grand Lake resident Kris Kriofske stated, "It (Constitution Week) turns out to be a thinly veiled excuse to gather area very conservative Republicans to a Christian religious rally where some praise to the Constitution is presented to hide the overt hatred and prejudice of the speakers."
On Monday evening the Grand Lake Board convened in a workshop meeting and heard local citizens speak out on the issue. There was some contention at the beginning of the workshop as to whether or not the Board would allow citizens to offer comments on the issue during the workshop.
Grand Lake Trustee Jim Gasner opposed allowing citizens to speak during the workshop session, preferring to have citizens return several hours later in the evening to offer comments during the Regular Meeting of the Board.
"If they get up there and talk and say something it is not to be considered by us at all," Gasner said.
"When it comes to deciding funding those comments made up there have nothing to do with it."
Several other Trustees expressed their desire to hear from the constituents with Trustee Steve Kudron saying, "I would like to listen."
The comments addressed to the Board by citizens Monday night were overwhelmingly supportive of Constitution Week with most commenters denying any partisanship to the event. Retired Marine Corps Colonel Les Williams offered his take on the event.
"I fought for this country. I was wounded and almost died. For 32 years I went like this," Williams said while raising his right hand.
"And swore to uphold and defend the Constitution… I have seen this Constitution Week as an independent body of people who believe in the Constitution. This organization works from Monday through Saturday night. They give their time, energy, hearts and minds to every single absolute bit of the Constitution… I wanted to take the time to say thank you."
Numerous other speakers who commented during the meeting echoed his sentiments including Town resident Doris Braun. Braun began her comments by pointing out she is not a US citizen but has lived in Grand Lake for 21-years.
"What is not important for me is the political fight," Braun said.
"I don't care if the speaker is a Democrat, Republican liberal or whatever because I'm not politically involved. I know all the speakers we have are trying to save or bring back the Constitution… For we the people."
Not everyone was in agreement on the nonpartisan nature of the event though. Neal Cross, who submitted a letter of complaint to the Town regarding Constitution Week also commented to the Board.
"I have gone to events in past years," Cross said.
"From my point of view it is highly right wing. If the Town is putting money in it then it would seem to me the Town would want it to be more balanced… I didn't hear anybody ask how to think, I heard a lot of how I should think. It was speaking a lot to the choir as a political event."
During his comments Cross highlighted one speaker from the event, which Cross characterized as libertarian, who, "told his crowd what progressives believe. Wouldn't it be interesting if we had a progressive come in and say 'this is what libertarians believe.' Without the other perspective it is indoctrination."
After attendees commented to the Board Grand Lake Town Trustee Tom Goodfellow stood up and spoke. Goodfellow is one of the founders of Grand Lake's Constitution Week. He oversees much of the project and according to his statements Monday night is personally responsible for bringing most of the speakers featured during Constitution Week to Grand Lake. To make his comments to the audience Goodfellow stood at the speaker's podium, which he turned to face the crowd, highlighting that he was speaking as a citizen rather than a Trustee.
Goodfellow began by explaining some of the history of Constitution Week and how he and other Grand Lake citizens came together to initiate the event. He outlined efforts he had made over the years to reach out to Democratic groups and speakers, including emailing the Grand County Democratic Party each year inviting them to participate. Grand County Democratic Party Chair Sandy Doudna interrupted Goodfellow flatly denying the claim which Goodfellow rebutted asserting he had email documentation in his hands.
Goodfellow listed multiple speakers and topics from the past several years of Constitution Week with topics such as: Article 5 of the US Constitution, the Great Seal Awareness Project, the Fourth Branch of Government (the Administrative state), life in Communist China under Chairman Mao and defining Federal law as it relates to marijuana.
"I have listed about a dozen talks I consider weren't left or right," Goodfellow said. "Whoever has been saying that I seriously disagree. I try to make it both sides."
Goodfellow continued, his voice rising in tone and tenor.
"I'm angry at a lot of people here. You have thrown my name through the mud and said this is a right wing event. I totally disagree with you."
He closed by saying, "I'm pissed. Don't drag me through it unjustifiably."
After Goodfellow's comments the audience clapped loudly in support.
Grand Lake's annual Constitution Week is not an official Town government function, rather the event is organized and put on by the Grand Lake Constitution Week Committee, an independent organization made up of multiple community residents and local citizens. The Town of Grand Lake has historically supported the yearly event through funding assistance. This year the Town provided the Constitution Week Committee with $4,000.
The Constitution Week event has been dogged in years past by allegations that the event is little more than a partisan political rally for conservatives. Event organizers and supporters deny such allegations and assert the event is a celebration of our nation's founding document and is intended to educate.
Headlining speaker Sheriff David Clarke is a fairly controversial political figure on the national stage. Clarke, an African-American, is a registered Democrat though he is more closely associated with the alt-right political movement than liberalism. He was a featured speaker during the Republican National Convention in Cleveland this year and is often featured on prominent conservative media such as Fox News and Breitbart.