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Top Republican in Colorado House resigns from leadership a week after news about his 2022 DUI arrest

House Minority Leader Mike Lynch, R-Wellington, announced his decision in an emotional speech on the House floor as his ouster appeared imminent
Mike Lynch, Colorado House of Representatives minority leader, R-Wellington addresses attendees during a rally, Tuesday, April 4, 2023, outside the State Capitol in downtown Denver. Lynch, who is also running for a seat in Congress, was arrested in 2022 on suspicion of drunken driving and possession of a gun while intoxicated – an episode that stayed under wraps until the The Denver Post reported it Wednesday, Jan. 17, 2024. (David Zalubowski/AP file photo)

The top Republican in the Colorado House of Representatives resigned from his leadership post Wednesday morning as his ouster appeared imminent a week after revelations that he was arrested in 2022 on suspicion of drunken driving.

House Minority Leader Mike Lynch, R-Wellington, announced his decision in an emotional speech on the House floor.

“I am stepping down because it is the right thing to do – because I have become a distraction for my caucus and that is getting in the way of the hard work that we have to do in this building,” Lynch said.

Lynch is also running this year to represent Colorado’s 4th Congressional District and it’s unclear how his decision to step down from leadership will affect that bid. He announced his campaign earlier this month, before the news of his DUI arrest was made public.

A spokesman for Lynch’s congressional campaign said Wednesday morning that the representative wasn’t changing course.

Lynch’s announcement came amid a week of House Republican drama at the state Capitol. On Monday, the minority leader narrowly survived a vote of no confidence brought by state Rep. Scott Bottoms, R-Colo. Springs, and his conservative allies in the caucus – but only on a technicality. Rep. Stephanie Luck, a Penrose Republican and an ally of Lynch’s opponents, was absent from the meeting.

“I have begged Mike Lynch to step up and do the right thing (and resign),” Bottoms said. “I have begged him.”

Bottoms on Tuesday called another caucus meeting to hold a new vote, but the caucus chair – Rep. Mary Bradfield, R-Colo. Springs, an ally of Lynch – refused to start the meeting, which lacked a quorum. Bradfield said that while any lawmaker can call for a meeting, they don’t have the right to unilaterally set the date and time.

“I don’t care if you chair it,” Bottoms replied. “I’m going to keep calling it every single day.”

The caucus scheduled another no-confidence vote for Thursday morning, and it appeared likely Lynch would be ousted.

Speaking to reporters Tuesday, House Speaker Julie McCluskie said she didn’t know about Lynch’s arrest before it was made public by the news media. She called it “deeply concerning” and criticized Lynch for not previously disclosing the case, but she stopped short of calling on him to step down. She said it was up to the Republican caucus and his voters whether he should have continued as minority leader.

“What’s happening right now with the Republican caucus is a distraction,” said McCluskie, a Dillon Democrat. “They need to get their house in order. We have work to do.”

Lynch’s arrest didn’t become public until last week, when it was first reported by The Denver Post. The news came a few weeks after he announced a bid to represent Colorado’s 4th Congressional District, which spans the state’s Eastern Plains into Loveland and Douglas County.

Lynch was driving an electric Ford Mustang Mach-E when he was pulled over by a state trooper on Interstate 25 between Fort Collins and Wellington on Sept. 30, 2022, for speeding. He was traveling 90 mph in a 75 mph zone, according to a summons.

A trooper smelled alcohol on Lynch’s breath, and the Wellington lawmaker’s blood-alcohol level, when tested by a Breathalyzer, was about 0.16 – double the state’s driving limit of 0.08.

Lynch was charged with driving under the influence, speeding 10-19 mph over the speed limit and being in possession of a gun while drunk. He pleaded guilty to driving while ability impaired, a lesser offense, and the gun charge. Prosecutors dropped the other charges.

The representative was sentenced in December 2022 to 18 months probation and 150 hours of community service. Lynch told The Sun he still has some community service hours to complete and that his probation term – during which he is prohibited from possessing a gun – will end in June.

Video footage captured by cameras in Colorado State Patrol vehicles during the arrest show that when the trooper who pulled Lynch over asked him if he would be willing to take a roadside sobriety test, he immediately asked the officer to call Mike Honn. Honn is the Colorado State Patrol’s legislative liaison – effectively a lobbyist – at the Capitol.

Lynch quickly walked back the request and informed the trooper that he was a state representative.

The footage also showed that Lynch asked a state trooper during his arrest not to disclose the case to the media.

“If there’s anything we can do to kind of keep the press out of this, that would be great,” Lynch said.

Lynch, in an interview last week with The Sun, said he didn’t disclose his arrest to members of the House Republican caucus before he was elected minority leader. However, he said that some in the caucus knew about it before it was made public.

“This happened out of session, in between elections,” Lynch said in the interview. “I’m not running away from this. I’ve taken full responsibility for it.”

But many members of the House GOP caucus didn’t accept that explanation and were furious that Lynch hand’t informed them of the case. They said it weakened their position on gun regulations and crime.

“I would like this to serve as a message to my fellow members: be careful,” he said. “Don’t make the mistake that I made, which was to get behind the wheel after I had had too much to drink. We have a lot of socializing that goes on here. Thank God in my instance there was no damage done. I will tell you personally it has been life-changing and (a) positive in my life to now live a life without any alcohol involved in it.”

House Republicans are scheduled to meet at 8 a.m. Thursday to pick a new minority leader.

Assistant House Minority Leader Rose Pugliese, R-Colo. Springs, is the obvious choice, though others may pursue the job. Reps. Matt Soper, R-Delta, and Ron Weinberg, R-Loveland, are also rumored to be interested in the position.

Bottoms told reporters this week that he doesn’t want to be minority leader.

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