Dem delegates unite around incumbents

The Colorado Statesman

More than 1,200 Democratic delegates poured into the Colorado Convention Center Saturday, April 12 for the 2014 State Assembly, nominating a slate of statewide candidates to battle against Republicans this November.

The anticipation in the air was palpable inside and outside the Bellco Theatre. Delegates, volunteers and supporters donned pins and waved signs to demonstrate their endorsements for the Democratic ticket. Repeatedly, Democrats danced to the hit pop song “Happy” by Pharrell, hopeful that the party will walk away joyous and victorious this fall.

Unlike the GOP assembly in Boulder, Democrats were spared making difficult decisions. Most candidates ran uncontested, thereby guaranteeing them the nominations, including U.S. Sen. Mark Udall to challenge U.S. Rep. Cory Gardner of Yuma, and Gov. John Hickenlooper, who still faces an open field of GOP candidates.

Gov. John Hickenlooper, pictured at the JJ Dinner Saturday night, told the State Assembly earlier that day that he's in shape to run the race.

Earning the nomination for treasurer was former U.S. Rep. Betsy Markey to challenge incumbent Treasurer Walker Stapleton.

U.S. Rep. Ed Perlmutter said he fights for Democratic values because people like his father inspired him.

The secretary of state nomination went to University of Colorado Regent from CD 2 Joe Neguse who will face El Paso County Clerk and Recorder Wayne Williams for the seat being vacated by current secretary of state Scott Gessler.

Don Quick was nominated to run for Attorney General at the Democratic State Assembly on Saturday.
Photos by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman

And former Adams County District Attorney Don Quick took the nomination for attorney general to challenge either Rep. Mark Waller of Colorado Springs or Deputy Chief Deputy Attorney General Cynthia Coffman.

Also nominated for re-election were U.S. Reps. Diana DeGette of Denver, Jared Polis of Boulder and Ed Perlmutter of Golden.

There was only one contested congressional race, with the nomination in Congressional District 5 in Colorado Springs going to retired Air Force Major Gen. Irv Halter to challenge increasingly more vulnerable Republican U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn.

Also receiving a loud congressional nomination was former House Speaker Andrew Romanoff in CD 6 to challenge U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman of Aurora.

Vic Meyers received the nomination in CD 4 to challenge either Weld County District Attorney Ken Buck or Sen. Scott Renfroe of Greeley, though Weld County Commissioner Barbara Kirkmeyer and businessman Steve Laffey are also petitioning onto the ballot.

And the party gave former Sen. Abel Tapia of Pueblo the green light to take a swing at U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton of Cortez in CD 3.

Hickenlooper getting in shape for election

Hickenlooper received one of the largest responses from the audience, kicking his nomination off in typical Hickenlooper fashion, with a quirky and humorous video of him training for the election.

The GOP is still trimming down its field of candidates, with former Senate Minority Leader Mike Kopp, Secretary of State Scott Gessler and former U.S. Reps. Tom Tancredo and Bob Beauprez making the GOP ballot with a combination of assembly designations and petition drives. Hickenlooper is facing perhaps his toughest election yet, although most feel he will be reelected nonetheless.

In his campaign video, Hickenlooper rises to an alarm clock at 6 a.m. at which time Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia comes banging through the governor’s door with a whistle around his neck. “Time to get ready for the campaign,” says Garcia.

“Jeez, Joe. Are you like this every morning?” responds Hickenlooper, who quickly jumps out of bed with his workout clothes already on, including a jazzy pair of neon yellow sneakers.

With powerful music playing in the background, Hickenlooper begins the training routine, tossing some eggs into a blender, cycling next to Garcia who prods him from his motorcycle, making campaign calls, leading meetings, shaking hands — all the while his lieutenant governor continues to blow the whistle, encouraging Hickenlooper to work harder. At one point in the video, Garcia enjoys a nice juicy burger while Hickenlooper is stuck with lettuce and carrots.

As the video winds down, Garcia offers Hickenlooper some wardrobe advice. After rejecting a few ties — something the governor is not a fan of wearing — they settle on a basketball jersey that looks a lot like the outfit worn by the Denver Nuggets. The name on the back of the jersey is “Hick” with the No. 4 — perhaps representing four more years?

The video ends with Hickenlooper and Garcia walking into the Convention Center. When the lights came back on, Hickenlooper was standing on stage with a group of supporters.

“Our victory will be hard fought and hard won,” Garcia explained in introductory remarks. “We cannot take anything for granted and we will not. John and I are getting in shape for this election because we know there are outside groups ready to pour millions of dollars into ads here in Colorado trying to scare us and trying to divide us, but as Coloradans, we know better than to fall into that trap.”

