Small legislative primaries affect big policy decisions

A round-up of the legislative primaries in the state

By the Colorado Statesman Staff

The big primary news came out of the congressional districts, with the victories of Jared Polis in the 2nd Congressional District, Doug Lamborn in the 5th and Mike Coffman in the 6th.

When it came to the Legislature, most eyes were fixed on House District 15, where Mark Waller’s victory over Douglas Bruce might force Statehouse reporters to cover more actual legislative issues this year, in the absence of Bruce’s clownish antics.

But there also were a number of under-the-radar legislative primaries, and the results of those races will alter the complexion of the Capitol next session. So, without further ado, a recap of some of the most interesting and important races, starting with the heated battle in Boulder’s Senate District 18 primary.

SD 18 Democrats: Rollie Heath over Cindy Carlisle

A gubernatorial aspirant six years ago, longtime Boulder Democrat Rollie Heath is now on his way to the state Capitol, albeit to a much smaller office.

Heath, who challenged former Gov. Bill Owens in 2002, celebrated at the St. Julien Hotel in downtown Boulder on Tuesday night as the results of his primary with CU Regent Cindy Carlisle rolled in.

Heath thrashed Carlisle by 12 points, beating her 56 percent to 44 percent, and Heath was anointed the next state senator from Senate District 18. Heath says Carlisle was gracious in defeat, calling Wednesday morning to congratulate him on the race.

He’d had no expectation that he’d win in a blowout.

“I wouldn’t have been surprised if I had lost, either. I just didn’t know. I felt good, but you don’t want to get your hopes up,” Heath said.

If he had, he wouldn’t have been disappointed. Of the 13,521 votes cast in the district (just a fraction of the 39,749 registered Democrats in SD 18), Heath took 7,623 to Carlisle’s 5,898. The margin of victory came as something of a shock to some, since Carlisle had taken top line at the district assembly in March, with 53 percent of the vote to Heath’s 47 percent.

But Heath, who is no stranger to the role of the underdog, walked his way to the top, knocking on as many doors as he could and spreading the word about the race. Heath said Wednesday that he kept a running tally of all the people that he spoke to, and the final count was 8,815. In the end, his grassroots approach paid off — in spades.

It also couldn’t have hurt that Carlisle’s fellow Democratic CU Regents endorsed him instead of their colleague.

“The fact that the regents endorsed me was a big deal,” Heath said.

Democratic regents Stephen Ludwig, at-large, and Michael Carrigan, CD 1, both officially endorsed Heath over Carlisle, as did former Democratic regents Susan Kirk and Gail Schwartz. Rumor had it that Carlisle could be difficult to work with.

Throughout the campaign, Carlisle positioned herself as the more liberal of the two candidates, an environmentalist who stands in contrast Heath’s business background, which he used as a selling point. In fact, he said his business experience and reputation for bridge-building are what put him over the top.

In the end, Carlisle’s efforts simply weren’t enough. But her political career will continue, in one form or another. She just hasn’t decided what route she’ll take next.

“I’m energized. I’m looking at what I can be doing in the future,” Carlisle said.

She noted that her term as regent isn’t up yet, and that her successor, law student Joe Neguse, won’t be sworn in until January. So she has a few months to decide on her next move.

For his part, Heath said that because he doesn’t have any opposition for the general election, he’ll be concentrating on helping House Speaker Andrew Romanoff pass his ballot measure, Savings Account For Education, or SAFE. The measure would resolve several constitutional budget conflicts and free up the Legislature to begin addressing various funding inadequacies, such as the $800 million shortfall for higher education and the $500 million shortfall for transportation.

“2010 sounds like a long way off, but, with next year being an off-year, we’ve got the year to do something that will take the place of Referendum C. We cannot let that expire and just walk back in to where we were five years ago,” Heath said, referring to the 2005 emergency funding measure that voters approved by a narrow margin.

Referendum C, which allows the state to keep rather than refund excess tax revenue, expires in two years. Heath said if SAFE passes, a lot of pressure will be taken off the Legislature to come up with another last-minute fix in either 2009 or 2010 to avoid having to make drastic budget cuts.

Heath said his other legislative priorities will include funding health insurance for every child in the state, expanding early childhood education programs, boosting incentives for renewable energy and finding a funding source for the state’s transportation infrastructure.

SD 35 Democrats: Joyce Foster over Alice Borodkin

The contentious primary battle between Rep. Alice Borodkin, who is term-limited in HD 9, and Foster, the former Denver City Council president, turned out to be no contest.

Following her 70-to-30 percent victory at the assembly in March, Foster expanded that lead among the primary electorate by a vote of 71 to 29 percent.

“I’m a little surprised at the number of votes she garnered,” Borodkin said. “I kind of feel like I got rolled a little bit. But we’re moving on.”

Borodkin said she would continue to be a presence at the Capitol, particularly with her work on women’s issues.

