Come November, all 65 seats in the Colorado House and about half of the 35 spots in the Senate are under review, but some will be more closely watched than others next Tuesday.
Democrats hold a commanding — and safe — majority in the House, with a 41-24 edge. Republicans would have to flip nine seats, and there aren’t enough question marks on the political map to get them there this election cycle. The Senate is closer, as Democrats hold a 19-16 edge, but Republicans will need political surprises in the upper chamber to flip any of the politically drawn districts that favor incumbents.
It’s more likely that Democrats grow their advantages, with another blue year at the ballot box, which is expected in a state where the president is unpopular and a critical U.S. Senate seat are sharing the top of the ticket.
Colorado Politics chief statehouse reporter Marianne Goodland and senior writer Joey Bunch, with more than a half century of journalism experience between them and decades in Colorado, size up the primary races that could shake up the statehouse in the next General Assembly.
Here we go:
Republican primary: Colin Larson versus Justin Everettt, House District 22 in south Jefferson County, including the Ken Caryl and Columbine neighborhoods.
The marquee race of the primary season is between Larson, the incumbent, and Everett, the three-term lawmaker who decided not to run for the House in 2018 to make a failed bid for state treasurer.
The ugly is flying in this race like it’s the blue-light special at K-Mart. Social media — Facebook in particular — is loaded with attacks, mostly on Larson from Everett and his allies.
Everett is a longtime associate of the Neville family, and this is the home House district connected to former Republican state Sen. Tim Neville. In a 15-month period, from August 2018 to November 2019, Everett’s consulting business, Comma, was paid more than $35,000 by campaign committees controlled by Joe Neville, the son of Tim and brother of House Minority Leader Patrick Neville of Castle Rock. Everett was personally paid another $5,000 by Values First Colorado, the main political committee that is supposed to raise money to support House Republican candidates.
In his six years in office, Everett sponsored 40 bills with seven signed into law. Larson, in two years, sponsored 32 bills, with a dozen signed into law.
Among Everett’s most significant laws were a 2015 measure banning multiple voter registrations, and a 2013 law on in-state tuition for military dependents.
Larson’s measures in 2020 include House Bill 1001, usually considered a top priority for legislative leaders, which raises the minimum age for tobacco purchases to 21. In 2019, he was a co-sponsor of House Bill 1194, which limits the ability of schools to suspend students enrolled in preschool through second grade.
The candidate campaign fundraising slightly favors Everett, with just over $18,000 raised. His biggest donor: Rocky Mountain Gun Owners, at $2,600.
Larson has raised, as of mid-June, just under $18,000. His largest donor is COPIC, the medical liability insurer, with $2,000. COPIC put $4,000 into Larson’s 2018 campaign.
But it’s outside money that will make the big difference in this race, and that side leans heavily toward Larson, with spending in his favor as of June 22 at $258,892.
The COPIC independent expenditure committee Assuring Quality Healthcare Access has put $170,442 into campaign literature supporting Larson.
Coloradans for Constitutional Values, which is tied to Unite America, also is in Larson’s corner, and has put $88,451 into campaign materials either supporting Larson or opposing Everett. Unite America is funded largely by Kathryn Murdoch, daughter-in-law of Fox News owner Rupert Murdoch, although Kathryn and James Murdoch have distanced themselves from positions adopted by his father.
Unite America and its Colorado affiliate, Unite Colorado, back ranked-choice voting and support candidates in both major political parties.
On Everett’s side, the RMGO independent expenditure committee put $6,423.86 into campaign support. Make Liberty Win, an independent expenditure committee, put $47,940 into a mailer supporting Everett, Grady Nouis of Weld County and state Sen. Vicki Marble of Fort Collins, who is running for an open seat in House District 49. Make Liberty Win is primarily a dark money group tied to Young Americans for Liberty, which receives some of its funding from the Koch brothers and Americans for Prosperity.
Republican primary: Grady Nouis versus Tonya Van Beber, House District 48, Weld County.
Nouis ran in 2018 against moderate Democrat Rep. Tracy Kraft-Tharp of Arvada and lost by 20 percentage points. A strong conservative, a move to a safer Republican district could give him better results. This is one of the General Assembly’s open seats. The winner between Nouis and Van Beber meets Democrat Holly Herson, a recent University of Northern Colorado graduate, millennial, mother and party activist with strong endorsements. The winner will succeed term-limited Republican Rep. Stephen Humphrey of Ault, who won the rural district with nearly 68% just two years ago and by more than 68% in 2016.
Republican primary: Incumbent Bob Rankin versus Debra Irvine, Senate District 8, Northwestern Colorado
It’s hard to count out a Rankin in the Colorado high country, but Sen. Bob Rankin has a long march to a full term in the upper chamber. He was elevated from the House last year when Sen. Randy Baumgardner resigned.
