Ethan Wade

Ethan Wade, the Colorado Department of State’s director of external affairs

After working to elect Democrats for much of the past decade, Ethan Wade moved from campaigns to the government side earlier this year, filling the newly created position of director of external affairs at the Colorado Secretary of State's Office.

Tasked with developing and strengthening the office's relationships with residents and groups throughout the state, Wade says he plans to focus as much on areas overseen by Secretary of State Jena Griswold that don't get as much attention as elections and voting — including registration and reporting by businesses, nonprofits, lobbyists, and even notaries and charitable bingo games.

Wade, 28, got his first political job while attending college in Colorado Springs, when he worked for the Human Rights Campaign during the 2016 election cycle to advocate for LGBTQ issues on statewide campaigns.

In the 2018 cycle, Wade started as finance director for Longmont Democrat Karen McCormick — one of two veterinarians challenging U.S. Rep. Ken Buck in the heavily Republican 4th Congressional District — and eventually wound up running her campaign. McCormick won the nomination but lost to Buck in November, though she won election in 2020 to the state House and was reelected last year to a second term.

After a stint helming the Colorado Senate Democrats' campaign arm in 2019, when Republicans mounted multiple unsuccessful recall attempts aimed at incumbent Democrats, Wade went to work for U.S. Rep. Jason Crow and handled the Centennial Democrat's fundraising operation through last year.

Colorado Politics: You recently started work as the first director of external affairs at the Colorado Department of State. What does the position entail?

Ethan Wade: In my new role, I’m working to engage our current stakeholders and build a broader coalition of community partners to inform and support our agency’s work. My job is also to help make sure that Coloradans know how our office can support them, and to solicit input and feedback from the public to make sure we can continue to deliver top-notch services in the way people have come to count on from our team.

CP: How does what you’re doing differ from the office's longstanding government affairs and outreach programs?

Wade: The department has an amazing government affairs team that engages with the legislature and outreach staff that works with a number of community organizations. Both teams have huge responsibilities in their own right, and my job is focused on bridging these efforts and setting a multi-year strategy on how the department can grow and bring more voices to the table.

CP: The Secretary of State’s Office mostly gets attention for overseeing elections but has responsibility for all kinds of other things, too. What are some other areas you’ll be working in?

Wade: When I first joined the team I had a huge learning curve to fully understand the scope of everything our office covers. In addition to the elections and voting work that so many folks know our office for, we also oversee business and nonprofit interests, lobbyists, notaries, bingo and more.

There are even a number of responsibilities that hearken back to a much older day and age in Colorado — our office maintains paper copies of the bills introduced in the legislature, for instance, and, as the new guy on the team, I am working out of an office with these stacked up on bookshelves as tall as I am behind my desk.

In all seriousness though, one area I am really eager to do more with is our business and licensing work. Our department has so many interactions with businesses and nonprofits of all sizes across the state, and I am excited to identify ways we can continue to offer more resources and make it even easier to start a new business.

CP: Speaking of elections, will your office be doing anything to encourage confidence in Colorado’s election system?

Wade: The Elections Division in our office is one of the best in the country, and our whole team is working across a lot of fronts to address real and perceived threats to our elections, especially with the 2024 presidential election right around the corner.

One area in particular where the department has led the charge nationally has been with our work to counter misinformation and disinformation, and it is going to be critically important to continue to grow this work in the year to come. There are so many folks in the public and private sector alike who are working on this issue, and I am hoping we can find ways to bring more partners to the table.

I recently had the chance to connect with folks from CU Denver who are looking at misinformation and disinformation from an academic perspective, and we’re going to continue to seek out new partners like this to innovate and grow our brain trust around this issue.

CP: You also recently traveled with Secretary Griswold to Routt County. What did you hear from folks up there?

Wade: Just after starting with the team I joined Secretary Griswold for two days in Routt County, where we had the chance to catch up with County Clerk Jenny Thomas, had a roundtable meeting with the Steamboat Springs Chamber, and spent some time just one-on-one with a mix of local leaders. We heard a lot about rural voting access, people’s thoughts about making it easier to start a business, and had a lot of ideas to bring home with us. I grew up in Southern Colorado and know how important it is for our leaders to get out of the bubble around Denver, so I’m excited to spend more time on the road. We’re endeavoring to make it through all 64 counties in the next year or so, and I know there’s a lot to be learned about how we can continue to improve the services we offer for all Coloradans.

CP: Before this job, you worked on campaigns around the state, since you were in college, is that right? What brought you to that field?

Wade: I grew up in a Republican household, and while growing up my parents used to bring me out to knock doors and make phone calls for the candidates they supported, so I became enamored with the pace and the impact of this work at an early age.

When I was 20 and in college at the University of Colorado Colorado Springs, I got involved with the Human Rights Campaign, where I got to do work I loved and never turned back. After I graduated in 2017, I moved north to work as the finance director on Dr. Karen McCormick’s 2018 campaign for Congress in Colorado’s 4th district. I learned a lot of valuable lessons by building a campaign operation in Northern and Eastern Colorado, not the least of which was that Rocky Ford honeydew is superior to the cantaloupe, even if that’s a controversial opinion.

Afterwards, I moved to Denver and worked with the Democratic Senate Campaign Fund during the 2019 recalls, and then spent three years with Congressman Jason Crow as his finance director and later as a consultant through a national firm, Blue Wave Political Partners. I’m a Southern Coloradan at heart but I’ve put down roots in Denver now and feel humbled to be taking this new step with the Secretary of State’s Office.

CP: What do you do in your spare time?

Wade: I’m a huge wine nerd and love to cook, but I love the outdoors more than anything else and the mountains are what have kept me in Colorado. I spend a lot of time running, cycling and camping whenever it’s nice enough to do so, and I’m hoping to summit another 14er or two once the snow melts this summer.

CP: Do you have a favorite wine you've recently discovered?

Wade: I just recently had the Wasenhaus Möhlin, and it was the most exciting wine I had drank in quite a while. It’s Weissburgunder (Pinot Blanc) from Baden in Germany but vinified in the style of white Burgundy, totally unique and really fun!

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