2022 primary election: Top 4 Colorado legislative races to watch
Elisabeth Epps, Katie March face off in a deep-blue Denver House district
Elisabeth Epps, left, and Katie March are running in the Democratic primary for House District 6. (Images courtesy of Epps and March campaigns)
In a few dozen Colorado legislative districts where voters lean heavily Democratic or Republican, the political party of the November winner is nearly assured.
Some of those districts feature an incumbent who is running unopposed in the June 28 primary election. For example, in eight recent statewide elections, Democrats running in Denver’s House District 8 enjoyed a 74.4 percentage-point advantage over Republicans, according to an analysis by nonpartisan legislative redistricting staff. Incumbent Democratic state Rep. Leslie Herod is unopposed in the June primary, meaning she’s almost certain to win reelection to House District 8 in November.
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But in the handful of heavily Republican or Democratic districts with two people vying for the dominant party’s nomination, June elections are more interesting — and the winner will enjoy an easy path to victory in November. Below are some legislative primary contests worth watching:
House District 6, Denver
Primary voters in Denver’s House District 6 will choose between Democrats Elisabeth Epps and Katie March in a high-stakes fight. Epps, the progressive favorite, is the founder and executive director of the Colorado Freedom Fund, an organization that helps pay bonds for people awaiting trial in jail and advocates for criminal justice reforms including an end to cash bail. Epps has endorsements from state Sens. Pete Lee and Julie Gonzales, and state Reps. Steven Woodrow and Jennifer Bacon, among others. March has gained substantial policy experience working in various roles at the Capitol for state House Speaker Alec Garnett’s office. She’s endorsed by Garnett and a slate of moderate Democrats, including state Sens. Janet Buckner and Chris Hansen and former state Sen. Lois Court.
Epps, a former public defender, supports banning assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, and increasing funding for mental health care and drug treatment, according to her website. She’s criticized Gov. Jared Polis‘ climate policies as inadequate, and has advocated for abortion rights and against police brutality.
March wants to improve access to capital for small businesses, increase the minimum wage and work to eliminate the state’s reliance on for-profit, private prisons, of which there are two remaining, in Bent and Crowley counties. According to her website, she worked closely with Garnett on the 2019 “red-flag” law that allows law enforcement to remove guns from people deemed a threat to themselves or others, and helped pass a law last year requiring safe storage of firearms.
Epps’ campaign recently received a $2,000 donation from the small donor committee of Colorado WINS, the state employees’ union, and $5,350 from Service Employees International Union Local 105. State Rep. Emily Sirota, a Denver Democrat, donated a total of $360. Epps’ campaign had received more than $158,000 in total contributions as of May 31.
March’s campaign has received more than $134,000 in total contributions. Recent donations include $1,500 from the Plumbers Local 3 Small Donor committee; $400 from the Associated General Contractors of Colorado, which lobbies for the commercial building industry; and $400 from former House District 6 candidate Sean Camacho.
House District 6 stretches southeast from North Broadway and East 20th Avenue to South Havana Street and East Mississippi Avenue. Over eight statewide elections from 2016 through 2020, Democrats had a 66.9 percentage-point advantage in the district, according to the redistricting staff’s analysis. The winner of Democrats’ June primary will still have to beat Republican nominee Donald Howell in November.
House District 42, Aurora
In Aurora’s House District 42, Democratic primary voters have two candidates to choose from: incumbent state Rep. Mandy Lindsay and longtime city employee Gail Pough. Lindsay was selected earlier this year by a vacancy committee to replace former Rep. Dominique Jackson, who resigned for a high-level post with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Out of five candidates vying to replace Jackson, Pough received the second-highest number of votes from the vacancy committee, the Aurora Sentinel reported at the time.
Lindsay helped sponsor a bill this year that established a revolving loan and grant program for mobile home owners seeking to organize and purchase their communities. She’s a community organizer, small business owner and former legislative aide who also championed bills to expand protections for injured workers’ mental health records and extend a state grant program for projects benefiting older Coloradans.
Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser and state Reps. Dafna Michaelson Jenet, Barbara McLachlan and David Ortiz, among others, have endorsed Lindsay. SEIU Local 105 recently donated $3,000 to Lindsay’s campaign, and the Colorado WINS small donor committee gave $2,000. The campaign also received $400 from state Rep. Monica Duran, a Wheat Ridge Democrat, last month, and reported a total of $14,000 in contributions as of May 31.
