While we’re still sifting through the election results — some races have yet to be called — a theme is emerging that has deep implications for Colorado’s future. In state elections, the boldest progressive candidates won big. Faith Winter articulated a strong working-families platform — including economic opportunity, paid family leave and affordable housing — and won her race in a blowout in Adams County. And voters understood the consequences of Winter's election — that electing her would flip the state Senate from Republican to Democratic control.
This hunger for a different kind of Democrat and values-driven candidates can be attributed to many factors, among them the Trump administration and the sexual-misconduct scandals of the past legislative session. But it all points to an awakening on the part of voters that they've been ignored (at best) or callously used by their elected representatives. Voters have experienced the consequences of indifferent or tone-deaf elected officials and are demanding better.
Consider the choices that were before voters on Election Day — a gubernatorial candidate with family ties to the KKK, an oil and gas industry spending more than $40 million to maintain their profits while destroying communities and our planet, and a moderate Democratic Party that aspired to simply win a majority rather than win governing power. This election cycle, too many Democrats were talking about running to the center to win and then protecting those wins by promoting a moderate agenda.
Together with partners from labor, community groups and others, we created Colorado Working Families Party to not only be an alternative to the corporate-controlled wing of the Democratic Party, but to also push a bold policy agenda that benefits the many, not just the wealthy few. That’s what voters responded to on Election Day.
CO-WFP worked during this cycle to elect candidates who are more representative of the state's population. We had 63 candidates apply for our endorsement, but we endorsed only 28. Our endorsement process is challenging, but a Working Families Party endorsement means that the candidate is a true progressive.
The incoming general assembly will be more progressive and representative of the state’s population. With new representatives like Monica Duran, Dr. Yadira Caraveo, Robert Rodriguez and Julie Gonzales, among others, we’re changing the demographics of the state’s governing body. Mestizx people are 21 percent of Colorado’s population but were only 12 percent of Colorado’s legislators. With more working-families champions in the General Assembly, we'll be able to move working families legislation that the Senate has been blocking on economic and racial justice, like paid family leave, immigrant rights and sexual-harassment protections.
Tuesday's results follow on a strong progressive showing in the June primaries. Candidates like Kyle Mullica, Robert Rodriguez and Rochelle Galindo beat corporate Democrats and went on to win in the general election. And, in Galindo's case, there was much chatter that a young, gay Latina from Greeley could not win that seat in November, but the results now clearly demonstrate that a bold, values-driven voice from the community can win a hotly contested general, even in a place like Weld County.
Voters also went big for ballot measures that benefit working families, like payday lending reform and the public financing of elections in Denver, with support for these measures hovering around 70 percent. And voters overcame the millions of dollars that oil and gas spent on Amendment 74, rejecting it 54 percent to 46 percent. This was a significant turnaround from the University of Colorado poll that had the question at a 63 percent “yes” vote in mid-October.
While Colorado’s 2018 statewide candidates neither fully reflect the diversity nor the growing populist nature of Colorado, our state legislature and several key local elected officials have taken steps toward a more progressive future in the 2018 election. And the election of a class of young candidates builds the bench and creates the farm team of working-families champions for the future. Years down the road, it just might be some of the bold populists elected this year that will be on a future statewide or congressional ballot line. The momentum built in this election cycle will carry into the legislative session, the 2019 municipal races, and the presidential battle ahead in 2020.
Carlos Valverde is state director of the Colorado Working Families Party.
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