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Dan NjegomirDan NjegomirAugust 14, 201713min211

Smart? Sure, Ian Silverii is smart. But you pretty much expect that of a hard-charging, relentlessly partisan, take-no-prisoners political playmaker. What you don’t necessarily expect is how personable, funny — and frank — he is. It’s all on display in today’s Q&A, in which the executive director of the state’s all-purpose, left-of-center advocacy group, ProgressNow Colorado, holds forth on Republicans, Democrats and his relationship with his wife, state Rep. Brittany Pettersen. (Their marriage last month was the must-attend social event of the season for plugged-in politicos). For those unfamiliar with Silverii’s rapid rise in progressive political circles: He started out in Colorado politics in 2006, working on wide-ranging political campaigns and as a legislative aide in the state House of Representatives. He was executive director of the Colorado Democratic Party’s House Majority Project and served as chief of staff to former state House Speaker Dickey Lee Hullinghorst before taking over at ProgressNow Colorado.

Colorado Politics: What brought you to Colorado in the first place?

Ian Silverii: In 2006 I was on a road trip with my college roommates, and I ran out of money in Idaho.  The previous year, I was at a New Year’s Eve party in New Brunswick, New Jersey, and I ran into Sarah McCall, a childhood friend of mine who was on break from CU Boulder.  She told me that if I ever found myself in the West, I should look her up so she could show me the wonder that was Colorado.  I’m not sure she thought I’d take her up on it. I hitchhiked from Idaho to Salt Lake City and scraped together enough money to take a Greyhound from Utah to Denver.  Sarah picked me up at the bus station, and, her roommate in Boulder having gone home for the summer, let me stay in her extra room.  I needed to make some money to buy a plane ticket back from LA, which was my original destination, and Sarah introduced me to then State Rep. Judy Solano of Adams County.  Judy hired me on her 2006 campaign for some field, data, and web design work, and I got hooked on the campaign.  I went to LA, which I hated, and then back to Jersey to finish school.  I officially moved here in June of 2007 and got a job managing Gwyn Green’s final state house campaign in what was then House District 23 (one of my best friends, Chris Kennedy, now represents that seat).  We won, and I was hooked on Colorado politics.

CP: How do you navigate a day job as an advocate for wide-ranging Democratic causes and a marriage to a top-ranked congressional candidate facing a competitive Democratic primary? Is there push-back from within party ranks?

IS: We haven’t gotten any pushback from the Democratic Party per se, but we do work in politics and folks do try to use my position and ProgressNow’s antics against Brittany on occasion.  It’s funny where the lines move when people feel threatened, and some folks might think that the things that they say somehow don’t get back to us.  I assure you, it all gets back to us.  I guess the worst part of working in the same business with someone who has always been successful and always been in competitive campaigns and tense policy fights in the capitol is that since I’m a man and she’s a woman, people tend to give me credit for things that she does all by herself.  It’s pretty freaking annoying, to be honest.  Brittany is extremely talented all on her own. In fact, when we worked together in the building, we had a policy where I wouldn’t work on her bills to avoid even the appearance of special treatment. So it worked against her both ways because not only did people assume that her successes were at least in part because of my doing, but she didn’t even get any of my help, and I’m pretty good at this stuff!​ We don’t always agree on everything, and she’s the one who’s name is on the ballot, not mine.  ProgressNow isn’t playing in the primary for the 7th congressional district, but she’s got my vote.

CP: What is the biggest challenge facing Colorado Democrats today? The biggest challenge facing Republicans?

IS: Democrats need to get their act together and tell people what the hell they stand for.  It can’t just be “Trump sucks. We’re against Trump, so vote for us,” compelling as that may be.  Democrats need to outline a bold vision for the future that puts regular people and families before special interests and campaign donors; before consultants and focus groups and poll-tested messages.  ​Democrats wonder why they have authenticity problems and then go into the field and conduct polls and focus groups on how to manufacture the most authentic candidate.  It’s insane. We need to tell people what we stand for: universal health care, world-class public education, women’s health, including the right to have an abortion, social and racial justice, good job training for folks who don’t want to go to college or whose jobs have been replaced by machines or computers, clean air and water, renewable energy, technology, startups and science, affordable child care, transportation, the list goes on. And, if I left your super special pet issue off that list, you need to get over it and still vote for the person with whom you agree about most of the things you care about.  People who want to sell you things call that a messaging problem. I call that a big-tent party that has something for everyone.