Pough has worked as a safety inspector and volunteered with organizations including Together Colorado, the Aurora NAACP, and the National Council of Negro Women, according to her website. Pough says she wants to make rental fees more transparent for prospective renters, “find ways to bring down total rent,” protect abortion rights, and provide more resources to K-12 schools to help make up for pandemic learning gaps.
She’s endorsed by state Sens. Rhonda Fields and Janet Buckner and state Reps. Leslie Herod and Jennifer Bacon, among others. Donations to Pough’s campaign include $400 from former House District 42 candidate Eric Nelson, $200 from the Buckner for Colorado Leadership Fund, $150 from Buckner herself, and $300 in total from Fields. The campaign had received nearly $12,900 in total contributions as of May 31.
House District 42 lies directly east of House District 6, stretching from South Airport Boulevard west to Yosemite Street. Here, Democrats enjoy a 45.8 percentage-point advantage. The winner of the Democratic primary will face Republican Cory Parella.
House District 63, Northeast Colorado
A Republican incumbent faces a primary challenger in House District 63, an expansive northeast Colorado district where Republican candidates hold a 53.8 percentage-point margin over Democrats. Rep. Richard Holtorf of Akron has held his House seat since 2019, when he was appointed by a vacancy committee to replace late Rep. Kimmi Lewis. Holtorf won election in 2020 and, in his second election, now faces a primary opponent in Jessie Vance of Eckley.
Former state Sen. Greg Brophy has endorsed Vance, who on his Facebook page promises to “never waver” on protecting Second Amendment rights and “get Colorado oil and gas back up and running.” Vance also has endorsements from the Colorado Chamber of Commerce and all three Yuma County commissioners.
Vance’s campaign reported more than $13,000 in contributions as of May 31, and Vance reported loaning his campaign an additional $1,795 on June 8. The campaign recently received $400 from the Colorado Chamber of Commerce, as well as $250 from the Committee for the American Dream and $750 from the Homes for All Coloradoans Committee — both of which are tied to the Colorado Association of Homebuilders.
Holtorf, an Army veteran and rancher, is endorsed by the National Rifle Association and state Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg of Sterling. In April, he spoke at a rally that featured election deniers Mike Lindell and Tina Peters, the embattled Mesa County clerk. Holtorf speaks fluent Spanish and last year was the sole House Republican to vote “yes” on a bill to establish multilingual voting resources.
Among recent donations to Holtorf’s campaign committee: $400 from former Colorado Agriculture Commissioner Don Ament, $100 from state Sen. Larry Liston, and $200 from the Colorado Bankers Association. He reported more than $10,000 in total contributions for the election cycle.
House District 63 covers all or part of Weld, Morgan, Washington, Logan, Sedgwick, Phillips and Yuma counties. The rural district includes communities that are central to Colorado’s agriculture and oil and gas industries. No Democratic candidates are running in June or November.
Senate District 9, El Paso County
In deep-red Senate District 9, which covers northwestern El Paso County, incumbent state Sen. Paul Lundeen of Monument seeks reelection to a second term. He faces a primary challenger in retired Air Force Lt. Col. Lynda Zamora Wilson, who secured the top spot on the ballot at the GOP county assembly.
Wilson most recently worked as an assistant professor of economics at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, according to her LinkedIn page. The former Air Force economist has made “election integrity” central to her platform, telling Colorado Politics she wants to end mail-in voting — the choice of more than 98% of Colorado voters in the November 2021 election, according to a statement from the Colorado secretary of state’s office. A political newcomer, Wilson also supports “protecting the U.S. Constitution” and “traditional education,” according to Colorado Politics. Wilson’s campaign reported just $870 in contributions as of May 31, with much of that coming from the candidate herself.
Lundeen, the Senate minority whip, was first elected to the state Senate in 2018. He was a co-prime sponsor on bipartisan bills last year to regulate how companies protect consumers’ personal data and restrict high-potency marijuana products. A former chair of the State Board of Education, Lundeen has long advocated for school-choice policies at the Capitol. He also helped usher the School Finance Act through the Legislature this year. The law reduces the budget stabilization factor, or negative factor — the amount of money the state owes schools based on a formula but chooses to spend on other priorities — to its lowest amount since 2010.
Last month, Lundeen’s campaign received $5,350 from the small donor committee of the Apartment Association of Metro Denver; $2,000 from the Colorado Dairy Farmers Small Donor Committee; and $400 from the Colorado Chamber of Commerce. Contributions to Lundeen’s campaign totaled about $73,200 as of May 31.
Republican candidates had a 33.4 percentage-point lead over Democrats in the last eight statewide elections, giving the winner of the GOP primary a significant advantage. They’ll still need to defeat Democrat Arik Dougherty in November.
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