Colorado's first open primary is upon us, bringing a plethora of candidates, many with slick, well-funded campaigns, experience in the public sector, and shared values.
For the editorial board at the Independent, which includes News Editor J. Adrian Stanley, Editor Matthew Schniper, Publisher Carrie Simison and Editor Emeritus Ralph Routon, the first decision was which races to endorse in. With so many candidates, we couldn't cover them all, so we sought to choose those we felt were most important to our readers. After much discussion, we settled on four races: the Republican primaries for El Paso County Sheriff and Congressional District 5, and the Democratic primaries for state House District 18 and governor.
We examined candidates' views on the issues, and interviewed our top choices before coming to our decisions. It's important to stress that these are primary race endorsements and we reserve the right to endorse a candidate of either party in the general election.
So, without further ado, our selections:
Governor, Democratic primary
- Courtesy Cary Kennedy for Governor
- Cary Kennedy
There are four Republicans and four Democrats running to replace term-limited Gov. John Hickenlooper. That's quite a batch for any voter to hope to sort through, so our process began with elimination. To be frank, Republicans Greg Lopez, Doug Robinson and Victor Mitchell just don't share enough of our values to rise to the top for us. And while we've enjoyed conversation with Republican state Treasurer Walker Stapleton in the past, we have the same problem with him — especially given his recent efforts to court President Donald Trump.
That left four Democrats: former state Treasurer Cary Kennedy, Congressman Jared Polis, former state Sen. Michael Johnston and Lt. Gov. Donna Lynne. Here we winnowed once more: While we like Lynne, she's never been elected to public office, and was only appointed to her current seat in 2016 after Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia resigned. We also don't feel she has the momentum to carry her through the primary.
Johnston, Polis and Kennedy are all undeniably strong candidates with great plans to push Colorado forward. A lot of their ideas sound similar:
• create a public option for health care, leading to universal coverage in the state for an affordable price while taking steps to attract more medical services to rural areas;
• implement sensible gun control laws, including a red flag law to allow the temporary removal of guns from someone who is deemed a danger to themselves or others;
• ask voters to repeal parts of the Taxpayer's Bill of Rights that don't allow governments to keep all the revenue from voter-approved taxes, leading the state to fall behind on funding priorities like roads even as our economy is booming;
• offer full-day kindergarten statewide, increase funding for schools and teachers;
• greatly increase the state's reliance on renewable energy, protect public lands and provide more public safety protections from the oil and gas industry;
• increase mass transit, including Front Range high-speed rail;
• protect people from sexual harassment;
• keep local law enforcement focused on crime, not federal immigration law;
• add criminal justice reforms;
• and do more to help the homeless and fund affordable housing.
We'd be happy to see any one of these three occupy the governor's mansion. But, just as you will have to, we did need to choose.
We sat down with Johnston first, and liked him immediately. A personable guy with great ideas, he doesn't shy away from the hard questions. Johnston has, admirably, posted plans on his website for funding every promise he makes. It takes courage to acknowledge that money for new roads and more funding for schools has to come from somewhere.
We also love his Colorado Promise: Any Coloradan can attend two years of job training at a community college free of charge in exchange for 10 to 12 weekends of volunteer work for the state per year.
Honestly, Johnston probably would have won our endorsement if we shared all the former public school teacher and principal's views on education reform. Johnston, you may know, was the sponsor of 2010's Senate Bill 191. The bill changed the way educators' evaluations are performed in the state, with half the evaluation based on student performance. Johnston stands by the bill, and feels it's necessary to ensure the best education for our kids. And we tend to believe his heart is in the right place — in our divisive society we often forget that good people can disagree on the best solutions to tough problems.
But we're not convinced that it's fair to judge teachers so heavily on student performance when so many factors outside a teacher's control influence that. Nor are we fans of the state's standardized testing, which puts undue stress on young children, and forces many educators to "teach to the test." We also are, frankly, a little suspicious of the big-money backers tied to the national education reform movement that Johnston has attracted — many of them from out of state.