​Republicans, especially those poor schmucks running for governor, have to find a way to throw red meat to their increasingly weird and rabid base and hug Trump during ​the primary and learn to speak Russian I guess and then then find a way to sprint to the middle for the general election. This will be a problem up and down the ticket for Republicans in 2018; just ask them. The base will not abide any Republican who doesn’t support the president, but Trump has between a 35 and 40 percent approval rating in Colorado right now as Democrats consolidate against him and independents run screaming. Guys like Mike Coffman have it the worst because he’s not going to pull Dems like he used to, and he’s going to lose unaffiliated voters fast and bleed votes from his own party if he keeps trying to have it both ways on issues like the ACA and funding Planned Parenthood.  Darryl Glenn was a very good expression of the paradoxes contained within the Colorado GOP, and while he’s not (currently) running for governor, don’t think another weird one can’t find his or her way through to the nomination.  Also we’ve got videos of all of them dancing really, really badly. Thanks, Jeff Hunt!

CP: You’re a progressive, sure, but where more specifically do you align within a party that gave us Bernie Sanders as well as Hillary Clinton last year?

IS: I voted for Bernie at caucus because I’m a bald Jewish dude from Brooklyn and we never get to vote for our own. Also, I agree with him on a bunch of stuff.  Not everything, but a bunch of stuff (see above).  Then, I voted for Hillary in the general and worked my ass off for her in my spare time ​because she’s an amazingly accomplished person and would have been an excellent president, especially considering what we see happening with Trump in office. To be honest, the Democratic Party is kind of a mess and I’m sure plenty of people are having a hard time seeing themselves in it these days. I mean, the GOP is an absolute disaster, so there’s that. I don’t think we need purity tests for votes or funding or supporting certain candidates in primary races or whatever, but on the other hand I see issues like women’s health and abortion access as fundamental human rights.  We wouldn’t support a candidate who opposed interracial marriage or thought we should recriminalize marijuana — so why the hell would we support a candidate who thinks abortion should be illegal?

CP: Is your extended family back home proud you’ve come so far so fast in the cutthroat world of politics — or do they prefer to tell others you’re a ski instructor or a river guide?

IS: Are you kidding?  My Jewish mother ​plays my 9News clips for her dental patients, and she’s a periodontal assistant, so they’re already preparing for some pain.  I think my folks know more about Colorado politics than lots of folks in Colorado do.  Mom always wanted me to be a lawyer (I don’t like needles, so doctor was out) and finally, after many, many years, decided that I had made enough of a life in this business that I could forego law school and the five zeros worth of student loan debt that would come with it.  Also, no one who knows me even a little would ever confuse me with either a ski instructor or a river guide.

CP: Name a Republican — in Colorado or nationally — you truly admire.

IS: State Sen. ​Don Coram is a very serious badass​ ​who gives both parties hugs and both parties the bird and is 100% himself all of the time.  He tells amazing, weird jokes and is one of the most genuinely interesting, smart, and funny people I’ve ever met in my life.  He always makes you feel special and ​he always fights for what he thinks is right and for the people in his district. Even if he thinks it might cost him politically, he could give a rip. Sen. Coram had a whole life before politics, and I imagine he’ll have a whole life afterwards. He’s not a partisan; he doesn’t let his party define him, and he has no problem telling folks on either side of the aisle when he thinks they’re screwing up.  I wish more Republicans, and more Democrats, frankly, were like Sen. Coram.


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Dan NjegomirDan NjegomirAugust 3, 20173min240

ProgressNow Colorado has come up with a handy reminder you can install in your Google Chrome browser. The cheeky Democratic activists rolled out their Mitt Romney’s Nephew Chrome extension this week, with Executive Director Ian Silverii deadpanning in a press statement, “Voters need a simple way to cut through the noise” of “so many unknown candidates in the Republican gubernatorial race.”

The target among those purported unknowns is Doug Robinson, a former investment banker and nephew of wealthy 2012 Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney. And ProgressNow wants you to remember that family connection, which the liberal group evidently perceives as a liability. Thus, Mitt Romney’s Nephew Chrome extension does pretty much as its name implies:

Upon installation of the extension in Chrome, all instances of the name “Doug Robinson” viewed through the browser are automatically rewritten to display the words “Mitt Romney’s Nephew.”

The press statement adds:

“The Mitt Romney’s Nephew extension makes sure voters know who one Colorado gubernatorial candidate really is, no matter where they get their news.”

Clever enough, funny and original.

