By Anthony Bowe
THE COLORADO STATESMAN
The conversation with constituents has changed for Senate District 3 candidate Angela Giron but only slightly. Giron, 50, said she still isn’t used to being called “senator” after being sworn into office last Friday to the state senate seat held by former Sen. Abel Tapia, D-Pueblo.
Tapia abandoned his reelection bid to take a job as director of the Colorado Lottery. Giron was appointed by a vacancy committee Aug. 3, won an uncontested primary against write-in candidate Eric Taylor on Aug. 10 and was inducted into the Senate Aug. 13.
For the next four months, Giron will perform her job as senator while continuing her campaign for the same seat, which she launched last October.
“I have to still remind people that I am campaigning and that I’ve been working for them for a good number of months and I don’t only want the job for four months, I want it for four years,” Giron said.
Tapia’s move to the state lottery isn’t the only vacancy resulting in an appointment. Rep. Karen Middleton, D-Aurora, recently accepted a job as president of Emerge America, a San Francisco-based national non-profit dedicated to preparing Democratic women planning to run for office. Middleton will still complete her term, which expires in early January.
In the meantime, a vacancy committee has selected a strong-voiced activist to fill Middleton’s spot for the HD 42 race this election season.
Rhonda Fields, 55, a United Airlines employee from Aurora, was appointed on Aug. 7 and is quickly working to get her campaign off the ground.
“Things have been moving extremely fast. That kind of environment is good for me,” Fields said. “I like to work with a sense of urgency, where you just have to move and act and just kind of keep going. I prefer to work in that type of environment.”
Giron’s current stint as senator requires her to perform constituent services, which consists of aligning constituent needs with state resources — a job which she said has given her a lot of experience. Giron performed constituent services while working as an aide for U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet and former U.S. Sen. Ken Salazar, currently the head of the Department of Interior.
“That’s what I was really good at,” Giron said. “I worked at the (Boys and Girls Club of Pueblo County) for 27 years and a lot of what your job is, is to connect people with resources and help them solve problems. That’s something I do well and feel comfortable doing.”
Giron said she left the Boys and Girls Club in 2007 as vice president of operations overseeing a $1.5 million budget, seven centers and 3,000 children. When she first started in 1980 she said the budget was only $50,000 and the club had only 200 children.
Giron, only the fourth Hispanic woman to ever join the Colorado Senate, was sworn in before her family, colleagues, and a long list of state leaders, including former Sen. Paul Sandoval, former Colorado House Speaker Ruben Valdez and U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet’s wife, Susan Daggett. Former state Sen. Polly Baca also attended. Baca was the first Hispanic and minority woman to serve in the senate.
Giron’s appointment also marks the first time in history that two Hispanic women have served in the state Senate at the same time. She joins Sen. Lucia Guzman who was appointed in May to replace former Sen. Paula Sandoval, who was elected to the Denver City Council.
“Quite honestly I’m delighted that for the first time in history we have two Latinas that will be elected in November to serve in the Colorado State Senate,” Baca said. “I think [Giron] will bring a unique perspective from Pueblo County.”
“I was elected to the senate in 1978 and I left in 1986 and we didn’t elect another Latina to the Senate until 2002 (Sen. Paula Sandoval). But I’m delighted that, at least in this century, it looks like Latinas are beginning to make their mark,” she said.
Giron will face Republican opponent Vera Ortegon, 57, in the general election. Ortegon serves on the Pueblo City Council with Giron’s husband, Steve Nawrocki. Ortegon, who defeated Alexander Lucero-Mugatu in the primary by more than 40 percent, is in her third year of a four-year term with the city council. She served as council president in 2009 and also served 11 years on the Board of Water Works of Pueblo.
Ortegon, who was once the economic development representative for Southeastern Colorado under former Gov. Bill Owens, said her number one priority is “jobs, jobs and jobs.”
“This is really close to my heart — jobs and the economy. And of course on the sidelines is lower taxes and less government,” she said.
Ortegon cites her record as reason why she will be elected in November.
“I have a proven track record and what I’m asking of the people is, ‘you have followed me through my years as an elective official — look at it, analyze it and your vote for me will be out of knowledge because I have a track record,’” she said. “My opponent does not have a track record. She has not been appointed or elected to anything until just now.”
As a newly appointed senator, Giron said she might have gained a little more name recognition in SD 3. But her largest advantage lies in the voter registration statistics. Democrats hold more than a two-to-one advantage in active voter registration over Republicans, according to the Secretary of State. The district includes 33,529 active Democrats, 16,321 active Republicans, and 16,656 active unaffiliated voters.
Nonetheless, Giron believes she has a winning platform that voters believe in.
“Jobs are my number one priority. And to make sure that those jobs, particularly in Pueblo are the living wage. You have a good number of jobs where you have to work two jobs in order to pay rent, or mortgage, have a vehicle and eat,” she said.
