Palisade Town Trustee Thea Chase announced Monday she’s running as an unaffiliated candidate for the House District 54 seat represented by Mesa County Republican Yeulin Willett, who isn’t seeking reelection. She’ll have the backing of Unite Colorado, formerly known as the Centrist Project, an organization that’s working to elect independent lawmakers.
Chase, the director of the Southwest Innovation Corridor and a former longtime executive director of Grand Junction’s Business Incubator Center, said her pragmatic approach and business sense will help represent the district’s interests at the Capitol.
“Like so many people in our community, I believe Denver does not have an appreciation for the issues on the West Slope,” she said in a statement. “Our positions and priorities need to be heard, embraced, and acted on. As someone who has helped countless people start and grow small businesses, I know the importance of long-term thinking and pragmatic approaches. I am action orientated, experienced, and I know how to get things done. Being a West Slope independent, I am the only candidate in this race who can successfully see this through.”
Republican Matt Soper, a professional writer and researcher, has also announced he’s running for the seat, which includes most of Mesa County outside Grand Junction as well as parts of Delta County, and has Willett’s backing.
Chase, a former assistant professor at Colorado Mesa University, said she’ll focus on small business development and rebuilding infrastructure, including rural broadband and transportation. She also wants to strengthen public education, make business regulations more user-friendly and promote the Grand Valley as what she terms “the outdoor capital of Colorado.”
Nick Troiano, executive director of Unite Colorado, said the group was happy to throw its support behind Chase, the fifth unaffiliated legislative candidate it’s endorsed so far this year.
“With her experience creating jobs and growing the economy in Western Colorado, and her fiercely independent approach to problem solving that puts people first, she’s exactly the type of person we need in politics today,” Troiano said in a statement. He added, “Thea’s experience in the community will enable her to represent her district well. She knows the West Slope, and she’s the only candidate running in HD-54 who isn’t part of the broken partisan system that’s beholden to party bosses and special interests.”
Unite Colorado, which is planning to spend at least $1 million to elect unaffiliated legislators this year, launched a slate of candidates in early January including challengers running against Senate Majority Leader Chris Holbert, R-Parker, in Senate District 30 and state Rep. Matt Gray, D-Broomfield, in House District 33. In addition, the group is running candidates in a pair of open seats — House District 18 in El Paso County and House District 31 in Adams County, which are both currently represented by Democrats.
“For the first time ever, independents are organizing in a credible way in Colorado,” said Andrew Short, Unite Colorado’s political director and a former director of the Colorado Democratic Party’s campaign operation to elect Democrats to the state Senate. “Our movement gives talented leaders a viable way of running for office outside the broken two-party system.”
The group is recruiting in another eight districts it’s identified as winnable by what its strategists term “credible” unaffiliated candidates. While Republicans and Democrats are caucusing on Tuesday night, Unite Colorado plans to hold online training about “the rise of zero-sum partisanship (and) how independents can bridge the partisan divide,” Troiano said. Those interested can sign up here.