By the time Hickenlooper began his remarks, the crowd was working itself into fervor. But some Democrats weren’t buying into the governor’s speech. Just as he began speaking, a shout cried out, “Don’t frack Colorado, don’t frack Colorado, don’t frack Colorado.”

Environmentalists have been at odds with the governor over his support of the controversial oil and gas drilling process hydraulic fracturing. Hickenlooper quickly quelled tensions by pausing from his speech to say, “We can talk about it outside.” He later spoke with those activists outside the theater.

The substance of his speech focused on achievements over the past four years, including job growth and fighting for equality. The governor also pointed to his unconventional path into politics, including his former life as an unemployed geologist turned brewpub owner.

“I was out of work for over two years and I know what that can do to a person being unemployed for more than a year,” remarked Hickenlooper. “It affects you psychologically; it affects the way you relate to your family, your neighbors and when you look in the mirror how you relate to yourself.

“We need to partner the public sector and the private sector to make sure we address long-term unemployment so that every Colorado worker who has been unemployed for over 12 months gets every advantage, every edge, every opportunity to have a job,” he continued.

The governor also alluded to the contentious race he will be facing, including big spending by outside interests.

“They’re going to try — don’t let them,” exclaimed Hickenlooper. “We need to stay united and laugh off those attack ads for the jokes that they are.”

Following his remarks, the governor told reporters that he understands it will be difficult to ignore the ads that will flood the state.

“You have to respond to every attack, but you don’t have to lob mud back…” Hickenlooper explained. “We’ll have to find new fresh ways to do that, to go back and point out, ‘Hey, Colorado. These are outside people that don’t really care about your state… and they’re doing attack ads which are not constructive for democracy.’”

Heather Barry, a Colorado Department of Transportation Commissioner for District 4, nominated Hickenlooper earlier in the event, as did Blanca O’Leary, chairwoman of the Pitkin County Democrats, and former Interior Secretary and U.S. Sen. Ken Salazar.

“He knows that Colorado is stronger when rural America and urban Colorado are all together as one,” Salazar rallied the crowd. “We have a great governor for our state because he understands that we are one state… He is the best governor in the United States of America.”

Udall ready to fight against big outside money

Salazar also nominated Udall, as did Denver City Councilman Albus Brooks, former Sen. Paula Sandoval of Denver, Jamestown Mayor Tara Schoedinger, and Reps. Dan Pabon of Denver, Angela Williams of Denver and Leroy Garcia of Pueblo. Salazar, however, sparked the largest cheer with his “six more years” rally cry.

“Colorado deserves better than the tea party…” declared Salazar, alluding to Udall’s opponent, Gardner. “Between now and November, there is no race anywhere in America, no race in Colorado, that is more important than Mark Udall.”

Udall appeared energized for the campaign, a sense of urgency in his tone. He dedicated the campaign to his 61-year-old brother, Randy Udall, who died on a hiking trip in June.

Udall wasted no time digging into Gardner, attacking him over a recent backtrack on so-called “personhood,” or providing constitutional rights to the unborn in an effort to ban abortion. Gardner originally supported personhood but recently reversed course.

“His beliefs haven’t changed, his ambitions have,” quipped Udall.

He went on to point out that Gardner would have the support of wealthy conservative individuals and special interests, including the Koch brothers.

“They bombard the airwaves with ads trying to buy a Senate seat,” said Udall. “You can’t buy Coloradans’ votes, you have to earn those votes.”

U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet came to his colleague’s defense, pointing out that Gardner has a record too conservative for Colorado.

“He’s running against a member of Congress who has the 10th most conservative voting record in the House of Representatives,” exclaimed Bennet. “This guy’s voting record is more conservative than Michele Bachmann’s voting record.”

DeGette also dug into Gardner, pointing to the personhood issue: “When he repudiated the personhood amendment, there’s only one or two reasons. Either No. 1, Cory Gardner is the worst type of politician, somebody who would compromise his heartfelt personal values in order to get elected… Or No. 2, he’s just dumb,” DeGette lambasted Gardner.

Statewide candidates rally crowd

Markey later took the stage to accept her nomination for treasurer. After serving only two years in Congress, she is ready to get back to her first love — managing finances. She pointed out that she is no stranger to competitive races.

“When I left my position as regional director for then-U.S. Sen. Ken Salazar to challenge long-time Fourth Congressional District Congresswoman Marilyn Musgrave, nobody gave me a chance of winning the solidly Republican district against a well-funded incumbent,” recalled Markey. “But against all odds, I did win.

