Election 2018LegislatureNews

Colorado Senate candidate who ‘glitter-bombed’ Mitt Romney quits Democratic primary, mounts independent bid

Author: Ernest Luning - February 26, 2018 - Updated: February 27, 2018

Senate District 32 candidate Peter Smith announced he's no longer a registered Democrat and plans to campaign as an independent for the Denver seat currently represented by term-limited state Sen. Irene Aguilar, D-Denver. (Photo courtesy Peter Smith)Senate District 32 candidate Peter Smith announced he’s no longer a registered Democrat and plans to campaign as an independent for the Denver seat currently represented by term-limited state Sen. Irene Aguilar, D-Denver. (Photo courtesy Peter Smith)

Charging that the Democratic establishment has already picked its nominee, Senate District 32 candidate Peter Smith, who gained national attention when he “glitter-bombed” Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney in Denver six years ago, said this week he’s left the Democratic Party and plans to run for the seat as an independent.

Initially issued a citation for three misdemeanors, including “throwing a missile,” Smith eventually faced a single charge and had to perform some community service after he showered Romney with glitter at a crowded campaign event the night of Colorado’s 2012 Republican caucuses. Smith says he regrets raising concerns over Romney’s safety, although he stands by the message he was trying to convey — ““I used the opportunity to push the boundaries of my First Amendment rights,” he told Colorado Politics — but now he’s channeling his political impulses toward the ballot.

Before Smith, a self-described “life-long Democrat,” dropped his affiliation, there were six Democrats running for the south-central Denver Senate seat held by term-limited state Sen. Irene Aguilar, D-Denver, but he insists the fix has been in from the start for one of them — Robert Rodriguez, a former vice chair of the Denver Democratic Party.

“They have decided it’s his turn,” Smith told Colorado Politics.

Comparing the situation to what he termed the “backroom means” that put the party’s thumb on the scale for Hillary Clinton over Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders in the 2016 presidential contest, Smith said he “(doesn’t) want to see the same thing happen to my district, where we push a candidate who is entwined with the party establishment.”

That’s why Smith said he quietly changed his registration to unaffiliated in late December and plans to petition onto the November ballot. (Unaffiliated legislative candidates can start circulating petitions in May and have to gather 600 valid signatures for a Senate seat.)

“I’ve watched my party, nationally, support candidates who obviously shouldn’t have been nominated and have made my country worse off,” Smith said. “I’ve seen the establishment in my state party choose candidates who align with party ideas instead of what the people want.”

Rodriguez has been endorsed by top Denver Democrats, including Aguilar, House Speaker Crisanta Duran and Senate Minority Leader Lucia Guzman. The candidate’s father, Mannie Rodriguez, was elected deputy 2nd vice chair of the state party last year and was a longtime member of the Democratic National Committee. The party, however, says it’s maintaining strict neutrality in the primary.

For his part, Rodriguez scoffed at Smith’s suggestion that his nomination is a done deal and sounded miffed that Smith had continued to appear at Democratic Party candidate forums after leaving the party.

“I had no idea Mr. Smith changed his party affiliation last year — we just appeared at a forum together with the Denver Democrats,” Rodriguez told Colorado Politics. “I am committed to bringing people together to fight for universal pre-K, healthcare for all and criminal justice reform. I wish Mr. Smith the best.”

JoyAnn Ruscha, the state political director for the Sanders campaign in Colorado and a one-time Rodriguez campaign consultant, called Smith’s contention “silly” and said it would be news to Rodriguez and his supporters that they weren’t in the middle of a hard-fought primary.

“Robert’s a stand-up guy; we’d be lucky to have him in the state Senate,” she added.

The other Democrats campaigning for the seat are Zach Neumann Lance Wright, Hazel Gibson and Risa White. No Republican has filed to run in the district.

Smith said he was also moved to run as independent because of the “intense partisanship” he sees in the General Assembly. “I have the opportunity to be the only independent and could be the sole independent in a divided Senate,” he said. “I would force both parties to reach across the aisle.”

He pointed to the lack of affordable housing in Colorado as a problem that has defied legislative solutions because the Democratic-controlled House and Republican-controlled Senate won’t meet in the middle. He said last year’s landmark construction defects package — passed unanimously in both chambers — still fell short due to partisan posturing.

“When we get to crisis level on things we should have agreed on, then we can agree. But we don’t have real solutions. We’re going to let ourselves become San Francisco before we address it.”

Smith asserted that his “very strong liberal values” on other topics — such as establishing Colorado as a sanctuary state — make him the best candidate to represent the heavily Democratic district. “I’m going to ask voters to give me an opportunity to be an honest broker, because this is where my vision and core always lie,” he said.

The 26-year-old website developer noted that he could be the youngest lawmaker at the Capitol, if elected.

“The economy is changing, and a lot of jobs are going to be replaced by automation. There are a lot of things a younger generation understands a lot more. We need that perspective in the Legislature.”

He could also be the first unaffiliated lawmaker elected by Colorado voters — a stretch the campaign organization known as Unite Colorado, which used to be called the Centrist Project, is working to end. Smith said he’s recently reached out out to the group, which aims to elect a handful of unaffiliated lawmakers to do just what Smith envisions by holding the balance of power in one or both legislative chambers, but hasn’t heard back yet.

“I am independent even of the Centrist Project at this time,” he said with a smile.

As far as the target of his famous glitter bomb, Smith said that these days he feels like he has “politically a lot more in common” with Romney, who declared earlier this month he’s running for a U.S. Senate seat in Utah.

“If I could go back and redo it in 2012, it would be hard to convince me not to,” Smith said. “But Utah has a lot of the same values as Colorado, as a Western state, and I assume if he’s choosing to represent Utah, we’re going to have a lot more in common than we used to.”

CORRECTION: Peter Smith was initially cited on three misdemeanor charges for “glitter-bombing” Mitt Romney — including creating a disturbance, throwing a missile and committing an unlawful act on school property — but eventually only faced a single charge.

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. Since 2009, he has been the senior political reporter and occasional editor for The Colorado Statesman.

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