Democrats hoping to retake the majority in the Colorado House of Representatives are also hoping that last week’s special session — and the last-minute floundering over a civil unions bill that led the governor call the legislature back — motivates out more voters like Joanne Bryant and Cheryl Bousquet.
The Sheridan couple has sat on the sidelines when it comes to politics, but after following the civil unions bill through committees and watching it die during the late-night demise of dozens of bills at the hands of GOP leadership, Bryant said enough is enough.
That’s when she says it sunk in that it matters which party is in power, and that’s when she decided to spend the summer knocking on doors and contacting other voters in House District 3, the Arapahoe County swing district held by Rep. Daniel Kagan, D-Cherry Hills Village, a top target of Republicans intent on maintaining their House majority. Kagan’s challenger, business owner Brian Watson surpassed the incumbent in fundraising totals reported this week, and nearly everyone agrees the race for that seat will be neck-and-neck.
“It was irresponsible, unacceptable. It just prompted me to say, ‘How can I get more involved?’ I’m a mother, I’m a woman of faith, and I’m also a lesbian,” said Bryant at a fundraiser for the state Democratic Party’s House Majority Project on Sunday at the Congress Park home of Rep. Lois Court, who represents the overwhelmingly Democratic House District 6. “There’s things at stake.”
The House Majority Project, which advises candidates on staffing, fundraising, communications and voter contact, is credited with helping Democrats take control of the House three elections in a row, until Republicans reclaimed a one-seat majority in 2010.
Bousquet said the couple hasn’t gotten involved until recent months, adding that the way House GOP Speaker Frank McNulty handled the civil unions bill ensured they’ll stay involved.
“What Speaker McNulty did, the way our system and our process was completely ignored, completely manipulated simply because of a personal agenda, is not right for any elected official,” she said.
Democrats are hammering Republicans over the way the session ended.
Republicans, for their part, are hammering back, blaming Democrats for costing taxpayers some $75,000
for a special session they say was meant to distract from a lagging economy.
Court, who sits on the House State, Military and Veterans Affairs Committee, which killed the civil unions bill during the special session on a party-line vote, told donors it was time to take back the speaker’s gavel.
“I am so fed up with them. I am so ready for us to get the majority back,” she said, introducing a handful of House candidates, including former Rep. Dianne Primavera, a Broomfield Democrat who lost her seat in the last election but is running for it again.
Her predecessor representing House District 6, former Speaker Andrew Romanoff, agreed.
“If the last few weeks have made anything clear, it’s that Coloradans need a change in management in the Colorado House,” he said.
Romanoff said increasing partisan polarization makes it all the more essential for Democrats to organize.
“The other party has… made it clear that they will say anything and do anything and spend anything it takes just to hold onto the power they’ve got,” he said. “This is a crowd, after all, that is not particularly interested in converting the undecided. They’re much more interested, it seems to me — all this fire-and-brimstone rhetoric is aimed pretty squarely at rallying the faithful and getting folks out to vote.”
That approach, he said, flies in the face of a maxim he said he holds, that “the best politics is good public policy.”
“The trouble is,” Romanoff said, “if you demonize government, if you poison the political well, if you tell folks over and over and over again that public service is a dishonorable calling, eventually some of those folks will start to believe you.”
And when that happens, he said, it eats away at the very fabric of civil society.
“The other party, at its core, at the very far right of its extremes, believes that if you tear down the institutions we’ve erected, if you engage in this sort of scorched-earth campaign, that folks will end up leaving the battlefield altogether. We can’t let that happen. Not just for the sake of this election but, in many ways, for the sake of the democratic experiment itself.”
Then he urged supporters to take the fight to swing districts, like those held by Kagan and Primavera.
“You shouldn’t assume that folks are actually following this story in nearly as much detail as the folks in this room,” he said. “That’s where we come in. We’ve got to take this fight hand-to-hand, door-to-door, face-to-face.”
Last month, state Republicans launched what they call the Trailblazer Program for legislative candidates, modeled on the National Republican Congressional Committee’s Young Guns program, which helps boost congressional candidates.
“The Trailblazer Program is designed to assist candidates through benchmarks and goals in order to run strong and effective campaigns for the state legislature,” said state GOP Chairman Ryan Call. “This program will allow our candidates to show their campaign’s strength and be better prepared to increase the majority in the State House and take back the majority in the Senate.”