Republicans chastise leader Cole Wist for co-sponsoring gun bill

Authors: Joey Bunch, Marianne Goodland - May 1, 2018 - Updated: May 2, 2018

Cole Wist legislatureAssistant House Republican leader Cole Wist of Centennial speaks to the South Metro Chamber of Commerce in October. (Joey Bunch/Colorado Politics)

Some House Republicans chastised Colorado state Rep. Cole Wist in a caucus meeting late Monday night over his sponsorship of bipartisan legislation to keep guns away from people considered an extreme risk, Colorado Politics has learned.

House members debated bills until about 11:30 p.m., then Republicans huddled. Second Amendment advocates were unhappy with Wist. A motion was made to remove him as House minority leader from Centennial, but it wasn’t voted on.

“As with any family, we squabble, find direction and we unite,” Rep. Jon Becker, R-Fort Morgan, told Colorado Politics. “There was a motion concerning leadership, but after a great discussion and a better understanding of the situation, we came together as a caucus. The motion was not voted on.”

The Republican from Centennial is co-sponsoring House Bill 1436 with Assistant Majority Leader Alec Garnett, a Democrat from Denver.

The bill is named for Douglas County Deputy Zackari Parrish, who was killed in an ambush at a Highlands Ranch apartment complex on Dec. 31.

Related: “Red Flag” gun bill has bipartisan, law enforcement backing

Wist only replied “no” to a text message about whether he was removed and did not reply to subsequent requests for comment Tuesday morning. House Majority Leader Patrick Neville, a Republican from Castle Rock, a Columbine massacre survivor and a strong gun rights advocate, said Wist is re-evaluating his position on the bill.

Neville’s family has close ties to Rocky Mountain Gun Owners; his brother, Joe, is a former lobbyist for the organization. Patrick Neville and his father, Sen. Tim Neville, R-Littleton, are the legislature’s chief proponents of gun-rights’ legislation each year.

Interviewed on the House floor, Patrick Neville repeated much of what Becker said, characterizing it as a family squabble.

“We have the same feuds at Thanksgiving at the dinner table in my family,” he said.

Neville would not say how he would have voted on the motion to demote Wist — “Well, we didn’t have it, and that’s the key point,” he responded —  but he said he still supports Wist as his second-in-command of the caucus.

“None of us are happy about him supporting the bill, and he’s re-evaluating that. I think he got some advice he regrets, but, hey, we’ll move on.”

The gun safety bill was unveiled at a press conference Monday, with gun control advocates and law enforcement officials at the Capitol. Supporters of the bill include 18th Judicial District Attorney George Brauchler and Douglas County Sheriff Tony Spurlock, both of whom are Republicans.

Brauchler is the lone Republican candidate for state attorney general.

Parrish’s killer, Matthew Riehl, a veteran with a history of mental health issues, was known to law enforcement for his hostility and threats toward them. Riehl reportedly fired more than 100 rounds, killing Parrish and wounding four other officers and two civilians.

He was killed by an officer during the melee.

House Speaker Crisanta Duran, a Democrat from Denver, didn’t directly comment on the Republican caucus, but said the gun conversation is one people of Colorado deserve to hear.

“I applaud Rep. Wist for taking a stand and representing his district,” said House Majority Leader KC Becker, a Democrat from Boulder.

Joey Bunch

Joey Bunch

Joey Bunch is the senior political correspondent for Colorado Politics. He has a 31-year career in journalism, including the last 15 in Colorado. He was part of the Denver Post team that won the Pulitzer Prize in 2013 and is a two-time Pulitzer finalist. His resume includes covering high school sports, the environment, the casino industry and civil rights in the South, as well as a short stint at CNN.

Marianne Goodland

Marianne Goodland

Marianne Goodland is the chief legislative reporter for Colorado Politics. She's covered the Colorado General Assembly for 20 years, starting off in 1998 with the Silver & Gold Record, the editorially-independent newspaper at CU that was shuttered in 2009. She also writes for six rural newspapers in northeastern Colorado. Marianne specializes in rural issues, agriculture, water and, during election season, campaign finance. In her free time (ha!) she lives in Lakewood with her husband, Jeff; a cantankerous Shih-Tzu named Sophie; and Gunther the cat. She is also an award-winning professional harpist.