Less than two months until the June 26 primaries — aren’t you excited? I thought not, but you ought to be. Thanks to the voter-approved measure that allows unaffiliated voters to vote in either the Republican or Democratic contests, plus contentious and unpredictable multi-candidate fields in a number of races, it’ll be a fun Tuesday.
Let’s start with the eight-person gubernatorial race, evenly split between Repubs and Dems. Term-limited State Treasurer (and Bush relative) Walker Stapleton has been a competent elected official and a consistent critic of the Colorado Public Employees Retirement Association’s funding structure. PERA has long been a bête noir of the Republican right, and GOP primary voters have historically trended right. Stapleton’s name recognition and issue identification should easily propel him to victory over Doug Robinson (Mitt Romney’s nephew), Victor Mitchell and Greg Lopez. Not incidentally, Stapleton would certainly be the strongest GOP candidate in the November general election. In a time when many voters are dismayed by Washington’s fevered partisanship, Stapleton might be perceived as reassuringly sober and serious, especially if he can emerge unscarred from the primary.
It’d be a major political upset if either Lt. Gov. Donna Lynne or former state legislator Mike Johnston managed to win the Democratic primary. Former State Treasurer Cary Kennedy scored overwhelming wins in the caucuses and assemblies, but she’ll have to work hard to beat Boulder congressman Jared Polis. Democrats have a major dilemma on their hands: Do they spurn a highly qualified woman in the #MeToo era, especially since this progressive state has never elected a woman governor? Or do they spurn an equally well-qualified gay man who happens to be one of the most successful entrepreneurs in Colorado history? Kennedy and Polis are smart and engaging, as well as relentless campaigners, but Polis can self-finance both the primary and the general election.
And how about the magnificently muddled Republican primary for the Fifth Congressional District? A few days ago, it looked like Doug Lamborn would likely prevail with a slim plurality, thanks to sharing the ballot with four reasonably well-qualified challengers. But then the Colorado Supreme Court knocked him off the ballot, voiding petitions that had been circulated by a non-resident signature collector. As of press time, Lamborn filed a successful appeal with the federal courts, but it’s still a free-for-all that includes term-limited State Sen. Owen Hill, term-limited County Commissioner Darryl Glenn, former Green Mountain Falls Mayor Tyler Stevens and self-described centrist Republican Bill Rhea. Most pundits seem to think that (absent Lamborn) Hill’s the favorite, followed by Glenn and Stevens, with Rhea a distant fourth.
Lamborn, Glenn and Hill are professional politicians eager to continue Washington’s gridlocked impotence. These are fractious times, and maybe voters are ready for a different kind of representation. If so, they might consider Rhea or Stevens.
Rhea is a particularly interesting guy. He’s a veteran, an attorney who has served as a Texas judge and a missionary in Cambodia. He and his spouse have 14 children — nine adopted and five biological. As a former elected official, I’m deeply skeptical about politics and politicians, but Rhea seems like a healer, not a self-obsessed scammer.
Tyler Stevens has been laudably active in El Paso County politics, having served four terms as the unpaid mayor of Green Mountain Falls. He’s also a successful businessman, and has held significant positions in regional intergovernmental entities, including two terms as chair of the Pikes Peak Area Council of Governments.
And let’s not forget the dynastic Republican primary races for County Commission in Districts 1 and 5. In District 5, Cami Bremer will face off against Vicki Tonkins for the seat currently held by Darryl Glenn. While Tonkins prevailed at the assembly by a 57-43 margin, Bremer has an impressive list of endorsements, naturally including former El Paso County GOP chair Eli Bremer (her husband) and former Commissioner Duncan Bremer (her father-in-law). In District 1, Holly Williams (whose spouse is a former commissioner and incumbent Colorado Secretary of State Wayne Williams) will do battle with Calandra Vargas, the fiery young activist whose passionate speech nearly knocked Doug Lamborn off the Fifth Congressional District primary ballot two years ago.
Could the primaries be swayed by an influx of unaffiliated voters, a “purple wave” of folks fed up with politics as usual? We’ll see, but here are my picks: Kennedy, Stapleton, Stevens, Bremer and Vargas.