Guest Columns

PENRY: OUT OF THE CLOSET IN MY SUPPORT OF A DEMOCRAT

Not a GOP in sight? Romer’s right pick as Mayor for center and right Denverites

Republicans have a hard time figuring out exactly what do in a Denver Mayor’s race. I mean, of course we vote — dutiful and civic-minded patriots that we right-wingers are. But that’s where any semblance of certainty ends in a race like this.

We for sure aren’t exactly sure who to vote for in one of these non-partisan races. [Question: if these races are so non-partisan, why in the hell aren’t there any Republicans running?]


The process of gleaning which of the candidates is “ok” or “the most ok” or “remotely acceptable” or “slightly better than horrible” is a decidedly non-scientific process. We look for subtle clues, like does a candidate feature an American flag in their TV commercials.

We look for signs that signify seemly and unseemly associations. Is a candidate endorsed by cops and firefighters (good) or AFSCME (bad)? And what to do with a candidate who’s endorsed by firefighters and AFSCME? We can only hope for a tie breaker — anyone know whose side the Veterans are on?

And when our ambling, non-scientific journey reaches its terminus, most times we are anything but unabashed in supporting our selection. Yard sign? Bumper sticker? Absolutely not. It’s like, can you imagine all the snickering at the first Friday Republican lunch if someone noticed a “Linkhart for Mayor” sign in your front lawn?

And when the moment of electoral truth arrives, even though we’re confident that our selection safely fits somewhere on the spectrum between “ok” and “not Satan,” we still can’t help but look over our shoulder just to make sure no one sees with whom we cast our lot.

“Honey, what are you doing in the bathroom closet with the lights off!?”

“Just voting in the Denver Mayor’s race, Sweetie. Be done in one minute.”

I’m a Grand Junction guy, so all the awkwardness of the Mile High Mayor’s race is new to this Republican. In Grand Junction there’s actually an ordinance outlawing Democrats altogether unless your last name is Buescher.

But that hasn’t stopped me from diving into the full cultural experience. And truth be told, I’m not at all shy about endorsing Chris Romer. Chris and I served in the Senate together. Chris is brilliant, Chris is genuine, and Chris is a good person. His name betrays that he was born into political privilege, but that’s his parents’ fault, not his; and Romer has overcome too. Dyslexia didn’t stop him from getting into Stanford, or from becoming a finance executive who put together complex infrastructure deals all across the West.

In the Senate, Chris was what I call a serial idea guy. He’s always on to the next big fight. Some people have criticized Chris in the campaign for thinking too big too often. I personally am tired of small-ball politicians who would rather play it safe then innovate. Romer’s penchant for thinking-big is exactly why I think he’ll do well as Mayor.

Knowing all this about Chris has made my choice to support the right one, even amid all the awkwardness.

And awkward is exactly the word to describe the scene when I rolled into a fundraiser for Romer a couple months back — out of place, I was. I could feel the stinging glares of Romer’s young Democratic staffers, many of whom had probably posted all manner of ugly things about me anonymously on Colorado Pols.

But Romer’s pitch to the small group put all angst to rest. His stump is strong in delivery, and better on substance. A pro-growth Democrat, he says the best way to balance the budget is by growing Denver’s tax base, not growing tax rates. He cites a briefcase full of other technical reforms, showing command of the challenges facing the City — and their solutions.

Romer is upbeat and optimistic through it all.

And I’ve worked with Chris so I know the speech is more than words. There are certain issues with which we share profound disagreement (I’m a conservative and he’s not), but Romer has partnered with Republicans and other courageous Democrats on truly important reforms. He was one of a handful of Democrats to stare down the teachers’ union and fight for a teacher tenure reform bill last year that is good for good teachers and bad for bad ones. That’s probably why the teachers union is supporting James Mejia, not Chris.

One of the highlights of my time in the Senate was a legislative sneak attack Romer and I plotted on Denver’s taxi monopolies, a move that opened the Denver taxi market to the American-dream chasing drivers over at Union and Freedom Taxi. That’s probably why these taxi drivers are supporting Chris, and not the others.

In the here and now, Romer isn’t ashamed to point out that the oil and gas industry is vital to our state. And unlike candidates named Linkhart and Hancock, he’s sensible enough to know that a recession is no time to vote yourself a big, juicy pay raise. No, Romer isn’t a perfect choice for Republicans, and I could spend plenty of time telling you how. And yes, it would be nice if the race were a little less “non-partisan” and included at least one GOPer. But it doesn’t. And thus, for right-leaning voters who are straining their eyes in the corner of that dark bathroom closet in search of the best choice in the race, Chris Romer is your man. No need to slap a bumper sticker on your car. A quiet vote for Romer is more then enough.

Josh Penry is the former Senate Minority Leader, and Senior Vice President for a Colorado-based consulting firm.