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Democrat Andy Kerr formally announces he’s running for Congressional District 7 seat

Author: Ernest Luning - April 13, 2017 - Updated: April 13, 2017

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State Sen. Andy Kerr, D-Lakewood, declares he's running for the 7th Congressional District seat as his wife, Tammy, and his two oldest children, Kennedy and Braden, stand by his side on Wednesday, April 12, 2017, at Dunston Middle School in Lakewood. (Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman)
State Sen. Andy Kerr, D-Lakewood, declares he’s running for the 7th Congressional District seat as his wife, Tammy, and their two oldest children, Kennedy and Braden, stand by his side on Wednesday, April 12, 2017, at Dunston Middle School in Lakewood. (Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman)

“My name is Andy Kerr, and I am running for Congress,” the Democratic state senator told a crowd of family, friends, colleagues and supporters filling the gymnasium as he began his speech at Dunstan Middle School in Lakewood on Wednesday afternoon.

It’s the same way U.S. Rep. Ed Perlmutter — at that time a former state senator from a nearby district — introduced himself, approaching “every hand in the room that would shake his” a little over a decade ago when he was running in the Democratic primary for an open seat representing the 7th Congressional District, Kerr recalled.

“It was a statement so simple and direct that it gave me hope that we could escape the Bush era and have a few voices out there like ours,” Kerr said. “It is time again that our voice is heard. We have gone off the rails and it is time again for us to lift together and get this train back on the tracks.”

Just about a minute later, after describing to the crowd the case he plans to make — “why my experience both within and outside of government gives me the preparation and perspective to be an effective representative” — Kerr concluded with the same simple, direct statement: ““My name is Andy Kerr, and I am running for Congress.”

And with that, Kerr officially became the second Democrat running in next year’s election for the open seat resulting from Perlmutter’s decision to run for governor of Colorado.

House Majority Whip Brittany Pettersen, also a Lakewood Democrat, kicked off her campaign for the battleground seat on Sunday, and state Sen. Dominck Moreno, a Commerce City Democrat, has said he’s leaning toward running.

The suburban 7th Congressional District lies to the north and west of Denver, including Lakewood, Edgewater, Wheat Ridge, Arvada, Westminster, Northglenn, Thornton, Federal Heights and parts of Commerce City, in addition to other areas in Jefferson and Adams counties.

Democrats outnumber Republicans in the 7th CD, although unaffiliated voters make up the largest share. Of the district’s 452,491 active registered voters, 34.5 percent are Democrats, 26.4 percent are Republicans and 37.1 percent are unaffiliated, according to the most recent figures available from the Colorado secretary of state’s office. (The remainder are Libertarians, Greens, American Constitution Party members or belong to the Unity Party of Colorado, in that order.)

State Sen. Andy Kerr, D-Lakewood, and his family — his wife, Tammy, and his children, Griffin, 7, Kennedy, 11, and Braden, 13, listen as Kerr's former student Nadia Belkin introduces him at the launch of his congressional campaign on Wednesday, April 12, 2017, at Dunston Middle School in Lakewood, where Kerr taught geography to seventh-graders for nearly a decade. (Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman)
State Sen. Andy Kerr, D-Lakewood, and his family — his wife, Tammy, and their  children, Griffin, 7, Kennedy, 11, and Braden, 13, listen as Kerr’s former student Nadia Belkin introduces him at the launch of his congressional campaign on Wednesday, April 12, 2017, at Dunston Middle School in Lakewood. Kerr taught geography to seventh-graders there for nearly a decade. (Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman)

It’s considered a swing seat, and national Republicans painted a target on it earlier this year, even though Perlmutter has won each of his six elections in the district by at least double digits.

No Republican candidates have stepped forward yet, although several have said they’re weighing a run: Jefferson County Commissioner Libby Szabo, a former House minority leader; former Jefferson County GOP Chairman Don Ytterberg, who lost a bid challenging Perlmutter in 2014; and businessman and one-time U.S. Senate candidate Jerry Natividad.

Kerr has represented Senate District 22 since winning the seat in 2012 and had served three terms in the House before that. He sits on the Senate Education and Finance committees.