Next, there's Polis. On the campaign end, it's tough to criticize the extremely wealthy congressman, who has funded most of his own campaign (to the tune of over $7.8 million so far) and doesn't have a PAC supporting him, unlike both Kennedy and Johnston. And we agree with Polis on the main issues and generally admire his record in Congress. We also think it would be pretty cool to have a gay man and his family in the governor's mansion.
But we're a little hesitant that Polis, who made his fortune by creating several businesses starting when he was in college, has founded two public charter school networks. Many charters are great schools. But we hope our next governor isn't so close to the issue that he/she fails to recognize that loose regulation of the schools can shortchange kids. And Colorado's regulations are loose.
Our biggest issue with Polis, however — a dad whose biggest policy goal is offering free full-day kindergarten statewide — is that he doesn't seem to know how he's going to fund his priorities. (Gov. John Hickenlooper supports full-day kindergarten so much that he tried to get voters to pay for it in 2013. They soundly rejected the ballot initiative.) Polis is likely used to hashing out the funding piece last, and given his strong business background, we think he'd prove skillful at getting his priorities funded. But in a state constrained by TABOR, with a backlog of infrastructure needs and underfunded priorities, money isn't an afterthought.
Finally, there's Kennedy. Our biggest hesitation with Kennedy was that she lost the 2010 race for treasurer to Stapleton. But Kennedy points out that the political landscape has changed a lot since then, that the race for governor is quite different from the race for treasurer, and that she's become a better listener since then. She was also the clear winner at the state assembly over Polis. (Johnston petitioned onto the ballot.)
We like Kennedy's education background best. Kennedy wrote 2000's Amendment 23, a voter-approved measure that mandated increases in K-12 education funding — a requirement that the Legislature began dodging during the Great Recession through legal maneuvering. She also helped write 2005's Referendum C, a five-year TABOR timeout that helped education and other state funding priorities. And she helped craft the funding mechanism behind 2008's Build Excellent Schools Today Act, which provides capital grants to needy schools. We also like how she talks about charters, acknowledging that they do serve many kids well, but also noting that focusing on charters while neighborhood schools suffer isn't really offering a choice. All our schools should be solid.
While Kennedy doesn't lay out funding mechanisms for every priority on her website like Johnston does, she's clearly thought about money — no surprise given that in addition to treasurer, she was the CFO of Denver. She has clever ideas, for instance, for funding affordable housing with a real estate transaction fee, and she rightly sees TABOR reforms as a way to funnel more money into education and transportation. She acknowledges that voters will have to be asked for money to fund anything as big as high-speed rail and says when that time comes, she'll look for a bipartisan solution.
Of three extremely strong candidates, we think Kennedy is the strongest.
Congressional District 5, Republican primary
- Griffin Swartzell
- Bill Rhea
Let's start with the obvious: We weren't about to endorse current U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn, who robotically votes with his party, ignores his constituents and the press, and has seen — wait for it — three of the bills for which he was the primary sponsor become law in his six terms in Congress (three other were blended into other bills that passed). Lamborn couldn't even gather a measly 1,000 signatures to petition onto the state ballot while following the state election law — he can thank a rather generous court ruling for allowing him to remain in the race.
Then there's Darryl Glenn, current El Paso County Commissioner, defeated U.S. Senate candidate, and, if his record is any indication, another robotic party voter. Glenn's one of those guys who knows how to stir the crowds at the Republican assembly by promising to push the party, somehow, even further right. No, thanks.
Then there's our own state Sen. Owen Hill, whose top issues include solving the mass shooting crisis with more guns and repealing Obamacare, returning us all to those halcyon days when insurance companies didn't have to meet standards and could boot patients when they got sick. Hard pass.
That leaves us with former Green Mountain Falls Mayor Tyler Stevens and retired Texas judge Bill Rhea (pronounced "ray"). We interviewed both, and the choice was clear. Stevens, whom we've liked in the past, didn't impress us with his command of the issues, offered no real solutions, and had a more or less staunch conservative stance.
