A common media narrative in the Colorado governor’s race is that the Democrats have run a thoroughly positive, ideas-based campaign. But this isn’t exactly true. By now you’ve probably heard about a super PAC supporting Democrat Cary Kennedy airing false attack ads and sending around nasty mail pieces that depict progressive Democrat Jared Polis as an evil cartoon figure.
Other, less overt attacks have taken aim at Jared’s electability, and like the super PAC ads, these attacks run contrary to the facts.
As most voters likely know, Jared would be Colorado’s first openly gay governor if elected — which prompts the question: Are Jared’s opponents basing this “electability” argument on his sexual orientation or on his record?
A look at recent electoral history shows that Jared is the most proven general-election candidate for Democrats to nominate.
Cary Kennedy lost re-election as state treasurer in 2010 — a year when both Democrat Michael Bennet and Democrat John Hickenlooper carried the state at the top of the ticket. The person who beat Kennedy, Walker Stapleton, is now the frontrunner to capture the Republican nomination for governor.
In contrast, Jared won a statewide election for a seat on the Colorado Board of Education in 2000 — a year when Republican George W. Bush won Colorado by eight points at the top of the ticket. He is the only candidate with experience representing and winning elections in rural communities. He wins in swing counties represented almost entirely by Republicans. And he was rated Colorado’s most effective member of Congress by a non-partisan think tank.
The other two candidates, Donna Lynne and Mike Johnston, are untested facing voters outside of Denver.
At the State Assembly in April, Kennedy took the stage and declared to the audience, “I am the strongest candidate to win” in November — which many observers interpreted as a slight against Jared. And at this same event, some Democrats specifically cited Jared’s sexual orientation as something that gave them pause about his viability as a candidate.
I understand the methods and motivations behind these attacks because I faced them myself during my successful runs for Houston City Council, city controller and mayor. LGBTQ candidates often face the implication that their identity equates to being “weak” and the bizarre assumption that voters are obsessed with our sexual orientation — falsehoods based in tired stereotypes rather than in anything factual.
I had vocal opponents of equality who slammed their fists on the lectern and decried the idea of a lesbian in power. Yet more upsetting and more damaging were those opponents who claimed to be allies to our community, but would quietly question my electability as a lesbian to boost their own polling numbers. They knew outward homophobic attacks in a Democratic primary would backfire, so they suggested that other people — the voters — were too homophobic to put me in office.
But I won, and Jared can, too.
Undoubtedly, Jared is running a historic race. He won five terms in Congress because he focuses on issues that matter to his constituents and delivers on them — securing transportation funding, supporting public schools, and expanding access to health care. He makes himself accessible to constituents — holding more town halls than any other member of the Colorado Congressional delegation, and as a candidate for governor, he offers exciting ideas and plans, like getting Colorado to 100 percent renewable energy.
In primary elections, political power players can be influenced by electability arguments with origins in homophobia, sexism or racism. They may even take the form of implied support — “I don’t think it’s a problem, but...”
We Believe Local Journalism is Critical to the Life of a City
Engaging with our readers is essential to Westword's mission. Make a financial contribution or sign up for a newsletter, and help us keep telling Denver's stories with no paywalls.
Support Our Journalism
Nonetheless, the result is elections manipulated by an argument that’s not only morally flawed, but flat-out incorrect. The public shouldn’t tolerate that in any election, and certainly not in a Democratic primary.
The growing number of LGBTQ officeholders across the country has shown us that a candidate’s sexual orientation typically has no bearing on their ability to get elected. What matters is which candidate has the vision and experience to make a difference on the issues that matter most to the voters, and Jared has that.
Coloradans can be trusted to elect the best candidate for the state in November. Let’s allow Democratic primary voters to elect the best candidate on June 26.
Annise Parker is the former mayor of Houston, Texas, and president and CEO of the LGBTQ Victory Fund.
Westword occasionally publishes opinion pieces on issues of importance in Colorado. If you'd like to submit one, email firstname.lastname@example.org; you can respond to this piece at the same address.