Election 2018News

Polis picks former state lawmaker Dianne Primavera as running mate

Author: Ernest Luning - July 2, 2018 - Updated: July 5, 2018

PolisDemocratic nominee for Colorado governor, U.S. Rep. Jared Polis, right, poses with his lieutenant governor running mate, Dianne Primavera, outside their campaign headquarters July 2 in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

U.S. Rep. Jared Polis, the Democratic nominee for Colorado governor, plans to tap former state Rep. Dianne Primavera to be his running mate, Colorado Politics has learned.

Polis, a five-term U.S. congressman from Boulder, plans to introduce Primavera, a former counselor and the CEO of a nonprofit that fights breast cancer, during what the campaign is describing as a listening tour devoted to health care concerns on the Western Slope on Tuesday.

Republican nominee Walker Stapleton, the two-term state treasurer, has yet to name his running mate.

Polis said he picked Primavera, 68, from among a half-dozen finalists for the lieutenant governor nomination because her broad experience in health care augments his experience with education — two issues the Democrats say will be at the center of their campaign. (The Polis campaign declined to name the other finalists.)

“We really wanted someone who complemented my background and was a proven fighter for Colorado,” Polis said in an exclusive interview with Colorado Politics Monday. “That’s something Dianne’s not only been passionate about, but has the experience to help transform that bold idea into reality. There’s no one tougher. She’s beat cancer four times, and I know that she’s ready to beat Trump and to help make sure we can save people money on health care.”

Polis added that Primavera’s experience across a range of health care roles — working for the state, setting policy and running a nonprofit — as well as her ability to win an election in a competitive district helped him with his decision.

Primavera, a 29-year survivor of breast cancer, has headed the Denver-based Susan G. Komen Colorado foundation since last year.

She won election four times to the Broomfield-based House District 33 — but also lost twice, including the first time she ran in 2004 and in her 2010 bid for re-election in what turned out to be the closest race in the state. (Primavera won the seat back in 2012 and served two more terms.)

At the statehouse, Primavera chaired and sat on the public health care, human services, health insurance and state audit committees.

“I’ve walked in people’s shoes, having survived cancer, having been a single mom, having lost my health insurance and my job, wondering if I was ever going to be hired again,” Primavera said in an interview. “For me, it’s really important to protect some of the protections we have in place. We want to make sure people with pre-existing conditions have health insurance, and, once they get it, it’s something that they can afford and it’s high-quality. It shouldn’t depend on your ZIP Code, it shouldn’t depend on the color of your skin, it shouldn’t depend on your education level.”

She added that her experience battling cancer — including surviving three more bouts since an initial breast cancer diagnosis when she was 38 — will help secure health care for Coloradans.

“I was healthy as a horse. I was the picture of health. So to all of a sudden be facing the Grim Reaper,” she said, throwing up her hands. “I turned over every rock to try to figure out the ‘why me?’ It was really painful. It was really painful and lonely and scary. Then, when I got to the state Legislature and the first couple bills they asked me to carry were cancer-related, I realized that was the ‘why me,’ that I could take that painful journey and do something with it to help other people survive.”

Both candidates said the listening tour — with stops scheduled in Grand Junction, Delta, Silverton and Durango — would be emblematic of their approach to the fall campaign.

“My training has been as a counselor, so one of the skills I think I bring best to the discussion is listening,” Primavera said. “I think it’s important to listen to what people are going through, what their needs are, what some of the obstacles are.”

Polis added: “Our goal is to do two things. One is to save people money. Then we want some of those savings to go to expanding access and covering more people with a goal of universal coverage.”

Stapleton and state Republicans have hammered Polis’ support for universal coverage or a single-payer health care system, arguing that state voters rejected that approach when they turned down a 2016 ballot measure to establish a state-based single-payer system by an overwhelming margin.

“Dianne brings amazing talent and integrity and drive to the lieutenant governor position,” Polis said.

“We’ll want to make sure that she has the opportunity to work on saving Coloradans money on health care, expanding access to health care, protecting consumers and really leveraging her lifetime of experience … interacting with the health care system personally, in state agencies, in nonprofits and legislatively, working to expand health care to more Coloradans.”

Bob Loevy, a retired Colorado College political science professor and longtime political analyst, suggested with a chuckle that Primavera should enjoy her time in the spotlight, because it likely won’t last.

“The function of the lieutenant governor is to replace the governor if something happens,” he told Colorado Politics. “We’re required by the (state) constitution to have one. But I would be hard pressed to think of a Colorado gubernatorial election where any attention was paid to who the lieutenant governor candidates were.”

He added: “These are the three days we will pay attention to who the lieutenant governor nominee is. From there on, their fate will depend on the election, and then it’ll be up to the governor how important they are.”

The Polis campaign teased the announcement Monday on Twitter, providing several clues — including that his pick is a Colorado native, owns two dogs and two fish, and recently became a grandparent.

Ernest Luning

Ernest Luning

Ernest Luning is a political correspondent for Colorado Politics. He has covered politics and government for newspapers and online news sites in Colorado for more than 25 years, including at the Highlands Ranch Herald, the Jefferson Sentinels chain of community newspapers and the Aurora Sentinel, where he was the city hall and cops reporter. After editing the Aurora Daily Sun, he was a political reporter and blogger for The Colorado Independent site. For nearly a decade, he was a senior political reporter and occasional editor at The Colorado Statesman before the 119-year-old publication merged with Colorado Politics in 2017.