Rhea, however, surprised us. A self-professed Christian and lifelong Republican with 15 kids and stepkids, including nine that he and his wife adopted from around the world, Rhea at first struck us as a classic pro-life, evangelical conservative.
And there's no doubt that he's evangelical and pro-life, but his other views are moderate. A judge, he's accustomed to examining the facts and making up his own mind about things, and he's clearly not being bullied into Trump's new party line. In fact, Rhea really dislikes Trump.
Rhea notes that he's the father of three kids from "shithole countries" and the husband of a woman who, sadly, has plenty of reasons to stand with #MeToo. Rhea also stands with #BlackLivesMatter, noting (correctly) that the point of that movement was never to diminish the value of the lives of people of other races, or of cops, but to take a stand in a country that consistently devalues the lives of a group of people based on their skin color.
Rhea also shared with us that he once decided a case in which a child protective services worker alleged religious discrimination after she was demoted for rashly removing a baby from its foster mom after discovering the mother was a lesbian. Rhea threw out the case before it could even go to trial. He sided with the law.
Rhea has other views that, we think tragically, get described as "progressive" rather than "common-sense." He believes in climate change, wants to protect public lands and thinks that if Obamacare is repealed we should replace it with something better. He thinks states should enact reasonable gun control laws, believes in medical marijuana (and would grudgingly protect the state's rec industry too), wants to keep DACA and take in refugees, and supports Special Counsel Robert Mueller finishing his investigation.
Rhea says he's running because he wants to stop what he calls a "momentum of ugliness" in the country. And while we reserve the right to interview and, quite possibly, endorse Democrat Stephany Rose Spaulding in the general election, we wish him luck.
House District 18, Democratic primary
- Courtesy Charlotte Chance Bundgaard, Trystan Photography
- Marc Snyder
We honestly could not have been more pleased with attorney and former Manitou Springs Mayor Marc Snyder and retired teacher and principal Terry Martinez. Were these two running in different races they would both, without a doubt, receive our endorsement.
Whomever is selected to fill this seat has big shoes to fill. Rep. Pete Lee, who is term-limited and running in state Senate District 11 is one of the best-liked and most effective legislators in Denver. A champion of criminal justice reform, particularly for juveniles and with restorative justice, Lee has shown himself to be a pragmatic lawmaker who can reach across the aisle and find ways to make everyone, no matter their party, feel like a winner.
Martinez and Snyder can't be expected to be carbon copies of Lee — they have their own paths to forge — but it's clear that they both admire Lee. Snyder is a member of the executive committee of the Pikes Peak Restorative Justice Council, while Martinez volunteers in restorative justice. And both say they hope to be able to forge alliances on bills with the other party and boast of significant donations from Republicans who may not share their beliefs but do trust their character.
Each candidate hit on important points. Snyder wants to focus on bills that protect the environment in the face of climate change, help the poor, and grow small businesses. He supports stronger gun laws, universal health care, and thinks the state needs to reform TABOR and Gallagher to better fund priorities like infrastructure and education.
Martinez wants to get rid of high-stakes testing in K-12 schools (noting that in his personal experience, shorter and more frequent assessments are more efficient and effective), and make sure schools offer electives like art. He notes that it was an art teacher, Manitou Spring' famous artist Charles Rockey, who kept him in school when he was going through a rough patch. (Martinez went on, oddly enough, to be a chemistry teacher.)
Like Snyder, Martinez supports universal health care, and he stresses that providers should have to reveal the disparity in their charges for the same services based on the type of insurance someone has. He also wants to make changes to TABOR and Gallagher, create new rules in the Legislature to address sexual harassment, and pass stricter gun control laws.
Given how much we liked both candidates, we had to fall back on experience when making our choice. We do think Martinez's experience as a principal and his service to the community would serve him well in the Legislature. But we can't deny Snyder's impressive record. He served on Manitou City Council for six years, and then spent six years as Manitou mayor, winning three elections before he was term-limited.
Snyder led the city through the Great Recession, the Waldo Canyon Fire and the devastating floods that followed with grace and dedication. During Snyder's time as mayor, the city went from over $112,000 in reserve funds to around $1.9 million.
