In all likelihood, you haven't heard of Mark Anthony Barrionuevo. And that's understandable unless you happen to live in state Senate District 10, which covers a healthy chunk of north-central Colorado Springs. In any case, he deserves to be much better known. So here goes.
Barrionuevo, a humble, clean-cut and composed 41-year-old attorney, is running for that District 10 seat in the Colorado Senate against Republican incumbent Owen Hill. Which brings us to the point that inspired this column, even if it effectively pre-releases one of the Independent's endorsements for contested races, scheduled for next week.
On the surface, you'd think Barrionuevo would have no chance in a district that has been bright red in past elections. But he's not just a token Democrat. He's a self-described "purple" Democrat. And he's a proud member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
That's right. He's a Mormon Democrat.
If you follow politics in any depth, you know most Mormons are Republicans — though you can find lefties at ldsdems.org. But that doesn't deter Barrionuevo, who decided early this year to do something about his frustration with the political scene at every level. He talked to some of his LDS friends, obviously Republicans, including Secretary of State Wayne Williams, and they encouraged him to give it a try. He had worked for President Obama in 2008 as a precinct captain while living in California, so that was his foundation.
Barrionuevo came out of the Dems' county assembly as the candidate in House District 15 against incumbent GOP Rep. Dan Nordberg. Then came some shuffling, along with the feeling Nordberg was tough to knock off. Hill appeared more vulnerable and didn't seem to have as much backing. (Some view Hill as too far right, rigid instead of collaborative, also egotistical.)
So now we have Barrionuevo going for the Senate, and when we met last week for an interview, he made a convincing case. First, on his affiliation.
"There's not a party in the middle anymore," he said. "I'm an independent Democrat. I'm a purple. I don't bash anyone else. I'd rather focus on myself and what I have to offer as a public servant. I believe we get the leaders we deserve. But we deserve better."
He knows he'll have to pull support from Republicans as well as unaffiliateds, saying bluntly, "I hope they vote for me, or I won't win."
Barrionuevo's background is worth some space here, because it's fascinating. He's a native of Las Vegas, Nevada, and says, "I'm a rare breed ... I grew up as an atheist." But at 17 he says he realized something was missing, and that led him to become a Mormon. It led him to missionary stints in Japan and Venezuela, and it gave him stability that carried him through the Boston University School of Law and into a successful career, with a wife and three kids. He's even been a Boy Scout troop leader.
Now, though, Barrionuevo wants to make a difference in another way. And he's not just a token candidate. He's laser-sharp on all the issues, including those on this same ballot.
He supports Amendment 69, the framework for universal health care, admitting it has flaws "and we have to find ways to reduce the burden on employers. But the benefits outweigh the problems. We need to try to make it work." And that comes from a legal expert on Obamacare who admits he's "probably one of the few who has read the entire Affordable Care Act."
He's for raising the state's minimal wage (Amendment 70) but thinks that's for the Legislature to decide. And he says he switched from initial opposition to supporting Amendment 71, making it harder to change the constitution, because it requires petitions from every state Senate district. He's against Proposition 106 allowing terminal patients to have assistance in dying, purely for religious reasons. And he's all for both Propositions 107 and 108 regarding primaries and letting unaffiliateds vote.
We need more candidates like this guy, who carries a well-worn copy of the U.S. Constitution in his suit pocket. He also wants to fix our criminal system, "because we have 50 percent recidivism [repeat offenders] and that means something is broken."
Mark Anthony Barrionuevo is trying to climb a steep hill — no pun intended — and he has no Plan B strategy if this campaign falls short. But he's making an indelible impression on everyone he encounters, and that definitely will lead him to a worthy destination.
Someday. Hopefully soon.