CongressElection 2018EnvironmentNews

Sierra Club endorses Democratic congressional candidate Jason Crow, but primary rival cries foul

Author: Ernest Luning - March 7, 2018 - Updated: March 7, 2018

Jason CrowDemocratic congressional candidate Jason Crow talks about his campaign finance reform proposals during an interview with Colorado Politics on Monday, Feb. 26, 2018, at Stanley Marketplace in Aurora. (Photo by Ernest Luning/Colorado Politics)

Calling him a “climate champion,” the Sierra Club Colorado on Tuesday announced its support for Jason Crow, a Democrat running against incumbent Republican U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman in Colorado’s 6th Congressional District — but one of Crow’s primary opponents blasted the endorsement as an example of a “rigged system” favoring party insiders.

“A supporter of the Paris Climate Accord, in Congress Jason will champion Colorado’s role as a national leader in renewable energy technology research and production while protecting our clean air and water, our public lands, and our public health,” said Lloyd Burton, who chairs the Sierra Club Colorado Environmental Justice Committee, in a statement.

The conservation organization — the nation’s largest — pointed to a proposal by the Crow campaign to “protect our wild and public places, make America a leader on climate action once again, and transition the country off of dirty fuels,” and the group’s national director pledged to mobilize members to elect Crow.

“Jason’s commitment to reject the ploys of corporate polluters and set a plan in place to transition America onto 100 percent clean energy further cements his status as a climate champion,” said Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune in a statement.

Levi Tillemann, a clean energy expert and one of three other Democrats running in the suburban battleground district, called the endorsement outrageous and said it was another example of national Democrats putting their thumb on the scale in a primary.

“At first I thought this was a headline from The Onion,” Tillemann, the author of a book about transitioning automobiles to clean energy sources, told Colorado Politics. “The Sierra Club is endorsing a white collar, criminal defense lawyer who has literally defended frackers? I’ve spent my entire life building out the clean energy agenda. Some endorsements are won. Others are bought. Clearly, this falls into the second category.”

Last summer, Tillemann tore into Crow’s record as an attorney at law firm Holland & Hart, where he was a member of legal teams that defended an oil and gas company charged with killing migratory birds in North Dakota, among a number of other cases Tillemann contended were at odds with Crow’s positions as a candidate.

Pushing back against Tillemann’s attack, a Crow campaign spokeswoman maintained that his record as an attorney, including being named Denver’s volunteer lawyer of the year for pro bono work helping vulnerable community members, spoke for itself.

“At a time when Congress and Congressman Mike Coffman refuse to serve as a check on Donald Trump, when the rule of law is under assault, and when millions of everyday Americans need a Congress that’s on their side — anyone who thinks Jason Crow’s experience and profile is anything but a strength doesn’t have a clue about Jason or what’s actually going on in the country or here in the 6th Congressional District,” Alex Ball, Crow’s campaign manager, told Colorado Politics.

But on Tuesday, Tillemann argued the latest endorsement underlined his point that establishment Democrats have been tilting the scales toward Crow at the expense of a candidate who better embodies party values.

“Jason has no positive environmentlal record to point to,” said Tillemann, who was an advisor to the Department of Energy under President Barack Obama and is managing partner of a consulting firm that offers advice about what it calls the “transformative industries of the 21st century.”

“I have made significant contributions to revolutionizing our energy economy and dealing with climate change, not only in private industry, but in government, scholarship and as an advocate,” Tillemann said. “The Sierra Club endorsement is really a testament to the (Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s) ability to secure any endorsement for Crow, no matter how thin on its merits.”

Tillemann said in January that he’s been pressured by national Democrats to step aside for Crow in the race, one of dozens targeted by the DCCC, which added Crow last year to a program for candidates who meet organizing and fundraising goals.

Crow, for his part, said he was honored to receive the Sierra Club’s support.

“Our children are fifth generation Coloradans, and I am running to make sure that we leave future generations with a better world,” Crow said in a statement. He added that he looks forward “to working with (the Sierra Club’s) members to fight for our environment and ensure we have a safe and healthy community. Climate change is the greatest threat facing our planet and we must combat it while being a world leader in sustainability and growing our economy. Our campaign is building a coalition that can act on our values and move our country in a better direction. And we are proud to be partnering with Sierra Club in that fight.”

Colorado’s primary election is June 26.

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.