Snyder also managed to navigate highly controversial issues like the approval of recreational marijuana and the legal opening of the Manitou Incline. He also chaired the Pikes Peak Area Council of Governments board, chaired the Pikes Peak Regional Building Commission, served on the El Paso County Board of Public Health and served on the Pikes Peak Rural Transportation Authority's board.
We like Martinez a lot, and we want to see him in an elected office in the future. But Snyder has proven himself and deserves your vote.
El Paso County Sheriff, Republican primary
- J. Adrian Stanley
- Mike Angley
If you've been watching this race then you know that incumbent Sheriff Bill Elder is being challenged by Mike Angley, a retired Air Force colonel and a 35-year executive in law enforcement and U.S. Intelligence who oversaw "five separate law enforcement field offices, culminating with a Region, the largest field structure in [the Air Force Office of Special Investigations]."
The two are both hardcore Republicans, and champions of President Donald Trump, who like to argue over who would be tougher on immigration policy or a bigger champion of gun rights. Which is to say, we don't agree with their politics.
But sometimes you need to work with the choices you have, and while we applaud both the Democrats who entered this race, we also know that the odds are stacked against anyone with a "D" next to their name.
So let's dig in. It's probably not a big secret that we don't have the best relationship with Elder. When our reporter Pam Zubeck reported on accusations by Elder's former staff that his administration ordered them to illegally notarize hundreds of oath affidavits (...or else), Elder took the bizarre step of calling a press conference to rage against our reporter in front of other media.
We really don't have time to go in-depth on all the problems we've seen at the Sheriff's Office under Elder. But let's touch on some:
• KRW Associates LLC did a review of the department in 2015 and found it top-heavy — no surprise since Elder was quick to reward his campaign loyalists with promotions, including rehiring a commander, Rob King. The Sheriff's Office is being sued over alleged sexual harassment by King.
• Bill Huffor was given a letter of counseling for an accusation of sexual harassment, Elder disbanded the Disciplinary Action Board. Elder has promoted Huffor, now a lieutenant, repeatedly. Huffor is, notably, the husband of Elder's chief of staff/campaign manager. Elder's office has also faced lawsuits alleging sexual harassment and age discrimination.
• Elder's own employees are clearly contributing to the website dirtyelder.com — which is exactly what it sounds like. Even former Sheriff Terry Maketa, who faced two trials for his behavior as sheriff, never inspired that kind of hatred in his own employees.
• Elder rebid a food contract for the jail and then failed to adequately oversee the contractor, leading to a November 2016 inmate riot.
• Under Elder's leadership, the Office has been sued by the ACLU for holding immigrants without a warrant for ICE.
We could go on. But why bother?
Let's move on to Angley. Our biggest issue with him is his embrace of local law enforcement handling federal immigration law (although, unlike Elder, Angley would do so through a federal partnership).
We think that's reckless at best, and will likely lead to a payout of taxpayer funds in a lawsuit. Local officers are not federal law enforcement and have no right to enforce immigration law, with or without an agreement.
We'll say it again: We don't care for Angley's politics. But there are things we like about him, chiefly this: He doesn't believe the Sheriff's Office should be run like a political organization. Where Elder promotes his loyalists, Angley promises to set clear guidelines for advancement and promote those who make the grade. Angley wants to incentivize officers to get more education and training and partner with the military on leadership programs that stress honesty and integrity.
While Elder plans to seek renewal of the .23 percent sheriff's sales tax, which expires in 2020, Angley says he doesn't think it's right to ask for the money when the current tax has been misspent. (It's hard to immediately say if that's an accurate characterization, but a thorough analysis of how that money has been spent likely is in order.) Instead, Angley says he'll cut pet projects, order an independent audit and prominently post financials on the sheriff's website.
"I could save the taxpayers a lot of money by not doing dumb things," he says.
Angley, who isn't accepting campaign contributions from sheriff staff, says he'd clean house if elected, and rebuild the Office in a transparent manner. Politics and disagreements aside, the choice is clear.