Hats in ring to fill Middleton vacancy in HD 42

By Ernest Luning
THE COLORADO STATESMAN

At least three candidates are in the running to replace state Rep. Karen Middleton, D-Aurora, on the ballot this fall, including a woman who has already had a hand pushing legislation. A vacancy committee made of Democratic Party officers is set to meet this weekend in Aurora to tap a nominee, who will have to hit the ground running just three months before the election.

State Rep. Karen Middleton

Middleton announced last week she was pulling out of her re-election bid to represent Arapahoe County’s House District 42. She is taking a job heading a California nonprofit that recruits and trains Democratic women candidates nationwide. Middleton said she plans to keep her House seat through the election and then join her husband, former Aurora City Councilman Larry Beer, who lost his bid for re-election this year, full-time in the Bay Area.

Three hopefuls had notified party officials by press time that they’re in the running for the vacancy, though nominations won’t be closed until shortly before the vote on Saturday.

“Everything could change Saturday morning, just depending on the dynamic of the group,” said Arapahoe County Democratic Party Chairman Mike Hamrick.

Rhonda Fields is a community activist and familiar face at the State Capitol. She has lobbied lawmakers on witness protection and death-penalty legislation since her son, Javad Marshall-Fields, and his fiancée, Vivian Wolfe, were ambushed and gunned down at an Aurora intersection five years ago before he could testify in another murder case. Robert Ray and Sir Mario Owens were convicted in the killings and sentenced to death. Their accomplice, Parish Carter, was convicted on conspiracy charges and awaits sentencing.

Middleton said she urged Fields to run and hopes she wins the appointment.

“I looked around and I talked to people I thought would be able to jump in and successfully run a strong campaign,” Middleton said. The “diligent and hard working” Fields was by far the best choice, she said.

“I didn’t see anyone moving that quickly to do what you need to do to be able to win a vacancy,” Middleton said.

Perennial candidate Carlos Estrada — who lost out to Middleton at a 2008 vacancy meeting when she was appointed to the house district seat — and Sean Bradley, a former statehouse denizen and current political director for the American Federation for Children, a nonprofit that advocates for school vouchers, have also thrown their hats in the ring.

Longtime Democratic activist Eileen Bond and two-time Aurora City Council candidate Pam Bennett both considered running but decided against it.

A 39-member vacancy committee will select a candidate to take Middleton’s slot on the fall ballot in the heavily Democratic district. But the registration numbers — Democrats outnumber Republicans more than 2-to-1 in the north-central Aurora district — don’t mean the chosen candidate will be able to coast to election, party officials say.

“No seat is easy for either party,” Hamrick said. “It depends on having the right candidate and a candidate that works hard within their district.”

Most importantly, district observers say, the chosen candidate will have to assemble a campaign operation and raise plenty of money quickly.

“That’ll be the key aspect of it, is that they start immediately — quite frankly, Saturday afternoon, after the vacancy committee,” Hamrick said.

Republican Sally Mounier is already running for the seat. The retired real estate executive cut her political teeth in decades past as a congressional aide to Bill Armstrong and Ken Kramer, among others. She’s a Neighborhood Watch block captain and a member of Aurora’s Citizens Advisory Budget Committee.

Middleton, who had been serving on the State Board of Education, took over the District 42 seat in 2008, when she was picked to replace former state Rep. Michael Garcia. The Aurora Democrat quit after a lobbyist filed a sexual harassment complaint against him.

Perennial candidate Carlos Estrada — who lost out to Middleton at a 2008 vacancy meeting when she was appointed to the house district seat — and Sean Bradley, a former statehouse denizen and current political director for the American Federation for Children, a nonprofit that advocates for school vouchers, have also thrown their hats in the ring.

Longtime Democratic activist Eileen Bond and two-time Aurora City Council candidate Pam Bennett both considered running but decided against it.

A 39-member vacancy committee will select a candidate to take Middleton’s slot on the fall ballot in the heavily Democratic district. But the registration numbers — Democrats outnumber Republicans more than 2-to-1 in the north-central Aurora district — don’t mean the chosen candidate will be able to coast to election, party officials say.

“No seat is easy for either party,” Hamrick said. “It depends on having the right candidate and a candidate that works hard within their district.”

Most importantly, district observers say, the chosen candidate will have to assemble a campaign operation and raise plenty of money quickly.

“That’ll be the key aspect of it, is that they start immediately — quite frankly, Saturday afternoon, after the vacancy committee,” Hamrick said.

Republican Sally Mounier is already running for the seat. The retired real estate executive cut her political teeth in decades past as a congressional aide to Bill Armstrong and Ken Kramer, among others. She’s a Neighborhood Watch block captain and a member of Aurora’s Citizens Advisory Budget Committee.

Middleton, who had been serving on the State Board of Education, took over the District 42 seat in 2008, when she was picked to replace former state Rep. Michael Garcia. The Aurora Democrat quit after a lobbyist filed a sexual harassment complaint against him.

Ernest@coloradostatesman.com