Election 2018FeaturedNews

PRIMARY PREVIEW: 5 Democratic races to watch for the Colo. legislature

Author: Marianne Goodland - June 11, 2018 - Updated: June 15, 2018

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GuzmanColorado Senate Minority Leader Lucia Guzman, D-Denver. Three Democrats are vying to succeed the term-limited Guzman. (Colorado Politics file photo)

There are 18 contested races for state legislative seats heading into the June 26 primary. These are CoPo’s picks for the top five Democratic races to watch.

> RELATED: PRIMARY PREVIEW: 5 Republican races to watch for the Colo. legislature

The biggest turnover at the Capitol this year is in the number of termed-limited Democratic lawmakers from Denver who hold leadership positions in the House and Senate. That turnover has led to hotly contested primaries in three House and two Senate districts.

TWO SENATE RACES TO WATCH

Senate District 32: Southwest and south central Denver.

The contest is to replace Sen. Irene Aguilar, one of the #MeToo leaders in the Senate Democratic caucus that tried to expel Sen. Randy Baumgardner for sexual harassment allegations found credible in three separate investigations.

Hazel Gibson, Zach Neumann and Robert Rodriguez are all vying on the Democratic side for the chance to succeed Aguilar. Neumann and Rodriguez are neck-and-neck on fundraising, with Rodriquez holding a $1,000 advantage over Neumann. Neumann, who calls himself a social entrepreneur, has raised $132,350; Rodriguez has taken in $133,500. Gibson lags in third with about $25,300 in contributions.

Why this race matters: This race is drawing a lot of money, rare for a primary contest. And a lot of those dollars are coming from outside the district and from out-of-state donors.

Neumann has taken in more than 1,000 donations, but only about one-fourth of them come from Denver. About 700 donations come from out-of-state donors. Rodriguez’ biggest donor is himself; he’s put about $70,000 of his own money into the race.

Aguilar backs Rodriguez, a former vice chair of the Denver Democratic Party, as does Speaker of the House Crisanta Duran. The most notable donation to Gibson, a community volunteer and stay-at-home mom to an autistic child, is from House Majority Leader KC Becker of Boulder.

This is a safe Democratic seat, so the primary winner will likely be taking the state Senate seat come January. There are more than 42,000 active Democratic voters in the district, compared to 34,437 unaffiliated voters and 15,382 Republicans.

Senate District 34: Central Denver, including downtown

Why this race matters: it will determine who succeeds Sen. Lucia Guzman, who until recently was the Senate minority leader. She stepped down from that position in protest for the way Senate Republicans handled the sexual harassment allegations against Baumgardner.

This is another three-way contest among Democrats, featuring Julia Gonzales, policy director for Meyer Law; civil rights attorney Alan Kennedy-Shaffer and Edward “Milo” Schwab, also a civil rights attorney.

Gonzales leads in fundraising with $61,491 raised, compared to Kennedy-Shaffer’s $24,926 and Schwab’s $16,946. Gonzales has taken contributions from Aguilar, former state Sen. Jessie Ulibarri, former Speaker Mark Ferrandino, leadership political action committees run by Reps. Leslie Herod and Faith Winter, former state Democratic Party chair Rick Palacio and Denver District Attorney Beth McCann. Kennedy-Shaffer has put almost $10,000 of his own funds into the race.

This is also a solidly Democratic seat, with Democrats (43,270) outnumbering both Republicans (10.036) and unaffiliated (31,996) active voters combined.

THREE TO WATCH IN THE HOUSE

House District 5: North and west-central Denver

Why this race matters: This is to replace Speaker of the House Crisanta Duran, and it’s drawn four Democratic challengers, the most of any primary. It’s also drawing a lot of big campaign loans from two of the four candidates.

In the running are business owner Alex Valdez; Meghan Nutting, a renewable energy advocate; former state Rep. Joel Judd and political activist Nicky Yollick. Until two weeks ago, the fundraising contest was between Valdez, with $77,500 raised to Nutting’s $69,500.

But in the last two weeks, Judd loaned his campaign $40,000, bringing total loans to $64,000 with another $6,898 in contributions. Not to be outdone, Yollick loaned his campaign $80,000, coupled with $2,658 in contributions. Valdez has put almost $15,000 of his own money into the campaign, including $5,000 in loans.

Valdez is backed with donations from PACs run by Duran, Herod, Sen. Dominick Moreno, Reps. Alec Garnett and Paul Rosenthal; a slew of Capitol lobbyists and Palacio. Nutting’s donor list is dominated by those outside of Denver and Colorado; about two-thirds of her donations come from out-of-state pockets.

This is among one of the safest Democratic seats in the House, with active Democratic voters outnumbering all others, with 25,245, compared to 4,794 Republicans and 15,573 unaffiliated voters.

House District 4: northwest Denver

Why this race matters: Rep. Daniel Pabon is term-limited and decided not to run for the state Senate. There are three Democrats vying for this seat, another very safe Democratic district where Democrats outnumber all other party or unaffiliated voter numbers.

This three-way primary features Amy Beatie, executive director of the Colorado Water Trust, who holds a strong money lead with $91,750 raised, all in donations of $400 or less. She’s followed by Serena Gonzales-Gutierrez, director of the Denver Collaborative Partnership, with $38,856, also in amounts of $400 or less; and Ed Britt with $4,873, which includes $4,000 of his own money.

Gonzales-Gutierrez has attracted donations from PACs run by Duran, Moreno, Herod and Sen. Angela Williams. Beatie has taken contributions from PACs run by Reps. Jeni Arndt and Chris Hansen and from Hickenlooper water czar John Stulp.

House District 9: Southeast Denver, including Glendale, with a small portion in Arapahoe County.

Why this race matters: Perhaps the most high-profile race for the legislature features a contest between political activist Emily Sirota, who comes from the Bernie Sanders wing of the Democratic party; and Ashley Wheeland, a former political director for Planned Parenthood.

The winner will move on to the general election and a bid to replace Rep. Paul Rosenthal, who lost his attempt for a fourth term at the Denver Democratic party assembly. Rosenthal was one of two House Democrats accused of sexual harassment; his accuser’s allegation was dismissed by Duran because the alleged incident took place before he was a member of the House.

The district is also strongly Democratic, with 20,195 active party voters, compared to 17,907 unaffiliated voters and 9,672 Republican active voters.

Sirota leads Wheeland with $104,504 in contributions to Wheeland’s $42,734. Sirota has benefited from her affiliation with Sanders, drawing in thousands of dollars from his endorsement and a Sanders-generated fundraising call. However, it also means that her campaign war chest is funded from outside Colorado; just 12 percent of her more than 2,200 donations show a Denver address.

Wheeland has drawn donations from Herod’s PAC, Aguilar, Becker, Palacio; Reps. Dafna Michaelson Jenet, Brittany Pettersen and Tracy Kraft-Tharp;  and former U.S. Sen. Ken Salazar.

Marianne Goodland

Marianne Goodland

Marianne Goodland is the chief legislative reporter for Colorado Politics. She's covered the Colorado General Assembly for 20 years, starting off in 1998 with the Silver & Gold Record, the editorially-independent newspaper at CU that was shuttered in 2009. She also writes for six rural newspapers in northeastern Colorado. Marianne specializes in rural issues, agriculture, water and, during election season, campaign finance. In her free time (ha!) she lives in Lakewood with her husband, Jeff; a cantankerous Shih-Tzu named Sophie; and Gunther the cat. She is also an award-winning professional harpist.