“I am now challenging an incumbent state treasurer who also needs to be shown the door,” she added.

Neguse accepted the nomination for secretary of state, pointing out that he is a first generation American whose parents fled a war-torn country in east Africa. The CU regent appeared fired up and ready to win, often deviating from his prepared remarks as he reacted to the energy of the crowd.

“If you, like me, believe that protecting our right to vote is worth fighting for, then join our team,” he said. “If you believe, like I believe, that fair and accessible elections are worth fighting for then join our team.

“I promise you… if you do we will win this November and we will bring transparency and accountability back to a secretary of state’s office that is in desperate need of both,” Neguse continued, taking a jab at current Secretary of State Scott Gessler, who is not seeking re-election to run for governor.

Quick also gave a passionate speech in accepting the nomination for attorney general, pointing to his work on juvenile justice and lowering the recidivism rate.

“Democrats of Colorado, if you stand with me, I will be your next attorney general,” Quick said to thunderous applause. “Democrats of Colorado, stand with me and together we will write the next chapter of the story of Colorado.”

Congressional candidates mobilize Democratic army

Romanoff also took the stage to an explosion of cheers. He is facing a difficult race in CD 6 against Coffman, in a split district that is very much up in the air. Democrats have highlighted the race as a top priority.

“The two scariest words in the English language if you’re Mike Coffman… are not Andrew Romanoff. I’m a pretty mild-mannered guy,” said Romanoff. “The two scariest words are congressional record.”

Halter also received a loud cheer for earning the nomination to challenge Lamborn in CD 5. Lamborn is once again facing a primary, this time against retired Air Force officer Bentley Rayburn, who ran against Lamborn before.

At the congressional district assemblies the night before, Halter pointed out that Lamborn will have to spend cash in order to defeat his primary opponent, which opens the door for Democrats.

He told delegates that he is the best candidate to take on the challenge, defeating Leslie Simpson-Summey 76 percent to 24 percent during the congressional assembly. Simpson-Summey has pledged to throw her support behind Halter in an effort to stay united.

“Lamborn is in danger of losing his seat,” declared Halter. “They’re going to spend the next 75 days fighting their own party, spending resources to win, and in the past eight years, Mr. Lamborn has never been so challenged.

“One thing they taught me in the Air Force, when your adversary is weak, it’s time to bring every asset to bear to finish the job,” he added.

Meyers also gave a fiery speech at the assembly on Saturday, facing a daunting challenge in the Republican-leaning CD 4. But he appears ready to fight, taking digs at his potential Republican opponents.

“They’re going to have carpet bagger Laffey; they’re going to have Kirkmeyer the secessionist; they’re going to have Scott ‘Leviticus’ Renfroe; and they’re going to have buyer’s remorse Buck,” said Meyers. “And it doesn’t matter which one of those folks wins…”

Tapia is also facing an uphill climb in CD 3, but he believes it is necessary to run simply to offer voters a choice. He pointed out that he jumped into the race late after former state lawmaker and current Pueblo County Commissioner Liane “Buffie” McFadyen dropped her campaign last month.

“I have this drive that we can do better than what we have,” said Tapia. “We need someone to represent us. I know I can do better. But not only that, I know I can win.”

Democrats ready for war

Democrats on the whole believe they can win this November. One after the other, party leaders took to the stage to rally the audience, including the Democratic congressional delegation.

Polis — who has been supportive of the anti-fracking crowd and has often been critical of Hickenlooper for the governor’s support of oil and gas — said it was critical for the party to stay united during the election season.

“I know that next term I will be joined in Congress by other progressive voices from Colorado…” said Polis. “For us to be able to reflect your values as Americans, our values as Democrats, we need to work this cycle…”

Perlmutter — who arrived to the assembly late because he was caring for his sick father — said he fights for Democratic values because people like his father inspired him.

“I said, ‘Dad, what should I be talking about?’ He said, ‘We need to talk about the values of Democrats.’ Those values are freedom, opportunity and justice for all.”

Legislative leaders also reminded the audience not to forget about district races as well, including those in the House and Senate where Democrats will face a difficult election, especially in the Senate where Democrats hold the majority by only one seat.

“We remain extremely fortunate to be able to fight for working families in Colorado because we have the majorities in both the House and the Senate, and we need your help to keep them,” explained Senate President Morgan Carroll of Aurora.

“We’re all going to need your help from now until November to make sure that both the House and the Senate continues to be in Democratic control,” added House Speaker Mark Ferrandino of Denver, who is term-limited this year. “We’ve done amazing work in Colorado, and we’re going to continue to do amazing work in Colorado, but the only way we can keep the progress we’ve made is with your help.”