During the campaign, Borodkin sent out a mailing questioning whether Foster would recuse herself from votes involving Foster’s son, David, who is a Capitol lobbyist. Borodkin said she didn’t think the negative mailing had backfired.

“There is nothing there that isn’t true,” Borodkin said. “Sometimes I get the feeling integrity doesn’t matter anymore.”

Borodkin also called the more than $100,000 raised by Foster for the campaign “a bit obscene.”

Foster, meanwhile, said she was moving on from the primary battle.

“I think the moral of the story is that hard work pays off,” Foster said. “Voters saw all my hard work on the Denver City Council for 10 years. I think people remembered that, and know my history.”

Foster will face Republican Bob Lane in November. The last round of redistricting tilted SD 35 heavily in the Democrats’ favor, however, and furthermore, Foster said the work of outgoing SD 35 Sen. Ken Gordon, who endorsed Foster early in the primary race, will help her in the general election.

“I think all the hard work Ken has done, and how responsive he has been, will be very, very beneficial,” Foster said.

HD 6 Democrats: Lois Court over Liz Adams and Josh Hanfling

In the race to replace term-limited House Speaker Andrew Romanoff, Lois Court won 44 percent of the vote, while former legislative council staffer Liz Adams took 38 percent and businessman and philanthropist Josh Hanfling won 17 percent.

“I did not accept special interest money. I accepted the spending limit, and I have more experience than them,” Court said of why she prevailed.

Court’s experience in get-out-the-vote efforts no doubt helped her in the primary.

I think that with mail balloting coming a month earlier than election day, campaigns need to realize election day is a month early,” she said of her strategy.

Court has worked on public policy campaigns 25 years, and has often stated that she fought against everything Douglas Bruce tried to pass in the 1990s. (Unfortunately, Court and Bruce won’t face off Legislature, after Bruce’s loss to Mark Waller in HD 15).

Assuming she beats Republican Joshua Sharf in the heavily Democratic district, Court said her first priority would be to reform the ballot initiative process.

Hanfling raised by far the most money in the race: $108,049, compared to $65,902 for Court and $60,676 for Adams. That got him only 17 percent of the vote, however. Hanfling, who was registered as a Republican until mid-2006, said the distrust of party insiders over his loyalties contributed to his poor showing.

“The Democratic Party is a strong, solid group of people,” he said. “It’s a very hard thing to overcome. There’s a very solid existing party-base that sticks to their own.”

Adams, who won top line on the ballot after a strong performance at the Denver County Assembly, could not be reached for comment.

HD 6 Republicans: Joshua Sharf over Rima Sinclair

On the Republican side, Sharf bested opponent Rima Sinclair 71 percent to 29 percent. Sharf, a political blogger and radio host called Sinclair “a terror apologist and an avowed enemy of Israel with no credible conservative credentials” during the campaign. Sinclair denied the charges, noting that her campaign manager was Jewish.

After Sinclair was placed on the HD 6 GOP primary ballot, Sharf was so concerned that he petitioned on. Sharf now faces an uphill battle against Court in the Democrat-dominated Denver district.

Sharf’s blog, “View from a Height,” can be read at www.jsharf.com/view/.

HD 8 Democrats: Beth McCann over Matt Bergles and Cindy Lowery

The three-way race in HD 8 was supposed to be the closest in the state, but McCann won handily, taking 49 percent of the vote. Retired high school teacher Matt Bergles won 32 percent and health care attorney Cindy Lowery took 19 percent.

“It was a little surprising,” McCann said. “I think the investment that I’ve had in the community and in the neighborhoods is one of the reasons. I don’t think that either Matt or Cindy have spent as much time or know as many people.”

McCann has lived in the district 33 years.

“I think the major distinction is the major breadth and depth of experience I have,” McCann said. In addition to her work in the AG’s office, McCann headed Denver’s Safe City office following the city’s 1993 “Summer of Violence.”

The GOP hasn’t fielded a candidate, so McCann has all but officially won the legislative seat. As a legislator, McCann said health care reform, education, encouraging the development of alternative energy sources and youth violence prevention would be major interests.

Bergles said as a newcomer to the political process, McCann, who ran for Denver District Attorney in 2004, presented a number of challenges.

“It’s hard to compete against Beth, who had name recognition,” he said. “She had campaign infrastructure already in place from her DA race, she had solid financial backing. She was able to put that all together and swamp the district.”

In a mathematical miracle, all three candidates got more than 30 percent of the vote at the Denver County Assembly, and qualified for the ballot. Bergles says that changed the dynamics of the race.

“Three candidates in the race did not bode well for me. I think Cindy and I split the vote. I maintained all along if there was any vote-splitting would happen, it would be between Cindy and I as the newcomers.”

“You could make a case that a two-person race would have been a different outcome. Given my margin over Cindy, had I been in the race just against Beth, it would have been closer.”

