The ballot in the mayor’s race in Aurora won’t tell you which candidates are Democrats and which are Republicans. A Google search can fill you in aplenty on where six candidates fall along with ideological spectrum.
If you favor a Republican, and if you like the tried-and-true, there’s Mike Coffman. He has served Colorado as a congressman, state treasurer, secretary of state, state legislator and combat soldier.
The Democratic counterweight is Omar Montgomery. He leads the city’s NAACP chapter, as well as teaching ethnic studies at the University of Colorado-Denver. Montgomery's endorsers include advocates for labor, reproductive rights and bold-faced Democrats such as former U.S. Rep. Gabby Giffords and former Obama administration Attorney General Eric Holder.
And then there’s Ryan Frazier. In this veteran Colorado politico and Republican expat, there has always been the better parts of both the left and right, but never quite enough of either to satisfy voters in the bigger races he's been in.
We met for lunch at his favorite restaurant, La Cueva Restaurant along a busy strip of East Colfax. Mexican pop music played like a soundtrack, as Frazier ordered shredded skirt steak with rice and beans, and I had a glass of iced tea.
Frazier dropped out of the Republican Party months before he decided to run for mayor, this time without a party. The GOP never gave Frazier as much love as he gave it, though, especially when he needed fellow Republicans the most.
He finished fifth in the GOP primary for the U.S. Senate seat Michael Bennet held onto in 2016. He ran for mayor in 2011 and finished second to Steve Hogan in a six-way race. Then in 2010, the two-term Aurora city councilman ran for the U.S. House, but he lost by more than 12 points to incumbent Democrat Ed Perlmutter.
Coffman has a odd predicament. He refused to swear allegiance to President Trump, and he paid a price for it last November, when he was unseated in the 6th Congressional District by Democrat Jason Crow. Yet, as the impeachment unfolds, Coffman has been ensnared again in Trump's web.
A political action committee supporting Coffman is one of those that accepted alleged foreign money from Soviet-born associates of the president’s lawyer and political ally, Rudy Giuliani. Coffman’s re-election effort got nearly $90,000.
“That’s his challenge out there knocking on doors,” Frazier said. “I’m talking about a vision for the city. My campaign is about Aurora, not Washington. And the potential of Aurora is nothing short of amazing. For Coffman, I don’t think people know what they’re getting right now. He’s been out in D.C. a long time.”
Timing, resources, bad advice and rookie mistakes tripped up his early runs for higher office, Frazier explained over beans and rice.
This time it might be a question of whether the electorate is polarized to their parties, even for a city race that's supposed to be non-partisan.
“I really believed in the principles of limited government, but not necessarily no government, but I believed it gave us more freedom,” he said. “I believed in fiscal responsibility. I believed in protecting the rights of all people.”
It was never easy being a young, black Republican, Frazier said.
“I took a lot of crap from people who looked at me and said, ‘What are you thinking?’” he said.
Frazier said the conservative path he was on aligned with his values, until they diverged. He became more independent in his political thinking starting about eight years ago. He went on to leave the party. Republicans went on to become the party of Trump.
“I’m not going to be someone I’m not,” he said, putting down his fork.
He wasn’t a Democrat, though, and, moreover, he was tired of the partisan mudfights.
“My goodness if you’re a Democrat or a Republican, the other side automatically says you’re dumb or you’re bad for the country, you have evil intentions,” Frazier said. “I decided, ‘You know what, maybe, just maybe, people have different experiences that give them different opinions, but we’re all Americans and we all love our country. Maybe if we could all just be civil and have respect for that and for one another, we could have conversations about different viewpoints and really find common ground.
“I think we have to restore civility. It’s the linchpin of our republic and our success.”
Aurora, he thinks, is like most of America.
“Aurora is a city that’s fiscally conservative but more socially liberal,” Frazier said. “Given the diversity of our city -- and diversity means all of us -- we have a broad range of ideologies, socioeconomics and rising immigrant communities. It’s a microcosm of what we’re seeing in the rest of the country, and I think that’s a great thing.
“But it also brings a lot of challenges on how do you bring such a diverse constituency together. I would argue that 60% if the city is just left or just right of center, and it’s those folks who hold the keys to our elections and which direction we go in.”