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State Rep. Pete Lee reveals bid for Mike Merrifield’s Senate seat at Democratic forum in Colorado Springs

Author: Ernest Luning - September 3, 2017 - Updated: September 5, 2017

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Democrat state Sen. Michael Merrifield, left, and state Rep. Pete Lee sit together during a joint session on the opening day of the Colorado General Assembly on Wednesday, January 7, 2015. (Photo by Jerilee Bennett/The Gazette, File)Democrat state Sen. Michael Merrifield, left, and state Rep. Pete Lee sit together during a joint session on the opening day of the Colorado General Assembly on Wednesday, January 7, 2015. (Photo by Jerilee Bennett/The Gazette, File)

State Rep. Pete Lee, a term-limited Colorado Springs Democrat, announced Saturday night that he’s running for the Senate District 11 seat held by state Sen. Mike Merrifield in next year’s election.

Lee was among several candidates for Congress, the Colorado Legislature and statewide offices at a three-hour forum sponsored by the El Paso County Democratic Party and the Colorado College Democrats at the college’s Armstrong Hall. Roughly 100 students and community members showed up to hear the candidates describe their platforms and answer questions.

Merrifield didn’t respond to an email inquiry from Colorado Politics, but according to Lee, Merrifield does not plan to seek a second term.

Two of the four declared Democratic gubernatorial candidates — former State Treasurer Cary Kennedy and businessman Noel Ginsburg — also appeared at the forum. The other two, U.S. Rep. Jared Polis and former state Sen. Michael Johnston, sent representatives to a mixer beforehand but didn’t participate in the discussion. (Lt. Gov. Donna Lynne is exploring a run but hasn’t made her candidacy official.)

Kennedy and Ginsburg were in agreement that the Taxpayer Bill of Rights, which limits government spending, needs to be revised, saying the 1992 constitutional amendment doesn’t allow funding for education to keep pace with Colorado’s growth.

“If we don’t take on TABOR,” Ginsburg said, “we can’t solve our education problems.” He said he’d work to pass “TABOR 2.0,” which would retain the right of voters to approve tax increases but strip its ratcheting effects that suppress spending after economic downturns.

Blaming TABOR for starving schools for decades, Kennedy lamented that Colorado ranks 42nd in state funding for K-12 education, despite having a booming economy. She noted that she wrote Amendment 23, the only measure to increase state funding for education approved by voters in the past three decades.

“We can’t let our state become the next California. We need to keep Colorado affordable, we need to protect our state’s open spaces and public lands,” Kennedy said.

She also took aim at the Trump administration. “We are going to fight the nonsense we see in Washington,” she said. “We will fight (President) Donald Trump in the courthouse and in the statehouse. We are not going to let him take this state backwards.”

Ginsburg pointed to his role helping found the Colorado I Have A Dream Foundation, which shepherds classes of third-graders through college — “turning a 90-percent dropout rate into a 90-percent graduation rate” — and said it typified the approach he would take to governing the state.

“My form of leadership is to take on difficult problems, to build coalitions and make difficult things happen for the state of Colorado,” he said.

Merrifield, a Colorado Springs Democrat, is serving his first term representing one of the few districts in the Colorado Springs area in which Democrats have an advantage. The Senate district includes downtown Colorado Springs and surrounding neighborhoods, stretching south to Stratmoor and west to Manitou Springs. At the end of August, 33 percent of its active, registered voters were Democrats, 25 percent were Republican, and 39 percent were unaffiliated.

Legislative candidates in attendance included state Rep. Tony Exum, who is seeking reelection to House District 17; Terry Martinez and Graham Anderson, who are running in a primary for Lee’s House District 18 see; and Liz Rosenbaum, running in House District 21.

The Democrats running in the 5th Congressional District included Betty Field and Stephany Rose Spaulding, and newly announced candidate Marcus Murphy, a civil rights attorney who introduced himself as a Bernie Sanders supporter.

Also participating were secretary of state candidates Jena Griswold and Gabriel McArthur; state Rep. Steve Lesock, a Thornton Democrat running for state treasurer; and attorney general candidates Michael Dougherty, Brad Levin and Phil Weiser, who were joined on stage by a surrogate representing state Rep. Joe Salazar, a Thornton Democrat.

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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