Bergles, who had the endorsement of outgoing HD 8 Rep. Rosemary Marshall, said if he had to do anything over, he would have hired a full-time campaign manager and a financial manager to raise more funds early on.

And what’s next for Bergles? Besides spending more time with his two young kids, he said he would like to work for a non-profit focusing on environmental issues, and that he would likely give CD 2 candidate Wil Shafroth a call in the near future.

Lowery, the former president of the Denver Young Democrats, took the long view.

“I think all three of us ran good campaigns, and I feel that we shaped some of the discussions in this election,” she said. “I definitely think it was worth it, and I’m happy I was part of the conversation.”

HD 22 Democrats: Camile Ryckman over Vince Chowdhury

People who are convicted of third degree assault against 16-year-old girls aren’t very popular.

That was the message in the House District 22 primary race, when homemaker Camile Ryckman crushed Jefferson County School Board member Vince Chowdhury, who pleaded guilty to an assault charge in July after he slapped and allegedly choked his teenage daughter.

Chowdhury’s downfall was sudden, especially given that many party insiders were expecting him to win the primary, given his long track record of public service and high name identification. But when the assault story broke, the Democrats closed ranks. Endorsements from party leaders flowed to Ryckman, and House Speaker Andrew Romanoff said the race became “much clearer” after Chowdhury pleaded guilty.

The message to Chowdhury was loud and clear, and he dejectedly suspended his campaign, but declined to formally withdraw. He has also resisted calls for him to resign from the Jeffco School Board, despite a formal request from the board in July that he step down. A recall effort has been organized by several Jefferson County activists, and Chowdhury could be forced from the board by next year if the recall effort succeeds.

In the end, Chowdhury wound up with less than 600 votes, and many observers were surprised he pulled that many. Ryckman took 2,930. The percentage was 83 percent to 17. It was a landslide.

Ryckman will face incumbent Republican Ken Summers in the general election.

HD 24 Democrats: Sue Schafer vs. Dave Ruchman, too close to call

As of press time, this Wheat Ridge race was too close to call. Sue Schafer, the former state education curriculum director, held a 17-vote lead over Dave Ruchman, an RTD board member. The Jefferson County Clerk and Recorder’s office has 10 days after the election to determine whether to hold a recount. The office said that, at this point, the 17-vote difference results in .69 percent margin, higher than the .5 percent margin needed to trigger an automatic recount. However, the office said, provisional ballots and some disputed ballots remain to be counted.

Ruchman has said he will ask for a recount regardless. But if the margin stays over .5 percent, he’d have to pay for the recount himself.

HD 48 Republicans: Glenn Vaad over Marc Yingling

Incumbent Rep. Glenn Vaad held off challenger Marc Yingling, but by just 6 percent. The race went to Vaad 53 percent to 47 percent, although Yingling never put up a Web site.

Yingling consistently blasted Vaad on the campaign trail for being too liberal. And the Colorado Alliance for a Secure America, a group of illegal immigration opponents, attacked Vaad for one of his legislative votes, putting out three mailers, two letters and one robo-call attacking Vaad’s voting record.

Vaad said the attacks distorted his record — and won despite them. Vaad is favored to win against Democratic opponent Bill Williams in November.

HD 30 Democrats: Dave Rose over Mark Nicastle

Former Brighton mayor Dave Rose took 55 percent of the vote against Adams County public-safety officer Mark Nicastle in the battle for the open seat, vacated by term-limited Rep. Mary Hodge.

Adams County Democratic Chair Pat Moore said there was little political difference between the candidates, and characterized the race as a battle between “two headstrong boys.”

Instead, the focus was on their differences in experience. Rose, a school principal, is a political veteran who, in addition to serving as Brighton mayor, served on the Brighton City Council and as an Adams County RTD representative. Nicastle, on the other hand, is completely new to politics, and yearned to bring a police investigator’s viewpoint to the Legislature.

Rose will face Republican small-business owner Kevin Priola in the district, which hasn’t been represented by a Republican in 30 years.

HD 62 Democratic primary

Neither Rep. Rafael Gallegos, D-Antonito, nor Costilla County Commissioner Ed Vigil got the 30 percent of the vote they needed at the HD 62 Democratic Assembly to qualify for the Democratic primary ballot in this San Luis Valley district — but both could still be in the running in November.

Single payer health care advocate Dr. Rocky White won 55 percent of the vote in a three way-race at the HD 62 Assembly in May. However, Vigil who wisely decided to begin gathering signatures in advance of the assembly, barely gathered enough to qualify for the ballot by petitioning. And he turned the tables on White in the Democratic primary, winning by more than two-to-one. Vigil cleaned up in Pueblo, where he won more than 80 percent of the vote.

Vigil will face Republican Randy Jackson in the Democratic-leaning district. But he also may face a third-party challenge from the incumbent Gallegos, who was not on the primary ballot, but who has until Aug. 26 to determine whether he will file as a write-in candidate.