Along with former House Speaker Dickey Lee Hullinghorst, Kerr is the lead plaintiff in a slowly moving lawsuit that challenges the constitutionality of Colorado’s Taxpayer Bill of Rights, arguing that TABOR limits the authority of lawmakers and undermines the state’s republican form of government.

For Kerr, who went to Dunstan and then taught social studies there for nearly a decade after he became a teacher, his campaign launch had the air of a homecoming shared with an enormous extended family. He introduced his parents, his brother, his 101-year-old grandmother — born before women had the right to vote, Kerr said, she was glad she could vote for a women in last year’s presidential election and can’t wait to vote for her grandson for Congress next year — and his immediate family, his wife, Tammy, and their children, Braden, 13, Kennedy, 11, and Griffin, 8, who stood alongside Kerr during the speeches.

In the audience, Perlmutter’s wife, Nancy, stood near members of Kerr’s family, a big smile on her face as Kerr spoke. She made clear to The Colorado Statesman, however, that her presence didn’t signify an endorsement in the primary or anything other than wanting to share an important moment with a decades-long friend.

The two got to know each other just short of 20 years ago, Nancy Perlmutter recalled, when both were on the board of the Jefferson County Education Association, and Kerr was her campaign manager for her two runs for JCEA president, in 2004 and 2006. She noted that she returned the favor by managing his successful campaign for the vacancy appointment to the House District 26 seat after state Rep. Betty Boyd, D-Lakewood, had been appointed to fill a vacancy in a Senate seat.

Skip Kerr and Nancy Perlmutter listen as state Sen. Andy Kerr, Skip's son, announces he's running for the Democratic nomination in the 7th Congressional District, which has been represented by Nancy's husband, U.S. Rep. Ed Perlmutter, for a decade, on Wednesday, April 12, at Dunston Middle School in Lakewood. Perlmutter said she's been close friends with the younger Kerr for nearly two decades and hastened to add she isn't taking sides in the primary, which so far also includes state Rep. Brittany Pettersen, D-Lakewood. (Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman)
Skip Kerr and Nancy Perlmutter listen as state Sen. Andy Kerr, Skip’s son, announces he’s running for the Democratic nomination in the 7th Congressional District, which has been represented by Nancy’s husband, U.S. Rep. Ed Perlmutter, for a decade, on Wednesday, April 12, at Dunston Middle School in Lakewood. Perlmutter said she’s been close friends with the younger Kerr for nearly two decades and hastened to add she isn’t taking sides in the primary, which so far also includes state Rep. Brittany Pettersen, D-Lakewood. (Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman)

“Our friendship is a deep and abiding one that’s been maintained for many years,” she told The Statesman. Then, prompted to relate the nearly apocryphal tale surrounding her first date with Ed Perlmutter — the two met and married a decade ago, “later in life,” as the congressman says — Nancy Perlmutter smiled and leaned in slightly. “The story goes that at one of the events when I was introducing Andy during that vacancy process, there was Ed Perlmutter, who took note of the speaker — me — and said, ‘Maybe I want to ask her out for coffee sometime.’ And the rest, as they say, is history.”

“Colorado is my home, in every sense of the word,” Kerr says at the start of a brief campaign video that played before he took the stage. “It’s where my parents taught me to hike, read, bike and love the outdoors. I was raised here. I went to college here. I got married and started my family here. I teach middle school here, I play with my kids here, and it’s here that I fight for the working families I represent each and every day.”

The theme continued throughout the event, with a former student of Kerr’s welcoming the crowd.

“It has been a true pleasure to watch, as my life unfolds, Andy go from Mr. Kerr to Rep. Kerr to Sen. Kerr, and I truly cannot wait to call him Congressman Kerr,” said Nadia Belkin.

“I have attended numerous events in Lakewood and Sen. Kerr is the first to arrive and the last to leave,” she said. “His commitment to his constituents is truly what will make the difference for Colorado politics in the years and decades to come.”

Former Jefferson County School Board member Lesley Dahlkemper recalled first meeting Kerr “many, many years ago” when she was an education reporter for Colorado Public Radio and she interviewed him at Dunston for a story about the teaching profession.

