Bernie Sanders follows rallies with Denver fundraiser for state House candidates


Bernie Sanders urged supporters Wednesday night at a Denver fundraiser to work hard until the midterms to elect “courageous people” who can implement progressive policies.

“We can win a sweeping victory all across this country, but — but we won’t do it simply by dreaming of a blue wave,” said Sanders, the independent senator from Vermont and 2016 presidential candidate. “We’ve got to make that wave happen, and the way we make that wave happen is by working as hard as we can over the next two weeks.

“It would be an international embarrassment if we continue in Washington to have one-party rule, if we had right-wing governors all over this country who work for the oil industry or fossil fuel industry or drug companies or Wall Street,” Sanders added.

Earlier in the day, Sanders headlined get-out-the-vote rallies for Democratic candidates in Boulder and Fort Collins. He appeared with gubernatorial candidate Jared Polis; congressional candidate Joe Neguse, who is running for the seat Polis has held for five terms; and U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet.

Republicans derided Sanders’ visit to Colorado, dubbing it the “Polis-Sanders Socialism Tour” while linking Polis to proposals the GOP described as “too extreme” for the state.

“For too long in this state, regular, workaday Coloradans have been treated as an afterthought at the state Capitol while corporations and mega-donors get their way on everything,” said Democratic legislative candidate Emily Sirota, who organized the evening fundraiser and introduced Sanders. “But times are a-changing.”

Sanders defeated Hillary Clinton in Colorado’s non-binding Democratic Party caucuses in 2016 but lost the nomination to the former secretary of state, who then lost the election to Donald Trump.

The Vermonter said his presidential campaign succeeded in “(refocusing) the priorities facing the American people,” as ideas that three years ago “seemed radical and extreme are now part of the mainstream conversation.”

Among his campaign’s proposals since embraced widely by Democrats, he said, are the notion that health care is a right, not a privilege — recent polling shows overwhelming support for his “Medicare for all” plan — as well as raising the minimum wage, criminal justice reform and aggressive action on climate change.

“So that is what we have begun to accomplish. That is no small thing,” he told the crowd. “But the ideas don’t mean anything unless we elect courageous people who have the guts to stand up on behalf of those ideas,”

The fundraiser benefited the Progressive Values Small Donor Committee, formed a month ago by Sirota, who is running for the open state House District 9 seat in southeast Denver against Republican Bob Lane. She said the committee raised $28,000 at the event — from 1,000 donors making an average contribution of $28 each — and would distribute that to five candidates, including one incumbent.

The candidates, who spoke to the crowd before Sanders arrived, are state Rep. Mike Weissman in House District 36, Brianna Titone in House District 27, Yadira Caraveo in House District 31, Rochelle Galindo in House District 50 and Kyle Mullica in House District 34,

“It’s an amazing opportunity to showcase some of the progressive folks running across the states, said Sirota, who ousted an incumbent Democrat in the House District 6 primary after winning an endorsement from Sanders. “We’re just so excited to send this message to Colorado that the grassroots is here, it’s active, and we’re going to make a difference in 2018.”

She told Colorado Politics she anticipates the midterms will put more progressive lawmakers in office, paving the way for some ambitious legislation.

“We’re definitely going to be addressing the affordability crisis in Colorado,” Sirota said. “That touches on everything, from housing, childcare, education, jobs, wages, and climate change is certainly an issue that needs to be tackled.”

The fundraiser was held at Zeppelin Station, a hip food court and shopping center nestled between railroad tracks and industrial plants in Denver’s trendy River North neighborhood.

Before Sanders spoke, a mostly young crowd munched on Korean chicken nuggets and Vietnamese sandwiches while homegrown rapper Jonny 5 of Flobots and Spirit of Grace, a gospel ensemble, shared the stage.

“People are getting ready to take things back,” said Jonny 5 (the stage name of Jamie Laurie). “This is about people standing up.”

Then, over a hip-hop beat, he rapped: “The callousness we’ve seen these past few years with regard to other people’s humanity is intolerable and must be changed.”

Sanders, who caucuses with Democratic senators and ran for president as a Democrat but serves in the Senate as an independent, drew cheers from the crowd when he said the party’s super delegates wouldn’t have a vote in the 2020 presidential nominating contest — a sore point for Sanders supporters, who blame the party officials for tilting the last nomination to Hillary Clinton.

Polis himself was a convention superdelegate who backed Clinton in 2016.

“We are in the midst of bringing about a transformation of the Democratic Party so it will open its doors wide to working people and their needs and young people and people of color, and address the real issues facing the American people,” Sanders said.

Allison Vail, a Centennial resident who brought her 14-year-old granddaughter to the fundraiser, was a Sanders delegate to the 2016 Democratic National Convention and hopes he runs again for president.

“There’s a lot of people who think he’s too old,” she said. “We have to run on the ideas, not the age.”

Grinning widely, she said it had been inspiring to hear Sanders speak.

“People are finally realizing that we don’t need to live like we’re under a rock. We can live like real people do in the rest of the world.”

Her granddaughter, Trinity Bangston, agreed that Sanders was inspiring but added, “He looked so mad!”

She said she was impressed with what Sanders had said.

“I liked when he talked about racism and how rich people shouldn’t be favored just because they’re rich,” she said.

Sanders is nearing the end of a nine-state tour ahead of the Nov. 6 election, which he called “the most important midterm election in the modern history of this country.” He’s scheduled to appear in Nevada on Thursday and California on Friday.

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