In this episode we take an early look at the candidates in Colorado’s 2018 Democratic Gubernatorial Primary and consider the possibility that Colorado’s major parties might opt-out of Proposition 108.
Segment 1: Assessing the Candidates
- With the announcement by Ken Salazar that he will not run, the field in Colorado’s Democratic Primary for Governor is becoming a bit clearer.
- Congressman Ed Perlmutter has to be considered the frontrunner at this point. Though he has not officially announced, he has stated as recently as last month that “chances are very good” he will run.
- Perlmutter, as a Congressman since 2007, would also seem to be a preferred candidate of the establishment, along with former State Treasurer Cary Kennedy if she decides to jump into the race. The question is: Does that help or hurt in a Democratic Primary?
- Clearly, there is a divide within the Colorado Democratic Party between the more establishment Democrats who backed Hillary Clinton, and the Bernie Sanders wing of the party. Sanders defeated Clinton in last year’s caucus, and since November Sanders-inspired groups have been encouraging supporters to run for leadership positions at the county and state level, with varying degrees of success.
- Asked to describe the Sanders-inspired, Our Revolution viewpoint by The Colorado Independent’s Corey Hutchins, Joe Salazar, perhaps the most prominent and outspoken Bernie Sanders supporter in Colorado, said: “They want to change the Democratic Party so it’s more responsive to the people and less responsive to corporate dollars, I think that pretty much sums it up”, adding that he worries that oil and gas money has too much sway in Democratic politics in Colorado.
- What does that mean for Perlmutter? Cozying up to the oil and gas industry is a common criticism coming from the left at prominent Colorado Democrats like Governor Hickenlooper and Senator Bennet, though embracing a more moderate position on the issue has led to some crossover appeal, and Perlmutter appears to be cut from the same cloth. And even among Democratic voters, the environment is rarely a top-of-mind, decisive issue when choosing a candidate to vote for. As for “corporate dollars”? Congressman Perlmutter managed the final stage of Wall Street reform in the House in 2010. He doesn’t appear vulnerable on that front. He also supported Congressman Tim Ryan’s insurgent bid to become House Minority Leader against Nancy Pelosi
- So maybe Perlmutter is the perfect candidate – appealing to the establishment while having sufficient progressive credentials to garner support from the party’s more liberal wing where a majority of the energy seems to be located. He could be. And that’s likely why Colorado Pols on their Big Line has Perlmutter as far and away the favorite for Governor, stating that “Now that Ken Salazar has backed away from the race, Perlmutter can take the baton and get moving”, and that former State Senator Michael Johnston “cannot beat Perlmutter in a Democratic Primary. Period.”
- As for Johnston, his campaign made news Tuesday morning by reporting a record early fundraising haul, none of which came from political action committees or from his own pocket. At the very least, this shows that he should be taken more seriously as a candidate, and that his chances of winning the Democratic nomination are greater than zero.
- If the most important question is which candidate can best position themselves with, for lack of a better term, the “Bernie Sanders” wing of the Colorado Democratic Party, Johnston has already drawn explicit comparisons from local media, and he says that “I think the Bernie folks will find a lot of the values that they share will be evidenced in our campaign.” Still, Johnston supported Hillary Clinton during last year’s primary contest, and his progressive credentials are not without flaws, as Chase Woodruff details here.
- This all makes for a fascinating, fascinating race to watch.
Segment 2: To Opt-Out or Not to Opt-Out?
- For our second segment, on a related topic, let’s take a look at something Congressman Perlmutter said during his remarks at the 7th Congressional District Democratic reorganization meeting a few weeks ago (from the Colorado Statesman’s Ernest Luning):
Perlmutter also urged Democrats to consider looming changes to state law governing how political parties nominate candidates following last year’s voter approval of Proposition 108, which opens up primary elections to unaffiliated voters.
“There’s another provision there I think we, as Democrats, and you as members of the state central committee need to keep in mind. And that’s an opt-out provision,” he said, noting that three-quarters of a party’s central committee can vote to skip primaries entirely and nominate candidates through the caucus and assembly process.
“It’s a big change in the law and one that Democrats may not pursue, and that’s fine,” he said. “But you all need to know about it and think about it because it’s a very important function, and the decision by the central committee has to be made by Oct. 1 of this year. Potentially it could save candidates a lot of money if you’re working through the assembly process, and it give you, as delegates or committee members a lot of power if you have candidates up and down the ballot going through the assembly process and whoever’s chosen is the nominee.”
- For a primer on what he’s talking about, here’s an article on Proposition 108 from the Denver Post. Basically, the much-hyped Proposition 108, which opens up primaries to Unaffiliated voters, contains a provision that allows parties to “opt out” of holding primaries and instead choose to nominate candidates by assembly or convention.
- The Post article goes on to note that Proposition 108 drew opposition from both Steve House and Rick Palacio, both now former chairs of their respective parties. And the crux of the argument can be found in a quote from Penfield Tate, a former state legislator and aide to both former Mayor Peña and former Gov. Romer, who said that he doesn’t want unaffiliated voters, who may not share his values, to play a part in choosing his nominees: “If you’re a Catholic, you want the college of cardinals to select the next pope, not Methodist ministers.”
- So back to Perlmutter, while not wanting to read too much into what he said, one has to think that he considered carefully what to say to that particular crowd at the re-org meeting. And he sure seems to be supportive or at least considering opting-out of Proposition 108, by noting that it could save candidates a lot of money and delegates or committee members would have a lot of power. Doing so would seem to be a huge dismissal of the will of Colorado’s voters, who voted for Proposition 108 just last year by a margin of 53-47%. Not to mention the fact that the majority of the Democratic establishment in Colorado lined up behind Clinton during the caucuses last March, and yet Sanders still won a resounding victory.
- The issue of whether or not to opt-out was an issue during the race to become state GOP Chair as well, though a victory for Jeff Hays this past Saturday likely means that Republicans will not be opting-out.
- If the Democrats do in fact decide to forego a Primary in favor of a caucus and assembly, that would theoretically push a lot more Unaffiliated voters into the Republican Primary, to the point where they actually may have an impact. Only time will tell…