The reliance on computers to design legislative districts ignores issues of community of interest and demographic homogeneity in favor of packing like-minded voters into predictably performing precincts. There may be no better example than Denver’s second house district, home to House Speaker Mark Ferrandino, which cobbles together the single-family residential districts south of Sixth Avenue in central Denver with the transient apartment blocks across Capitol Hill. While all these voters lean Democratic, they differ dramatically in age, attitude and habits of thought. Owen Perkins is a model for the trench warrior who has shouldered the nasty jobs of maintaining political cohesion within the Denver Democratic Party over many decades. He has paid his dues, serving as a committeeman and party officer attending to the innumerable conventions and distributing literature each election cycle.
Perkins enjoyed strong support from the south half of the district since he first indicated his interest last year in succeeding Ferrandino. Alec Garnett is the son of Boulder District Attorney Stan Garnett and the former executive director of the state party. A recent resident of Capitol Hill, his entry into the race with the well-funded razzle dazzle of an insider did not sit well with many Democrats. There was a perception he had been parachuted into the district by the shadowy network of independent campaign committees that wields so much influence behind a veil of anonymity. The billionaire boys club (apologies to Pat Stryker, although Al Yates has served as her bag man) that restored the fortunes of Colorado Democrats during the past decade occasionally shows its hand by vetoing candidates, promoting others, and generally making “better” decisions than rank and file Democrats might. The grassroots is growing restive about this seizure of power and it can’t be long before a sunshine candidate runs for Party Chair.
Once Garnett entered the race, Ferrandino and the usual list of suspects lined up behind his candidacy with effulgent endorsements. Although no one was surprised by Garnett’s 55-45 victory election night, hard feelings were on a fast simmer. Old-timer Allan Ferguson told me, “…this is the most disgraceful campaign I’ve witnessed in more than 50 years.” And, for good measure, he added, “Mark Ferrandino better never try to run again for anything!” He sounded ready to climb out of the grave to torpedo the Speaker, if that were required. Garnett, however, actually won top line designation at the county assembly. He may have outspent Perkins four or five to one, but he certainly enjoyed his own cadre of devoted supporters.
Perhaps his greatest ally will be Perkins, who admonished his supporters, “Alec has my full support moving forward and I want you to offer the same.” He remained the good soldier that so many Democrats admired. On average Garnett’s victory party at the Uptown Tavern was probably 30 years younger than Owen’s. Tattoos, Pride flags and piercings were in abundance. Generational change in leadership is always painful, and occasionally both unfair and unwise. I was only 32, while Garnett is 31, when I won my Democratic primary in Northwest Denver in 1978. It takes a few years to heal the residual bruises. It’s also a tough vote when both candidates are quality prospects; and also a nasty piece of business when independent expenditures by unknown parties with dubious motives attempt to tip the scales.