Young candidates in a hurry to replace 'Old Guard'

The Colorado Statesman

A bumper crop of young candidates promises to shake things up at the statehouse by bringing a fresh perspective and energetic voices if they’re elected this fall.

A group of the candidates — all Democrats, though there are a handful of younger GOP candidates running this year too — gathered to celebrate their numbers and encourage young voters to get involved in politics on March 1 at a forum sponsored by the Jefferson County Young Democrats at a Lakewood restaurant.

“It’s really exciting to see, finally, young people stepping up and taking on the role I think we need to, driving public policy forward, and bringing that voice and our constituency to the state Capitol to make sure the voices of young people are heard,” said Commerce City Councilman Dominick Moreno, 27, a candidate for the House District 32 seat in Adams County. (He faces a primary against fellow city council member Tracey Snyder and won the state Democratic Party’s Rising Star award last month.)

Commerce City Councilman Dominick Moreno, a candidate for HD 32, visits with Jelena Wohler, president of the Jefferson County Young Democrats, at a forum for young candidates on March 1 at a Lakewood restaurant.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman

When he first ran for office in his hometown, Moreno said, the old guard was “offended” and told him to wait his turn. But after he won — becoming the youngest elected official in the city’s history — he quickly earned the respect of his fellow officials and impressed them with his perspective and energy, not to mention his ambition.
Young candidates needn’t shy away from making a bid to represent one of the state’s most under-represented constituencies, candidates declared.

State Reps. Dan Pabon, D-Denver, and Andy Kerr, D-Lakewood, and Kerr's wife, Tammy, listen to young candidates speak at a forum on March 1 at 240 Union, a Lakewood restaurant.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman

“It’s young people who understand living paycheck-to-paycheck more than anybody,” said House District 41 candidate Jovan Melton, who faces a three-way primary against fellow youngster Andrew Bateman and Terry Todd, husband of the Aurora district’s term-limited state Rep. Nancy Todd, who is running for an open state Senate seat.

“It’s time for a new generation,” Melton added. “It’s time for the torch to be passed down to us, so that way, 30 years down the road, we’ve laid the groundwork for the next generation.”

Legislative candidates Jessie Ulibarri, Brian Carroll and Jovan Melton listen to another young candidate talk about the importance of getting Colorado youth involved in politics at a forum sponsored by the Jefferson County Young Democrats on March 1 in Lakewood.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman

His primary opponent Bateman, who has made his age a centerpiece of his campaign, agreed that the Capitol needs some lawmakers to shake out the cobwebs. Years of advocacy work under the dome working to get laws passed to benefit students and other youth convinced him that “if people like me aren’t there, those laws are never going to get passed.”

Bateman added that even the five years that would separate him from the Legislature’s current youngest member, 31-year-old state Rep. Crisanta Duran, D-Denver, is enough to make a difference. In the time since Duran was his age, he said, Colorado has seen tremendous upheaval.

After the speeches young legislative candidates, James Krefft and Andrew Bateman, pose for snapshots on March 1 at 240 Union, a Lakewood restaurant.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman

“In those five years, our state has gone from wondering what to do with the extra money to wondering where we’re going to find the money to keep the doors open,” he said. “I’m bringing something new to the table, something that’s not currently represented.”

Jessie Ulibarri, a candidate in Senate District 21, told the crowd of several dozen that there’s a reason he’s sometimes perceived as antsy.

State Senate candidate Armando Valdez and House candidate Tracy Kraft-Tharp, both Democrats, discuss the upcoming election at a forum for young candidates on March 1.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman

“Sometimes as a younger person,” he said, “we’re seen as impatient or impertinent because we’ve decided to run, and there’s this attitude, ‘Why don’t you just wait your turn?’” He said his response is that “We are the generation forged by the tragedies of Columbine, and 9/11, and two simultaneous wars, and the Great Recession.”

State Rep. Jonathan Singer, D-Longmont, and legislative candidate Brittany Pettersen discuss a bill Singer supported at the Capitol earlier in the day at a forum for young candidates on March 1 in Lakewood. Photos by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman

Taking stock, he said, “I look around and I see increasing deficits, I see stolen pension plans, and I see unrelenting war, and I think, huh, maybe our leaders haven’t done the best by us preparing for our future, so please pardon my impatience, but I have to prepare for our future, and that’s why I’ve decided to run.”

Ernest@coloradostatesman.com