Election 2018LegislatureNews

Democratic state lawmaker Rosenthal denied spot on primary ballot

Author: Ernest Luning - April 8, 2018 - Updated: April 8, 2018

State Rep. Paul Rosenthal, D-Denver, right, embraces a supporter after learning he failed to qualify for the primary ballot at the Democrats' House District 9 assembly on Saturday, April 7, 2018, in Denver. (Photo by Ernest Luning/Colorado Politics)State Rep. Paul Rosenthal, D-Denver, right, embraces a supporter after learning he failed to qualify for the primary ballot at the Democrats’ House District 9 assembly on Saturday, April 7, 2018, in Denver. (Photo by Ernest Luning/Colorado Politics)

Colorado State Rep. Paul Rosenthal’s bid for a third term was cut short Saturday when the Denver Democrat failed to get enough support at a district assembly to make the primary ballot.

Facing criticism for straying from the party line on issues including homelessness and restrictions on oil and gas development, Rosenthal was knocked from contention by two Democratic challengers, policy advocate Ashley Wheeland and social worker and educator Emily Sirota, who both qualified for the House District 9 primary by winning at least 30 percent of delegate votes.

Wheeland took top-line with 39.5 percent, and Sirota got 35.8 percent, while Rosenthal received just 24.7 percent — nearly the same share he received at Denver and Arapahoe county assemblies two weeks earlier.

“This is one of those wave years where a lot of new folks are getting involved, there’s a lot of enthusiasm,” Rosenthal said after results were announced. “They’re looking to some of their core beliefs about the Democratic Party and bills we carry and votes we take, things like that.”

Wheeland said she thought delegates to the assembly were sending a clear message.

“I think the voters — especially the folks who are involved — spoke. They want more activism, they want somebody to lead, someone stronger,” she said in an interview after the vote. She added that she plans to continue emphasizing civil rights, women’s rights and health care as priorities.

Sirota had a similar assessment.

“I believe that these results show this district is ready for a change, they’re ready for a woman to represent southeast Denver and move forward these progressive values we all have around health care, education, worker-friendly policies, protecting our environment,” she said. “I’m really excited to be able to continue that message to the voters in the primary.”

Rosenthal was also the subject of a formal sexual harassment complaint filed with legislative leadership late last year — a factor that encouraged the rare primary challenges, Wheeland and Sirota said when they announced their bids in January.

House Speaker Crisanta Duran D-Denver, dismissed the complaint, which alleged Rosenthal groped an organizer at a 2012 campaign event — something Rosenthal strongly denied — saying the alleged misconduct occurred before the lawmaker was first elected so wasn’t covered by the General Assembly’s harassment policy.

Rosenthal said he didn’t believe the accusation cost him his seat.

“I don’t think so. I think most people looked at that, and they saw there was no merit to it because it had gone through due process, both at the legislature and in public in the media,” he said in an interview.

“I heard it quite a bit from folks — even from people who did not support me — that they did not think that that was an issue. The feedback that I got the most was about a bill or a vote that I took, and I think that’s kind of what helped motivate some people to vote the way they did today.”

The primary election is June 26.

A Republican candidate, Angel Saunders, filed on Thursday to run for the Democratic-leaning seat.

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.