Dem legislative races begin to take shape

The Colorado Statesman

Democrats headed off one legislative primary and set up another at metro-area county assemblies held on Saturday.

In the jostling for an open, competitive seat in central Lakewood, political organizer Brittany Pettersen emerged unopposed as the Democratic nominee after a late entry in the House District 28 race against gay veteran Brian Carroll, who failed to qualify for the ballot at the district assembly at Lakewood High School.

Carroll, who had the option to petition his way into the primary, instead suspended his campaign on Monday and endorsed Pettersen, who will face Republican Amy Attwood in the November election.

State Rep. Nancy Todd and her husband, Terry, participate in their precinct caucus earlier this month at Overland High School in Aurora. Terry Todd took second-place to Jovan Melton in the nominating contest on March 24 at the Arapahoe County Democratic assembly for the chance to run for her wife’s seat, which Nancy Todd is giving up due to term limits, while the incumbent Todd is running for an open Senate seat.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman

After he won the support of just 18 percent of the delegates — below the 30-percent level required to guarantee a spot on the primary ballot — Carroll said it was a tough decision to end his campaign but, he added, it was one he was happy to make in the interest of party unity.

“Now is the time for Democrats to come together,” he said. “This is very much a critical election year for Democrats to take back the Colorado State House. To win House District 28, Democrats need to come together, and it’s not the time to split critical resources in this fight.”

Pettersen shared the sentiment after winning Carroll’s endorsement.

“I’m glad that we get to focus on the general and not waste any resources on the primary,” she said, adding that she was grateful to have Carroll’s support for the months to come.

“We share very similar values,” Pettersen said. “I think bringing attention to LGBT and veterans issues is going to be important. I look forward to working with him on my campaign, we will be working closely together.”

It was the second time this election cycle Carroll dropped out of a legislative race. Last fall, before current district lines were adopted, the political neophyte stunned some circles when he announced plans to mount a primary challenge against state Rep. Andy Kerr, D-Lakewood. Democrats scrambled, launching shows of support for the three-term incumbent in the LGBT community and eventually naming Carroll to a state party position concerned with veterans issues, leading him to step aside soon after he began campaigning.

Democrats Brian Carroll and Jovan Melton await their turn to speak earlier this month. Melton won top-line for the HD 41 seat at the Arapahoe County assembly, ahead of Terry Todd for the seat held by Todd’s term-limited wife, state Rep. Nancy Todd. Carroll failed to qualify for the ballot for the Lakewood-based House District 28 seat at the Jefferson County Democratic assembly the same day and two days later endorsed fellow Democrat Brittany Pettersen.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman

When the final reapportionment plans threw Kerr into a district with two fellow representatives, he shifted to a race for an open Senate seat along with one of his new district-mates, Rep. Ken Summers, R-Lakewood, whose move left his old HD 28 seat open. Shortly after the first of the year, Carroll resigned his position with the state party and began a new campaign for Summers’ old seat.

Reflecting on his nearly six-month “journey” through the two campaigns, Carroll said he had no regrets.

“In many ways, I think I kind of jumped into the deep end, as ambitious as I am,” he said. “It’s where my training led me: when you’re pushed, and when see an opportunity for leadership, you stand up and you voice your concern. I definitely did that.”

Meanwhile, across town at Hinkley High School in Aurora, Arapahoe County Democrats saw a contentious three-way race suddenly turn into a tight two-man primary after one of the candidates surprised delegates by dropping out and nominating one of his former rivals.

When it came time to nominate candidates for the House District 41 seat being vacated by the term-limited state Rep. Nancy Todd — the Aurora Democrat is hoping to move up to fill an open Senate seat this year — delegates were prepared to decide between Todd’s husband, Terry, a retired educator, and two younger candidates, political organizers Jovan Melton and Andrew Bateman. But Bateman prompted jaw-dropping surprise when he instead rose to second Melton’s nomination, telling the crowd he was ending his campaign.

“Even though we were running against each other, it was never personal,” Bateman said after the assembly. After coming in a distant third at a straw poll conducted at precinct caucuses earlier this month, Bateman said he and Melton had discussions that “allowed us the opportunity to realize we were running for the same reasons,” eventually leading to Bateman’s endorsement.

When the dust had settled, what looked like all of Bateman’s supporters had thrown in with Melton, giving him a 61-39 percent win over Todd and top line on the primary ballot.

Legislative candidate Brittany Petterson and Ian Silverii, media director for the House Democrats, share a moment at Pettersen's announcement party last month in Lakewood. Pettersen became the Democratic nominee for the open House District 28 seat on March 24 at the Jefferson County Democratic assembly, winning 82 percent of the delegate vote over primary rival Brian Carroll, who suspended his campaign days later.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman

Melton said he was honored to win his former opponent’s backing, crediting Bateman with a shared vision “He brought a passion for issues and change to the campaign. We are part of the next generation ready to accept the torch of leadership from great leaders of the past.”

Todd dismissed suggestions that the younger candidates — Melton and Bateman are roughly half his age — trump his experience with their fresh perspective.

“With term limits, there’s a lot of experience that’s going to be gone from the House of Representatives,” he said. “There’s a need for a balance. There’s a place for a younger generation, but in this case the experienced candidate will have a better way of representing the people in this district.”

After managing his wife’s runs for office, Todd sounded confident that he could tackle the upcoming primary.

“It takes a lot of walking and knocking and meeting people and being face to face with them and letting them know who you are and what you stand for,” he said with a chuckle, adding that he had expected to face Melton in a primary regardless of whatever Bateman did. “We’re going to make sure I win the primary.”

“It’s never been about age,” Bateman said this week. “It’s been about diversity and perspective. When you’re getting someone coming out of the same household, there’s not really a new perspective being brought to the table.”

Though he cautioned that he wasn’t speaking for Melton, Bateman hammered home what he said had been an underlying theme of his own campaign.

“A lot of the times it seems we’re pushing hard against Nancy and Terry. But it’s not about that. We’re pushing back against a systematic problem of a generation that isn’t entirely ready to let go of the power they’ve enjoyed and let some of the new group in,” he said.

Todd and Melton plan to meet for a debate on April 23 during the next scheduled HD 41 meeting the Arapahoe Democrats’ headquarters in southwest Aurora.

Republican Adrienne Markopolos on Monday joined the race for the heavily Democratic HD 41 seat.

—Ernest@coloradostatesman.com