NOONAN | Does Colorado tilt toward grass roots or establishment? Primaries will tell

Author: Paula Noonan - June 22, 2018 - Updated: June 17, 2018

Paula Noonan
Paula Noonan

The state attorney general and state treasurer primary races will reveal the most about the left and right forces on Democrats and Republicans. These primary races, even with independents voting, will give the sharpest snapshots of how progressive/moderate Democrat or establishment Republican/Trump Republican the parties are.

State Democratic Rep. Joe Salazar, running for attorney general, is an unabashed, outspoken progressive.  He ran bills in 2018 on progressive causes: homelessness, sanctuary cities, prescription gouging, oil and gas regulation, juvenile justice, and hemp products.  His hemp and juvenile justice bills were signed by the governor. His bills from previous sessions that passed related to criminal justice reform and oil and gas safety regulation.

CU law school dean Phil Weiser, Salazar’s opponent, has a resume that follows a traditional attorney general career path: clerking for federal and supreme court judges; serving in the Justice Department of the Obama administration, and leading CU law school.  His policy positions are more circumspect than Salazar’s. Notably, he believes the Martinez decision related to the balance between public and environmental health and safety and oil and gas drilling should be debated by the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission.  Salazar believes that public health and safety, when in conflict with drilling, should predominate, no debate.

While drilling issues cut across both parties along the Front Range, a forceful stand in support of Martinez case principles is key to the more progressive side of the Democratic Party.  If Salazar wins the attorney general primary, Democrats will show their “leftier” leanings.  If Weiser wins, establishment Democrats will have prevailed.  Salazar has about 10 percent of the money contributions of Weiser, which further pushes the grassroots vs. establishment story line.

The treasurer’s race is fascinating because the lefty-righty drama plays on both political sides.  Three Republicans are in this contest:  Rep. Polly Lawrence from Douglas County, Rep. Justin Everett from South Jeffco, and real estate investor Brian Watson from Denver and Olathe.

Lawrence and Everett did hand-to-hand combat in the capitol. Everett prides himself on voting NO on most revenue bills. He’s the darling of Rocky Mountain Gun Owners. Lawrence voted to support state investment to improve infrastructure for rural Colorado with the broadband build-out bill. Anti-tax interests have called out Watson, interestingly, for his past-due tax bills.

Both Lawrence and Watson have outraised Everett by substantial sums.  If Everett wins, it’s a victory for alt-right GOPers.  If Lawrence or Watson wins, it’s a victory for pro-business, establishment Republicans.

On the Democratic side for state treasurer, Rep. Dave Young from Greeley touts his work as a House member on the Joint Budget Committee. JBC decisions are usually bipartisan and require negotiation from both parties. Young supported PERA bills.

Douthit, who’s associated with Rep. Salazar, is a Massachusetts Institute of Technology graduate.  He believes he can bring the right investments to PERA to avoid further cuts. He also wants to organize a public bank to further investment in small business. Young has raised more money than Douthit and sent out a contribution call when Douthit put in $30,000 for his own campaign.

If Everett wins, the GOP has moved rightward.  If Douthit or Salazar wins, the Democrats have moved leftward. If Weiser or Young wins, the Democrats stay in the Hickenlooper moderate arena. If Everett and Salazar win, money is less important than ideological position.

If Lawrence, Watson, Young or Weiser wins, money and the establishment still talk. If both parties move to the far side in the primaries, then independents are not as moderate as conventional thinking believes, and money doesn’t count as much as grassroots popularity.

Paula Noonan

Paula Noonan

Paula Noonan owns Colorado Capitol Watch, the state’s premier legislature tracking platform.