State Sen. Cheri Jahn switches from Democrat to unaffiliated legislator

Author: Joey Bunch - December 29, 2017 - Updated: January 2, 2018

State Sen. Cheri JahnState Sen. Cheri Jahn (Via Facebook)

State Sen. Cheri Jahn will no longer be identified as a Democrat from Wheat Ridge. She announced on Facebook Friday evening that she’s leaving the party to become an unaffiliated member of the legislature.

“To be sure, this was a very difficult decision,” she wrote. “Ultimately, this was a very personal decision and one that will allow me to spend my final year in the General Assembly completely focused on important work at hand and representing residents of Senate District 20. Since first being elected to the House of Representatives in 2000, I have watched our state and national politics become more partisan and polarized. I have always brought an independent voice. I didn’t change, the system changed. This system is terribly broken. I have watched through the years and witnessed that there is more care about politics and those in power than serving people in the state.”

She becomes the first member of the General Assembly to drop out of a party since Rep. Kathleen Curry left the Democratic Party in 2009, then lost her 2010 re-election bid. Curry is working with the Centrist Project to encourage candidates to run as unaffiliated to force Republicans and Democrats to moderate their positions to gain a majority to pass legislation.

Ellen Roberts of Durango, who resigned from the state Senate last year, announced this month that she’s leaving the Republican Party.

Political consultant Eric Sondermann cited Roberts’ status as a moderate — which isn’t dissimilar to Jahn’s — to Colorado Politics’ Marianne Goodland.

“There’s decreasing room for moderates in either party,” he said. “The Republican party has shifted to the right, in some case the crazy right.” Democrats have moved significantly to the left, he said.

“I have prided myself on working with all of my colleagues regardless of party affiliation and I have a great respect for my friends in both parties,” Jahn continued in her statement. “My decision to officially become an Independent will not change the way I represent my constituents. The Unaffiliated voters in my district and statewide deserve representation; they are a significant voting block and their voices are not heard or represented in the state Senate.”

The move shifts the dynamics, potentially, in the state Senate, where Republicans have a one-seat majority over Democrats, counting Jahn. But now Democrats can’t count Jahn, anymore.

Senate Democratic Leader Lucia Guzman, D-Denver, said, “All we can do is respect her decision.”

“But we also want to make the statement that our progressive agenda will not change,” Guzman told Colorado Politics Friday evening. ” We will not change the progressive direction of the Senate Democratic agenda in 2018.”

Guzman said Jahn will likely caucus with the Democrats on most issues, preserving the one-seat majority Republicans have. Jahn, however, often went her own way from the party, Guzman said.

“She’s always been an independent in a sense, and she has been as long as I’ve known her,” Guzman said. “… She told me she’s tired of the party politics, but she doesn’t want to be a Republican, either. We respect her decision. It’s her right, and I’m hoping to see her as a working member of our caucus.”

Senate President Kevin Grantham. R-Canon City, said:

“Sen. Jahn has a long and laudable record of thinking and voting independently on the issues, and a reputation for being guided more by common sense than partisan conformity, so it strikes me as fitting that she would make that independence official with this formal change of party affiliation. We welcome the change and look forward to continuing to work with the senator on the many issues where we find common ground.”

Jahn wrote she had informed Democratic and Republican of her decision “and have communicated my continued commitment to working with all of my colleagues to get things done for our state. I am grateful for all of the support I have received and truly want to do what’s best for my district.”

Unaffiliated voters make up almost 36 percent of the state’s electorate, as of last month, according to the Secretary of State’s Office. Democrats and Republicans each have a little more than 31 percent.

Nick Troiano, executive director of the Centrist Project was pleased with the news Friday night.

“Voters have seen hyper-partisanship and special interests defeat common sense in Denver for far too long under both Democrats and Republicans,” he said. “Coloradans deserve independent legislators who can truly put the people first.

“Having strong leaders like Sen. Jahn break free from the broken two party duopoly will show how independents can bridge the growing partisan divide and pave a new way forward in our politics for many more independent legislators to come.”

Curry, a member of the Centrist Project Steering Committee, commended Jahn’s “courage and commitment.”

“I know from personal experience that serving as an independent made me a more effective advocate of my entire constituency, gave me greater leverage to impact the legislative process, and provided me a unique opportunity to be a voice for the plurality of voters who are neither Democrats nor Republicans,” she said in a statement released by the Centrist Project.

Al White, another former Republican state senator who left the party after leaving office, also serves on the Centrist Project Steering Committee.

“Sen. Jahn is the tip of the spear for a new movement of independent leadership in Colorado that is united by the principle of putting people before party,” he stated.

Most of the reaction of Jahn’s Facebook post was positive, but not everyone was happy.

“I did not vote for an independent,” Sybil Winfield wrote. “I voted for a Democrat. Would you consider resigning so a Democrat can hold your seat.”

Others noted that this is Jahn’s last session, as she faces term limits in the Senate.

State Rep. Jessie Danielson, D-Wheat Ridge is running to replace Jahn in the upper chamber. Christine Jensen, a Republican, also has filed to run for the seat next year.

Joey Bunch

Joey Bunch

Joey Bunch is the senior political correspondent for Colorado Politics. He has a 31-year career in journalism, including the last 15 in Colorado. He was part of the Denver Post team that won the Pulitzer Prize in 2013 and is a two-time Pulitzer finalist. His resume includes covering high school sports, the environment, the casino industry and civil rights in the South, as well as a short stint at CNN.