Yet, the reality may be funnier than the spoof. Before installing the extension and Googling “Doug Robinson,” try Googling “Mitt Romney’s nephew,” instead, in a browser of your choice. The result is enough to make Doug Robinson wince — with or without the extra jab from ProgressNow. Hit after hit among Colorado and national news media reference Robinson as Mitt Romney’s nephew — often enough, without bothering to say much else about him. Some media offer the variation, “nephew of Mitt Romney,” but that’s about it. (Yes, ColoradoPolitics.com is among the culprits.)

It’s enough to give the guy a complex, maybe even an identity crisis.

With his work already done for him, more or less, maybe Silverii can declare victory and move on. Indeed, he already has his eye on his next target — Colorado Treasurer Walker Stapleton, who is also expected to run for governor. Says the press release:

“Stay tuned for our next project, the George Bush’s Cousin extension, which is ready to roll out as circumstances warrant.”


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Joey BunchJoey BunchJuly 30, 201710min170

Guys, this time the @JonCaldara – Klingenschmitt wing is serious. #COpolitics #COleg pic.twitter.com/CkBvIGuWV1


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Dan NjegomirDan NjegomirJuly 6, 20175min191
U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner hands his cell phone — with Vice President Mike Pence on the line — to Clifton farmer Blaine Diffendaffer. Jaime Gardner, the senator’s wife, looks on in the background. (Photo courtesy of Gardner’s office.)

… well, no, they don’t walk into a bar. But they do share a cell phone, taking turns talking to one another. And when it comes time for the farmer to talk to the man who serves just a heartbeat away from the presidency, they talk about — what else? — tomatoes.

It’s no joke. It’s pretty much how things went down Wednesday at Blaine’s Tomatoes & Farm, east of Grand Junction and just outside Clifton, in Colorado’s fruit belt. Proprietor and farmer Blaine Diffendaffer was minding his own business, literally, when not one but two major national political figures dropped by. Colorado Republican U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner, in person, and Vice President Mike Pence, unexpectedly by phone.

Gardner had stopped in for a tour of Diffendaffer’s operation; the visit was arranged by the Mesa County Farm Bureau, of which Diffendaffer is VP. He raises greenhouse tomatoes along with salad greens, cukes and some other goodies and was happy to give the senator a look around.

As Gardner — who hails from the eastern plains farm town of Yuma — and Diffendaffer were chatting about ag issues, Gardner got a call.

Colorado Farmer Blaine Diffendaffer speaks with Vice President Mike Pence.

“He apologized and said, ‘I have to take it. It’s the vice president,’ ” Diffendaffer said.

Diffendaffer struck up a conversation with Gardner’s aides (wife Jaime and children also were in tow) for a few minutes while Gardner left the room to take the call.

“(Gardner) came back in and said, ‘Would you like to speak to the vice president,’ ” Diffendaffer said. “And I was just like, ‘Yeah.’ I was shocked.”

“It was a very casual conversation, and it was kind of cool,” he said. “(The vice president) asked about what I do. So many times, when you hear politicians talk, it’s like, ‘I did this bill,’ or ‘I did that.’ But he asked me about what I did. There was no politics involved. It was actually just normal people talking.”

Diffendaffer added, “He said, ‘In my home state we don’t raise a lot of tomatoes. It’s mostly row crops.’ And that’s as political as it got.”

Diffendaffer is a native of the area who grew up on the land he now farms. (Be sure to check out his website’s “about” page for more background on him and the farm.)

His politics? Republican, “…but I’m kind of in between on a lot of things,” he said.

Speaking of politics, the folks at ProgressNow Colorado are of course going to love this anecdote. Meaning, something closer to hate.

“A warm-and-fuzzy for Gardner,” they’ll grouse. After all, their liberal group has been working overtime dogging the conservative senator about the much-debated GOP health-care proposal now pending in the Senate in Washington.

OK, fine, but this isn’t about all that. This is just about a coincidental conversation between a West Slope farmer and the vice-leader of the free world. Not politics, but tomatoes.


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Dan NjegomirDan NjegomirJuly 3, 20176min150

ColoradoPolitics.com’s Ernest Luning gave us all the details on the nuptials Saturday of Democratic star couple Brittany Pettersen and Ian Silverii at the Colorado governor’s mansion. And political-junkie-and-journalist-at-heart Lynn Bartels — off duty from her weekday job at the Secretary of State’s Office — brought us the mood of the moment via Twitter. Darned near every moment, in fact, as well as color commentary in a succession of tweets from the wedding of the state rep cum congressional candidate and the ProgressNow Colorado executive director. Plenty of pix, too, capturing a host of Colorado political luminaries who attended.