“I knew immediately that there was something special, very special about him,” she said. “It was about his work ethic, it was about his dedication to making sure that every single one of his students were successful.”

Former Jefferson County School Board Director Lesley Dahlkemper introduces state Sen. Andy Kerr, D-Lakewood, at a rally launching his campaign for Congress in Colorado's 7th District on Wednesday, April 12, 2017, at Dunstan Middle School in Lakewood. (Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman)
Former Jefferson County School Board Director Lesley Dahlkemper introduces state Sen. Andy Kerr, D-Lakewood, at a rally launching his campaign for Congress in Colorado’s 7th District on Wednesday, April 12, 2017, at Dunstan Middle School in Lakewood. (Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman)

After declaring that the decision to hold his kick-off rally at Dunston was easy — “I was raised by this community and I have spent my lifetime fighting to raise it higher” — Kerr painted a dire, urgent portrait of an America threatened by what he later termed the principles of “the top floors of Trump Tower.”

“I cannot deny that the numbers today are on the side of people who use fear and confusion as tools to tear down every institution and set back every hard fought-for advance,” he said.

Kerr framed his top priorities, including the environment, education and civil rights, as national security issues.

“Every time we lose a mind through sexism, racism or the quality of our schools — over poverty, nationalism or over who they love — every time we defund a preschool program to build another prison, we put our nation’s security at risk.”

“Climate change is a national security issue,” he said. “Education is a national security issue. Economic insecurity is national insecurity. We face problems that cannot be solved with missile strikes. The answers begin by teaching young children to read. We start by ensuring that their families have healthy food at the breakfast table. We must feel all the patience and urgency of truth, and build strong communities that widen the circle of opportunity.”

Kerr told reporters after his speech that one of the strengths he can bring to Congress is his experience inside and outside government -— and the fact he has served in both the majority and the minority in both chambers of the General Assembly. Recalling conversations with then-state Sen. Greg Brophy, R-Wray, who had served in the minority for some time, Kerr said he gained an appreciation for how being in the minority can yield better legislators.

“It helps you focus on what’s important in your district and help make sure those priorities get across the finish line,” Kerr said. “Regardless if you’re in the majority or the minority in the Legislature, you still represent your district, and they still expect you to fight. But it looks different if you’re in charge or not in charge. I have that experience of doing both of those, and I think that will be really beneficial to our next congressperson.”

State Sen. Andy Kerr, D-Lakewood, launches his congressional campaign alongside his family — children Griffin, 7, Kennedy, 11, and Braden, 13, and his wife, Tammy —on Wednesday, April 12, 2017, at Dunston Middle School in Lakewood. (Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman)
State Sen. Andy Kerr, D-Lakewood, launches his congressional campaign alongside his family — children Griffin, 7, Kennedy, 11, and Braden, 13, and his wife, Tammy —on Wednesday, April 12, 2017, at Dunston Middle School in Lakewood. (Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman)

Kerr said he supports working toward a single-payer health care system.

“At the end of the day, I think we need to be moving in that direction,” he said. “What we have right now — the Affordable Care Act, which I’m not afraid to call Obamacare — was a step forward for our country. I don’t think it got us all the way there, but I think it got us in the right direction, and I look forward to going to Washington to make sure that we can finish the job.”

He told reporters he hadn’t decided whether to step down from the Legislature as next year’s election approaches, although he sounded like he was leaning against the move.

“We’ll just have to see,” Kerr said. “We’ll just have to see how everything works out. I haven’t made that decision yet, but, certainly, I was elected to a position, and I plan to continue doing it until my time is up.”

He also said he hadn’t decided whether to try to get on the primary ballot through the caucus and assembly process or by petitioning on.

As for President Trump, the mostly unnamed target of numerous jabs in Kerr’s announcement speech, Kerr said the Republican billionaire’s behavior appeared to be opening the door to impeachment.

“I would take a look at the articles of impeachment and make a decision on that,” Kerr said. “He certainly seems to be doing everything he can to make those articles pretty easy to vote for.”

— ernest@coloradostatesman.com

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.