Democrat Javier Mabrey, an attorney and co-founder of a group that defends Coloradans facing eviction, announced Tuesday that he's running in next year's election for House District 1, a southwest Denver seat held by term-limited Democratic state Rep. Susan Lontine.
Raised by a single mother whose only source of income was a disability check, Mabrey, 30, said he wants to bring his experience growing up in the district — dependent on food stamps, his family faced eviction and was homeless for a stretch — to advocate for economic and racial justice at the state Capitol.
"Too many Coloradans struggle to get by,” Mabrey said. “Colorado families deserve better — they deserve someone who will fight for them. Everyone should have access to good paying jobs, affordable housing and health care.”
Mabrey, a co-founder of the COVID-19 Eviction Defense Project, has gotten a head start figuring out the legislative process as a key driver behind tenant rights legislation moving through the General Assembly this session.
The bill, Senate Bill 21-173 — sponsored by state Sens. Julie Gonzales, D-Denver, and Dominick Moreno, D-Commerce City, and state Reps. Yadira Caraveo, D-Thornton, and Serena Gonzales-Gutierrez, D-Denver — won approval on second reading in the Senate on Tuesday.
"Colorado right now is one of the worst states in the nation for renters facing eviction," Mabrey told Colorado Politics. "What SB-173 does is aimed at leveling the playing field, making sure renters facing eviction have a fair day in court."
Among numerous provisions, the bill lets renters bring up what Mabrey called "basic, bread-and-butter defenses" in court without having to pay additional fees and prevents eviction based on accumulated late fees alone.
After dropping out of school, Mabrey attended community college on the way to getting his GED, then graduated from the University of Colorado in Boulder and got a law degree from the University of California Berkley. Along the way, he worked for the Obama campaign in Colorado and as a community organizer in economically distressed neighborhoods.
"I intend to apply the lessons I’ve learned in community organizing to this campaign, make it rooted in the community and largely volunteer-based," he said, adding that he plans to go through the caucus process and petition onto the ballot simultaneously.
"Caucuses are great for engaging the folks in the party, but I think it’s important to do the petition signatures too, to get out early, knocking on doors, talking to people in the neighborhoods," Mabrey said.
Naming as role models U.S. Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren and U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Mabrey said the prominent progressives "do a great job of working as advocates within the national legislature and do a good job of keeping the conversation framed on communities of color and the poor and workers. I think with a platform in the Legislature, you can be an even more effective advocate and community organizer for change."
He's the only declared candidate for the heavily Democratic seat, but Mabrey said he expects a primary.
Mabrey said an obstacle to many of the solutions he has in mind — on housing, education, health care and transportation — is Colorado's constitutional revenue cap, the TABOR amendment.
"The biggest barrier to structural change in Colorado is TABOR. It’s going to take a massive amount of energy and organizing to abolish TABOR so we can raise the amount of money we need to to adequately invest in our community," he said, adding, "I will be a fearless advocate for abolishing TABOR so we can invest in our community."
In addition to advocating for affordable and available housing, Mabrey said that if elected, he intends to make it a priority to fight against the criminalization of poverty and to work for restorative and racial justice.
"I have personally experienced the criminalization of poverty in my family," he said. "My mom was arrested for an unpaid parking ticket — disabled and elderly, she had to go to jail for a few days for that."
Mabrey said he's on board with efforts to eliminate cash bail and lower the cost of minor infractions.
"We need to reduce penalties so that people aren’t going to jail for parking tickets or minor offenses simply because they cannot afford to pay those tickets," he said. "We can create a system where those sorts of things are dealt with similarly to the way a private debt is dealt with, and we’re not taking away somebody’s freedom for an unpaid bill."
Mabrey launches his campaign with a slew of prominent endorsements, including Gonzales, Moreno and Caraveo, as well as state Reps. Tom Sullivan, Steve Woodrow, Dylan Roberts, Edie Hooton and Lyndsey Dougherty. Denver councilwomen Debbie Ortega and Candi CdeBaca and former elected officials Andrew Romanoff, Jonathan Singer and Mike Foote are also supporting his run.
Said CdeBaca: “Too often, we elect out-of-touch politicians who put corporate interests over the interests of everyday people. I’m endorsing Javier Mabrey for Colorado’s House District 1 because our state legislature needs someone who will be a champion for the people’s interests and bring justice to communities who are left out of the conversation.”
Under its current boundaries — set to be redrawn before the next election — the district covers Denver's Harvey Park, Mar Lee and Fort Logan neighborhoods and also includes a bit of Jefferson County across South Sheridan Boulevard, south of West Hampden Avenue. Democrats account for 40% of its registered voters, edged out barely by the 41% share of unaffiliated voters but far ahead of the 17% Republicans.