Here’s a sampling:


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Ernest LuningErnest LuningJuly 1, 20176min560

State Rep. Brittany Pettersen, a Democratic candidate for Congress, and Ian Silverii, executive director of ProgressNow Colorado, both of Lakewood, were married on Saturday, July 1, in a ceremony in the carriage house and garden at the Governor's Residence at Boettcher Mansion in Denver in front of hundreds of friends and family members. The bride is the daughter of Brent and Stacy Pettersen of Englewood. The groom is the son of Ed and Terry Silverii of East Brunswick, New Jersey.


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Ernest LuningErnest LuningJune 26, 20178min19

A group of liberal advocacy organizations for the first time released combined legislative scorecards this week, conglomerating assessments of the 100 Colorado lawmakers’ votes last session on key legislation the organizations said they plan to present to voters next year. A Republican who received among the lowest overall scores, however, dismissed the endeavor as a “political stunt” and told Colorado Politics he doubts the predictable rankings — Democrats good, Republicans bad — give voters any meaningful information.


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Joey BunchJoey BunchJune 17, 20176min202
Centrist Project
(Via http://www.centristproject.org/)

Brandon Rittiman and Anna Staver had a fascinating piece on 9News Friday night about a plan being hatched by centrist-minded politicians fed up with partisan politics in the Colorado legislature.

The Centrist Project is looking for five good candidates to run for the statehouse under the Centrist banner. If they can do that — and saying it and doing are two very different things in politics — they  tell 9News that they can deny both parties a majority.

Hmmmm, that math equation is built on a lot of if’s.

Right now, the Democrats have a 37-28 majority in the House. Even if all five candidates won there, and even if they knocked off five Democrats, that would still leave Democrats with a 32-28-5 majority. The five would still need to caucus with one of the parties to have much hope of getting anything passed. The Centrists would have to stick together and vote with the Republicans to force the Democratic majority to negotiate, but that’s sounding messy and hard. For one, Democrats could use their control of committees to kill any bill they didn’t like if it’s in jeopardy of a 33-32 outcome on the floor. Plus, the centrists would have to run the table in the general election, if they have only five candidates.

And wouldn’t the math mean five centrist candidates are House Republicans for hire when their votes are needed to force Democrats to the bargaining table, if they inexplicably weren’t able to kill a bill in committee?

Details. Viva la revolución.

The Senate split is 18-17 in the Republican’s favors. There’s where the favorable math is, but it’s is much taller task to get elected to the Senate. And the centrists aren’t saying which races they’re targeting.

“”If there is a place that has a need and an opportunity for independents to help bridge that divide, we think it’s right here in Colorado,” Nick Troiano, the Centrist Project’s executive director, told 9News.

Troiano lives in Denver now, but two years ago he ran for U.S. House in Pennsylvania. He got 22,734 votes as an independent candidate. Republican incumbent got 112,851.

9News cited Alaska’s House election last fall, when Republicans lost the majority for the first time since 1994. The Centrist project backed on independent, and another was unaffiliated House member was an incumbent. I’m not sure that tracks to the Colorado plan. In Alaska, a bipartisan coalition that included 17 Democrats, two independents and three moderate Republicans formed a caucus controlling 22 of the 40 seats.

That’s different than bringing in five freshed-faced outsiders with little or no experience to run in give yet-to-be named districts. The political way legislative districts are drawn in Colorado, they’re nearly always safe for incumbents, who enjoy the benefits of fund-raising apparatus and an organized ground game courtesy of their parties.

Moreover, as Rittiman notes, an unaffiliated candidate has never won a seat in the Colorado legislature.

Moreover, again, in Alaska the Senate remains staunchly Republican, so that’s encouraging gridlock, not fixing it.

The Colorado House tends to be particularly liberal as much so as the Senate is particularly conservative. That’s why they couldn’t come close to reasonably addressing the state’s $20 billion in transportation needs over the next two decades. Republicans won’t raise taxes, and Democrats won’t raid social safety nets or schools to fund roads. That’s partisan gridlock for you.

While the Centrist Project has some Colorado staff, it’s a national movement to shake up state legislatures and pull the officeholders away from their base and back to the middle by forcing negotiations.

The ever-quotable Ian Silverii, the executive director of the liberal advocacy group ProgressNow Colorado, didn’t think much of the effort.

“These out-of-state folks seem to have a solution in search of a problem,” he told Rittiman.

The middle is a lonely island.