Miklosi kicks off run against Coffman while district lines are still unknown

The Colorado Statesman

Asked whether the slogan for his congressional campaign might be “Joe Miklosi: No Boundaries,” the Democratic state lawmaker demurred with a chuckle and instead directed his fire at the veteran Republican he hopes to unseat next year in a district whose lines won’t be known for months.

“I’m running for Congress because I want to restore job growth, restore the economy, restore the American dream for too many Coloradans who have seen it disappear,” said Miklosi, the Denver Democrat who announced last month he plans to move into the new 6th Congressional District — once it exists — and give two-term incumbent U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman a run for his money once a congressional redistricting map is finalized.

He was joined by about 200 supporters at a campaign kick-off event on July 28 at a restaurant in Greenwood Village.

Congressional candidate Joe Miklosi, left, visits with Mary Pritchard at a campaign kick-off event on July 28 at a Greenwood Village eatery.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman

“I want to take some of the practical, common-sense Colorado solutions to Washington to help small-business owners grow,” Miklosi said in a banquet room at C.B. & Potts. “I want to make Colorado the renewable energy capital of the country.” As the room’s television sets blared news of the latest impasse over raising the nation’s debt ceiling, he added that he hoped to bring the experience he’s had in the legislature putting the state’s pension plan on sound footing to the debate over strained federal entitlement programs.

“It can be done,” Miklosi said. “That’s the spirit of problem-solving I want to bring to Washington. We don’t need people with bumper sticker slogans or uncompromising positions, we need people to roll up their sleeves. As John Kennedy said, it’s a good compromise when you compromise for the good of the country without compromising your values.”

Kirsten Boyd, finance director for the Miklosi for Congress campaign, left, joins Terry Burke, Joy Athanasiou and Jim Chavez at a gathering to launch a bid by Democratic state Rep. Joe Miklosi for the 6th CD at C.B. & Potts in Greenwood Village on July 28.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman

Miklosi joins fellow state lawmakers Senate President Brandon Shaffer, D-Longmont, and House Minority Leader Sal Pace, D-Pueblo, who earlier announced bids against incumbent U.S. Reps. Cory Gardner and Scott Tipton, respectively. All three Democrats have said they plan to serve out their legislative terms next year while campaigning. And all three landed last month on a Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee list of 41 nationwide recruits the organization says will help the party win the 24 seats it needs to retake control of the U.S. House in next year’s elections.

While Shaffer and Pace will be challenging freshmen federal lawmakers — potentially at their most vulnerable — Miklosi is taking on a Republican with an unbroken string of victories stretching back to the 1980s, when Coffman first won an state House seat based in Aurora. Since then, Coffman has been elected to the state Senate, as state treasurer and as secretary of state before winning a hard-fought primary to represent the south-suburban congressional seat he has held since 2008. If he survives his bid for a third term in Congress, Coffman is the odds-on favorite to challenge Democrat Mark Udall in his bid for reelection to the U.S. Senate in 2014. Coffman has faced only nominal opposition from Democrats in his two runs for Congress from a district that holds a strong Republican advantage among registered voters, winning his last race by a margin of more than 2-to-1 over Democrat John Flerlage.

State Rep. Joe Miklosi, a Denver Democrat, and his wife, Jennifer, pause for a moment during a July 28 gathering to kick off his campaign challenging two-term U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman at a C.B. & Potts in Greenwood Village.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman

Miklosi is banking on a more favorable electorate once a federal district court judge takes a crack at redrawing district lines after a divided legislature failed to come to agreement this spring following the 2010 Census. A trial gets under way in Federal District Court on Oct. 17 and it could be a couple months after that before district boundaries are known.

Of all the state’s seven congressional districts, the 6th CD will likely emerge most different from its current boundaries — the southern portions of Arapahoe and Jefferson counties, all of Douglas and Elbert counties and a piece of Park County — because it must shed 79,356 residents in order to represent its share of the state. (By comparison, Gardner’s 4th CD only has to give up 6,584 residents, while the Denver-based 1st CD, a Democratic stronghold represented by U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette, has to gain 56,418 residents.)

Any speculation about district boundaries at this point is just that, pure speculation, said attorney Mark Grueskin, who filed a lawsuit on behalf of Democrats asking the court to draw the districts. While the legislators from both parties submitted wildly different maps during negotiations over redistricting, and some of those could serve as the basis for arguments made by Grueskin and his counterpart, attorney Richard Westfall, who filed a lawsuit against the state on behalf of Republicans, Grueskin said it won’t be until late September that he’s ready to discuss what he’ll be submitting to the court.

“I do know the district’s going to change and possibly become more competitive,” Miklosi said. He added that his campaign plans don’t hinge on winding up with a substantially more favorable district. “I’m in to win it all the way,” he said.

But the lack of a set district isn’t stopping Miklosi from coming out swinging.

“Mr. Coffman is pursuing a radical social agenda,” Miklosi said. “He’s a Tea Party member that’s more focused on grandstanding than problem-solving, and he voted for two Medicare-destruction bills that would have negatively harmed 74,000 Medicare recipients — our neighbors — here in Congressional District 6.”

Miklosi was previewing what many observers suggest could be a key weapon Democrats plan to wield against House Republicans next year, criticism over a vote to dismantle the Medicare program and replace it with a system of vouchers, though concessions Democrats made during debt-ceiling negotiations could blunt that attack.

He singled out a pair of other votes cast by Coffman he said “don’t reflect Colorado common-sense values,” pointing to a bill he said would “allow IRS agents to intimidate a woman if she makes the difficult decision to have an abortion, even in the most life-threatening circumstances,” and another that would deny benefits to veterans diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder who didn’t serve in a combat zone.

“If you’re diagnosed by a military doctor with PTSD, and you don’t happen to have been in a combat zone, you’re entitled to those same benefits so you can get the services you need to reintegrate into society,” he said. “Those (votes) just don’t reflect Colorado values. Those are two examples of many I’m going to highlight over the next 15 months.”

A spokesman for the Republican National Congressional Committee brushed off news Miklosi had launched his campaign.

“As far as we’re concerned, he’s not a legitimate candidate until he lives in the 6th Congressional District of Colorado,” said Tyler Q. Houlton.

Miklosi said he’ll raise what it takes to win an expensive race.

“I’m going to have to raise multiple millions of dollars,” he said, promising that “you’ll see a good number” when his campaign files its first report with the Federal Election Commission at the end of September.

With relatively easy general election fights, Coffman hasn’t raised anywhere near that sum since his first run for Congress, when he hauled in nearly $1.5 million, spent mostly during the primary. According to his most recent FEC report, Coffman had nearly a half million dollars on hand after raising $272,000 in the last quarter.

“I’m looking forward to a good challenge with him and a vigorous campaign about why I’m the better person to represent this district and why my vision is better than his,” Miklosi said, adding that he’s planning on challenging Coffman to a series of debates as the campaign unfolds.

Ernest@coloradostatesman.com