Giron credits Pueblo Community College and CSU-Pueblo for creating an educated workforce, something she plans to help continue.
Giron hopes she will still be Senator Giron by November.
“I was elected by the vacancy committee but I haven’t been elected by the people,” she said. “I think when I know that [the voters] have supported me and see me as their representative fully, then I think I’ll be able to embrace that (moniker), and then I’ll tell them to call me Angela.”
New face, same place
Fields faces Republican opponent Sally Mounier, 72, a retired real estate agent, in the general election.
Fields acknowledges that one of her biggest challenges is entering the race two and half months before the general election, but she said she’s not daunted by the late start. Fields said she has been on a campaign for the past five years, and it won’t be difficult to jump into another.
In 2005, her son Javad Marshall-Fields was murdered with his fiancé Vivian Wolfe before he was scheduled to provide witness testimony in a case involving his murdered friend.
“The past five years my pursuit has been justice in the name of my son and his fiancé Vivian Wolfe,” Fields said. “I feel like I have been running a campaign since then but the focus has been on truth and justice — to make sure that no one has to lose their life for participating in our criminal justice system.”
Marshall-Fields and Wolfe were shot down in Aurora only 11 days after Marshall-Fields had graduated from Colorado State University. Wolfe had graduated a semester earlier.
Sir Mario Owens and Robert Keith Ray were convicted and sentenced to death this year for the murders. A third suspect, Parish Carter, was convicted of conspiracy this summer and is awaiting sentencing.
Fields’ advocacy work and testimony on legislation strengthening the state’s witness protection programs led to her appointment by Gov. Bill Ritter in 2007 to the Colorado Commission on Criminal Justice. Fields also works with a number of other organizations including Voices of Victims, where she serves as chair, and the Fields Wolfe Memorial fund, an endowed CSU scholarship fund she founded and serves as president.
Middleton endorsed Fields to fill her vacancy and is now helping her campaign. Middleton has ushered Fields to town hall meetings to introduce her to constituents and has helped her understand the roles and responsibilities of the job, Fields said. Last week Middleton sent out announcements for Fields’ introduction party held last Sunday. Among the 45 plus attendees were former Denver Mayor Wellington Webb, former Sen. Gloria Tanner, D-Denver, former Rep. Rosemary Marshall, D-Denver, and Rep. Nancy Todd, D-Aurora. Many were impressed by Fields’ campaign speech, said Arapahoe County Democratic Chair Mike Hamrick.
“Quite frankly, it was probably one of the strongest campaign speeches that I’ve heard in a long time,” Hamrick said. “She’s very passionate, very engaging and really looks at the district like a big family.
“I think we’re going to have a strong passionate candidate that really cares about the issues affecting the voters in HD 42,” he said.
Fields said she has raised nearly $2,000 in the early going. Her Republican adversary, Mounier, currently has $3,412 cash on hand, according to the Secretary of State.
Fields enjoys a similar advantage as Giron in her district with active Democratic voters, 9,421, more than double active voting Republicans, 4,147. There are 5,437 active unaffiliated voters in the district.
However, Mounier, who said her “glass is always half-full,” said she has developed a winning strategy that would have defeated Middleton and will defeat Fields.
“Nothing changed for me actually. I know exactly what I need to do to win this race,” Mounier said. “I started walking door-to-door quite some time ago. I walk about four and half hours per day with someone and we cover quite a lot of ground.”
Mounier said she has visited 7,000 homes since June and plans to visit all the district precincts by the election. As a fiscal conservative, she said the economy is her priority.
“I’m a single mom of four kids and most of the time I was raising the children on my own salary,” she said. “Through life experience, I know how to set priorities on your income and how to budget — that’s what I bring to the table.”
Fields said she wants to decrease the foreclosure rate in the district as well as boost the number of available jobs. However, her top priorities lie in education and public safety.
“I believe that every child has the right to have access to a good education — a quality education where great teachers are provided for them,” said Fields, who has a master’s degree in psychology and taught at the University of Northern Colorado for eight years. “I see a need for better parent involvement. A greater partnership with parents and schools will make sure that schools don’t fail our kids and they don’t fail period.”
Mounier said she doesn’t have an agenda as she seeks public office, while Fields said she would not vote for unfunded legislation.
“I’m interested in stabilizing and sustaining the funding,” she said. “There’s some things I don’t want to see us cut or not being able to provide the support systems that are needed to protect our children, our families and our seniors.”
With Middleton’s exit, the number of open seats in the House increases to 11. The makeup of the Legislature is likely to change by January with as many as 29 House Democrats fending for their jobs this November, compared to only 12 incumbent Republicans defending their seats.
In the Senate, eight Democrats, compared to six Republicans, will be vying to protect their seats in November. Four open seats will also be decided.