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A handful of current and former state lawmakers formally endorsed Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders at a rally Tuesday on the West Steps of the Capitol, arguing that the Vermont senator’s “big dreams” are what the country needs to fix a broken political system.
“In the past few days, I have been asked whether Bernie is too much an idealist,” said state Rep. Joe Salazar, D-Thornton, speaking in front of more than 100 sign-waving Sanders supporters. “God I hope so!” he said, drawing cheers and spontaneous chanting from the crowd.
“Because it is the idealist who moved this country forward,” Salazar continued. “It has been the idealist who invented and created the great social platforms upon which we stand. Surely, those who wrote the Bill of Rights and Declaration of Independence were the idealists of their day.”
The rally took place a week before Super Tuesday, when Colorado Democrats will begin the process of awarding delegates to the Democratic candidates for president in what has turned into a tighter contest for the nomination than anyone expected. A dozen states vote March 1 in caucuses or primaries, offering the first broad test of the two candidates’ strength after four contests in early states. (Colorado Republicans won’t be expressing a preference in their presidential race after the state party decided last summer to skip a presidential straw poll and instead send unbound delegates to the Republican National Convention in Cleveland.)
Salazar was joined by state Rep. Jonathan Singer, D-Longmont, state Sen. Mike Merrifield, D-Colorado Springs, former state Rep. Linda Powers, D-Crested Butte, and former House Speaker Terrance Carroll, D-Denver, who said he has been mostly staying on the political sidelines in the years since he made history as the first African-American lawmaker to wield the gavel in the Colorado House.
“A few weeks ago, I woke up in the middle of the night, and I realized I’d caught the Bern,” Carroll said with a big grin. “I didn’t know what it was, I had a fever of some sort, I had night sweats, I had some shakes, I didn’t know what it was, but it turns out I had a Bern.”
Carroll, who lives on a ranch in eastern Arapahoe County and is associate general counsel at SCL Health, said he took his time deciding whether to endorse Sanders and, like others at the rally, emphasized that his decision isn’t a rejection of Sanders rival Hillary Clinton.
“It’s not a decision based on a dislike of anyone else,” he said. “I believe this election is fundamentally about the freedom we have as citizens of the United States of America,” Carroll said, adding, “This race is about freedom, this race is about justice, and I stand here today to endorse Sen. Sanders to ensure that I stand on the right side of the moral arc of the universe.”
Merrifield made a similar point.
“Right off the bat, I want to say I have the utmost respect for Hillary Clinton. I think she’d make a good president. But what this nation needs now is a great president.,” he said. “What we need right now is a transformational president, and Bernie Sanders will be a transformational president.”
Then he took aim at critics of Sanders who complain his platform is too far left for a general election.
“I have to say, I disagree slightly when Bernie calls himself a democratic socialist,” Merrifield said. “Standing up for working families, unions, fighting to protect Social Security, fighting to protect the environment, Medicaid, Medicare, health care for all, fighting to protect women’s rights, fighting fat cats and plutocrats — that’s not socialism, that’s being a Democrat!”
Carroll made a case for embracing Sanders.
“We may have ideological and we may have policy differences, we may not agree with Bernie Sanders on everything, but the one thing that we can agree on is that he would use the power of the presidency to extend justice,” he said.
Powers called Sanders a once-in-a-lifetime candidate who speaks to her values “on a very personal level.” She said her reason for supporting Sanders could be summed up in a single word: authenticity.
Dulce Saenz, Colorado state director of the Sanders campaign, read off a list of civil rights leaders, environmentalists, union organizers, clergy and former elected officials supporting her candidate and reeled off some big numbers to demonstrate that the campaign is a “people-powered revolution.”
More than 32,500 have attended Sanders rallies in Colorado, she said, and volunteers have organized some 2,400 events. Sanders forces say they’ve identified 142,000 supporters and received contributions from 97,000 donors in Colorado.
The Clinton campaign counts dozens of current and former elected officials among its endorsers in Colorado, including U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, Gov. John Hickenlooper and U.S. Reps. Diana DeGette, Ed Perlmutter and Jared Polis.
State lawmakers endorsing Clinton include House Speaker Dickey Lee Hullinghorst, House Majority Leader Crisanta Duran, Assistant Senate Minority Leader Rollie Heath, House Speaker Pro Tem Dan Pabon, state Sens. Kerry Donovan, Pat Steadman, Nancy Todd, Jessie Ulibarri and Mike Johnston and state Reps. Jeni Arndt, K.C. Becker, Daneya Esgar, Rhonda Fields, Mike Foote, Alec Garnett, Susan Lontine, Beth McCann, Dominick Moreno, Tracy Kraft-Tharp, Brittany Pettersen, Angela Williams and Faith Winter.
Video production by Roxann Elliot