Baumgarder, a fellow Republican, won by 10 points in 2016 and 7 points four years earlier. But Rankin is a retired executive from Carbondale, not a cowboy from Hot Sulphur Springs. Irvine is an artist from Breckenridge and the former chair of the Summit County Republicans. Irvine beat Rankin in the delegate count at the online district assembly in April to get the top spot on the ballot.
The winner gets the pleasure of taking on one of two well-known Democrats, former Eagle County Commissioner Arn Menconi and Karl Hanlon, a rancher and Glenwood Springs town attorney. They finished second and third, respectively, in the Democratic Congressional District 3 primary two years ago.
Republican primary: Barbara Kirkmeyer versus Rupert Parchment, Senate District 23
Can anyone really replace Vicki Marble? The conservative firebrand from Fort Collins was the only woman in the Senate Republican Caucus, and now she faces term limits. In a conservative district, Weld County Commissioner Barbara Kirkmeyer and businessman Rupert Parchment in the GOP primary. Parchment enjoys the endorsements of top conservative Republicans, including Marble, Sen. John Cooke of Greeley and former U.S. Rep Tom Tancredo.
Democratic primary: Incumbent Steven Woodrow versus Dan Himelspach and Steven Paletz, House District 6
Woodrow is the incumbent in only the strictest sense, appointed by a vacancy committee to fill the seat vacated by Chris Hansen, who was elevated to a southeast Denver Senate seat vacated by Lois Court. Among seven candidates to fill the seat, Woodrow, a Denver lawyer and progressive activist, collected 45 of the committee’s 71 votes. Hansen ran unopposed in 2018 but won the strongly Democratic seat by nearly 17 points in 2016. The Democratic primary winner takes on Republican William McAleg and Libetarian Jeffrey Crowe in November.
Democratic primary: Naquetta Ricks versus John Ronquillo, House District 40
Ricks, the president at African Chamber of Commerce, has been the candidate on the bubble for a while; she's considered the next big thing in east metro Denver politics who has yet to find her spot. Ricks ran unsuccessfully for University of Colorado regent in 2014 and lost again in 2017 when she finished third in a race for an Aurora City Council seat.
Ronquillo, an Aurora resident and professor at the University of Colorado Denver School of Public Affairs, has been looking for a place to leave his mark as well. Last year, he initially sought the state Senate District 28 seat held by term-limited Sen. Nancy Todd, but withdrew from the race when House Speaker Pro Tempore Janet Buckner entered the race, endorsing her candidacy. The winner takes on Republican Richard Allen Bassett of Aurora and Libertarian Robert Harrison of Aurora. This is the seat held by Buckner, who is running for the open Senate seat held by Todd. **
Republican primary: Stephanie Luck versus Ron Parker, House District 47
This Pueblo seat is coveted by both parties, held by Republicans until Democrat Bri Buentello snatched it away two years ago, as Pueblo County remains the state’s swing county and an election bellwether. Luck is a former Penrose Chamber of Commerce president and a board member for Fremont County Communities that Care. Two years ago, she ran for the state Senate District 2 seat, losing by 15 points to eventual winner Dennis Hisey in the GOP primary. Parker is an Army veteran and retired educator who’s lived in Pueblo since 1985. He worked for the Colorado Department of Corrections for 28 years, first at prisons in Ordway and Canon City then as a high school math teacher for the CDC’s Youth Offender System in Pueblo.
SLEEPER RACE TO WATCH
Democratic primary, Incumbent Don Valdez versus Matthew Martinez, House District 62
This San Luis Valley seat is a solid D, so whoever wins the primary is likely to win the general election. But it's the challenger who's winning support from Valdez' House colleagues.
Valdez, a fifth-generation Colorado farmer, is running for his third term, after a four-month attempt last year to run for a nomination in the 3rd Congressional District. He lists no endorsements for his re-election on his website. Among his largest contributions: $400 from James Iacino, who's running in next week's Democratic primary for the 3rd District seat.
Martinez, a seventh-generation Coloradan and Marine veteran, made an aborted run against Valdez in the 2016 primary but dropped out before the election. This time around, he’s getting campaign contributions from Joint Budget Committee Chair Rep. Daneya Esgar and Rep. Bri Buentello, both of Pueblo, and former Rep. Ed Vigil of Alamosa, whom Valdez succeeded in the HD62 seat, according to TRACER, the state's campaign finance system. Martinez also has support from Planned Parenthood and COBALT, formerly NARAL Pro-Choice Colorado; Marguerite Salazar, formerly the executive director of the Department of Regulatory Agencies and the former head of the Denver office of the Social Security Administration; and Carole Partin, the former head of the Pueblo teacher’s union.
In the fundraising column: Valdez holds a lead. He had more than $12,000 in his campaign coffers left over from 2018, but has raised just $3,223 in the 2020 election cycle.
Martinez has raised $6,875 for the 2020 primary, including $743 from his own coffers.
Correction: a previous version misidentified the current representative of House District 40.