Trail Mix: The road to Colorado’s 2018 election, April 20 edition
Author: Ernest Luning - April 20, 2018 - Updated: May 10, 2018
Elbows were flying across bruising internal rifts among Colorado Republicans and Democrats April 14 as thousands gathered to nominate candidates at the parties’ state assemblies.
In Broomfield, a long-festering dispute between Democrats over education policy erupted during debate over the party’s platform. Delegates voted overwhelmingly to ban the organization Democrats for Education Reform (DFER) — advocates for school choice and, critics contend, for diverting precious funding away from public schools — from using the word “Democrats” in the group’s name.
The disagreement highlights a fault line playing out in the party’s gubernatorial primary, where former State Treasurer Cary Kennedy, who won a ticket to the ballot by a wide margin at the assembly, has the backing of the state’s two largest teachers unions, which are vehement DFER foes.
Other candidates for governor fall across the line. Former state Sen. Mike Johnston has longstanding DFER ties and is a national leader in the education reform movement. U.S. Rep. Jared Polis, who also qualified for the primary at the assembly, has founded charter schools and, like Lt. Gov. Donna Lynne, is considered friendly to the DFER agenda, if not as solidly an ally as Johnston.
It could be another week before the Democrats’ final line-up for governor is set. Johnston, who petitioned on, was the first to make the primary, but at press time Lynne was still awaiting word whether she’d submitted enough valid signatures.
Up the road in Boulder, Republicans on April 14 sparred on multiple fronts as delegates faced a scrambled contest for governor in the wake of a petition scandal that blew up earlier in the week.
The big question going into the GOP assembly was whether state Treasurer Walker Stapleton, by nearly every measure the primary’s front-runner, could pivot within a matter of days from already having secured a place on the ballot via petition to a run at the assembly after determining some of his petition signatures might have been gathered fraudulently.
Since Stapleton announced he was dropping his petition and instead would seek the support of at least 30 percent of delegates, the other half-dozen candidates he was joining — including Attorney General Cynthia Coffman, wealthy businessman Barry Farah, former Parker Mayor Greg Lopez, early Trump adopter Steve Barlock and Larimer County Commissioner Lew Gaiter III — were in a mad dash for what would surely be a smaller slice of the delegate pie. It wasn’t pretty.
The attacks played out in websites devoted to tearing down candidates and in crude fliers handed out at the GOP assembly, as well as blistering letters exchanged between attorneys and stunning broadsides delivered from the main stage.
Early on in the proceedings, congressional and statewide GOP officials, including Coffman, addressed delegates. She began talking about her past four years in office but then took a couple of swings at Stapleton, who had spoken to the crowd just before she took the stage.
Coffman recalled standing on the same stage four years ago when she first ran — for attorney general — and won the support of nearly 70 percent of the delegates. Then she took a quick tour of her actions as AG — “suing the BLM, the (Consumer Financial Protection Bureau) and the EPA numerous times” when Barack Obama was president and “(protecting) the state from President Obama’s efforts to settle unvetted refugees from the Middle East in our state — before shifting topics and tone.
“Our statewide offices require strong, principled leaders — leaders who follow rules and laws and set an example. When they drive drunk, hit a taxi cab, injure innocent women and flee the scene, they show their lack of a moral compass. And when they manipulate a state party process after hiring convicted felons to gather petition signatures for them, they demonstrate a pattern of behavior that is unbecoming of an elected official,” Coffman said, drawing scattered booing from the crowd.
“It is the truth, and it is documented, and you should look,” she said after a moment. “Because you should think about what we are saying as Republicans as we nominate them to the state’s highest office.”
Coffman was raising an old attack about Stapleton’s 1999 DUI — it emerged at the end of his 2010 campaign for state treasurer, when he denied Kennedy’s bid for a second term — and pointing to an argument her campaign had been making all week that party rules stood in the way of Stapleton’s last-minute bid for the assembly vote.
Earlier in the week, foes brought attention to a website attacking Stapleton — including links to headlines heavy with the words “fraud,” “DUI” and “KKK,” a reference to the nearly 100-year-old story of a Denver mayor and Stapleton ancestor who belonged to Ku Klux Klan when it basically ran the state. The site, it turned out, was put together by an independent committee supporting Doug Robinson, who is petitioning onto the ballot.
Another attack site — this one tied to an independent committee supporting Stapleton — sprung up blasting Coffman for positions characterized as insufficiently conservative on religious liberties, abortion, terrorism and “amnesty for illegal immigrants.”
In the end, it wasn’t even close. Republicans handed top-line designation to Stapleton, giving him 44 percent of the vote, and elevated dark-horse Lopez — whose domestic violence charges in the early 1990s was the subject of fliers that landed in delegates’ hands — with 33 percent. Coffman got just 5 percent and will sit out the primary.
But just as the DFER conflict promises to resonate through the Democratic primary and into the fall, this won’t be the last Colorado voters hear about the attacks aimed at Stapleton and Lopez.
Editor’s note: This article was updated at 1 p.m. April 20 to reflect that Victor Mitchell has successfully petitioned onto the ballot, according to Secretary to State Wayne Williams’ office.