Candidates already lining up for Groff’s SD 33 seat

By Janet Simons

With the election of Sen. Brandon Shaffer, D-Longmont, to replace Peter Groff as president of the Colorado Senate when the Legislature reconvenes in January, the political focus now shifts to filling the vacancy Groff leaves in Senate District 33, which includes northeastern Denver, Montbello and Green Valley Ranch.

Six candidates have emerged so far, and vacancy committee chairman Chris Martinez thinks that might be everyone.

“I think anyone who had an interest has begun to do their work,” Martinez said. “And we can take nominations from the floor at the election. Anyone who is a registered Democrat, resides in District 33 and is at least 25 years old is eligible to run.”

The approximately 150-member vacancy committee must hold its election within 20 days of a legislator’s resignation, which, in the case of Groff, will be effective May 6, the last day of the session. Denver Democrats have set Monday, May 11 at 6:30 p.m. as the date of the vacancy committee meeting with a location still to be determined.

So far, the following SD 33 Democrats have told Martinez they either plan to run or are seriously considering it.

Mateos Alvaraz, 33, is a community and labor organizer employed by Service Employees International Union 105, was active in the Obama campaign and, as an organizer for Metro Organizations for People and the Colorado Federation for Community Integration, has focused on child health issues. He shares custody of his 5-year-old daughter with his ex-wife, and says caring for her is his most important work. He believes he can win because, “My history and my work will resonate with a lot of voters.”

Renee Blanchard is a perennial candidate for the Legislature, most recently as a challenger to House District 7 Rep. Terrance Carroll at the Denver Democratic Assembly and Convention in March 2008. Carroll took 90 percent of the vote, leaving Blanchard 20 percent short of what she would have needed to challenge Carroll in a primary.

Anthony Graves, 32, a member of the Democratic National Committee, is newly married and newly laid off from his IT job at Sun Microsystems, making this, he believes, the right time to shift to a long-anticipated career in public service. Graves, who is black, was born in Delta, and spent the first 10 years of his life on a Western Slope alfalfa farm. He graduated from East High School and has a master’s degree in business administration from the University of Denver. Graves believes his varied background offers him a fresh perspective on the diverse issues that face Colorado legislators.

Charles Johnson, 40, is assistant athletic director at CU Boulder and a sportscaster for KOA radio and Fox SportsNet. He’s married with a 9-year-old son and a 12-year-old daughter. As quarterback for the CU Buffs, he was named most valuable player in the 1991 Orange Bowl, and he has also been a guest on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno. But he says he’s prouder of the undergraduate role he took in the life of his youngest brother, getting him out of the Detroit ghetto and bringing him to Colorado for his high school years.

Michael Johnston, 34, the principal of Mapleton Expeditionary School of the Arts in Thornton, is married and the father of twin 17-month-old boys. He was an early adviser to the Barack Obama campaign on education issues, and during one of the candidate’s Colorado visits, Obama addressed MESA’s 44 graduating seniors, all of whom were college-bound. Johnston says he wants to serve because, as an educator serving high-needs communities, “I feel I have an insight into the diversity of needs in Senate District 33.”

Rosemary Marshall spent 27 years as a lobbyist and public policy consultant for the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment before running for the Legislature and winning House District 8. Marshall served two terms, 2001-’09, before reaching her term limit and being forced to retire. She says, “I know that landscape well, and I know how politically difficult it can be. It’s no place for a novice or newcomer.”