Is Jerry Sonnenberg Lauren Boebert's Biggest Threat in Colorado's 4th? | Westword

Is Jerry Sonnenberg the Biggest Threat to Lauren Boebert in Colorado's 4th District?

The former senator and self-described "farm boy" has a proven track record with Colorado voters and is shaping up to be one of the GOP favorites in CD4.
Former state senator Jerry Sonnenberg came away with a straw poll victory over his Republican rivals in CD4.
Former state senator Jerry Sonnenberg came away with a straw poll victory over his Republican rivals in CD4. Evan Semón
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Sitting almost dead-center in a row of chatterboxes during the January 25 debate, longtime GOP legislator and current Logan County Commissioner Jerry Sonnenberg calmly staked his claim to Colorado's 4th Congressional District, never shouting or getting angry at his Republican rivals and often agreeing with them — even controversial congresswoman Lauren Boebert.

"I don't want to be someone else," Sonnenberg tells Westword. "I want them to elect me for who I am. What you see is what you get."

A self-described "farm boy" with sixteen years of service in the Colorado Legislature, Sonnenberg went on to win the CD4 straw poll that night, with 22 of the 117 votes. Former House minority leader Mike Lynch came in second, with 20 votes, followed by Douglas County filmmaker Deborah Flora, with 18 votes. House Minority Whip Richard Holtorf got 17 votes, and Boebert (currently the CD3 rep) had 12 votes.

"We're in Sonnenberg country," Boebert said after the count. "I think tickets were sold out before I even announced my candidacy. So I'm certainly not affected by a straw poll." But should she be?

At the debate, the nine contenders present were asked a question that could prove telling: "If you weren't running, which of your fellow candidates would you support?"

Sonnenberg received the most endorsements, chosen by Lynch, former state senator Ted Harvey, Weld County Councilmember Trent Leisy and former CD2 nominee Peter Yu (who lost to Joe Neguse in 2018). Boebert didn't receive any at all, and no other candidates were selected more than once.

"I think experience means a lot," Harvey said, explaining why he'd back Sonnenberg. "You have to prove that you stand up against the pressure that's going to come from leadership and pressure that's going to come from the establishment money, and I've seen Jerry do that in the past."

Sonnenberg calls the show of support his proudest moment of the night.

"It was a big honor to me when so many of them said, 'If I wasn't in the race, I'd pick Jerry,'" he tells Westword. "That was a bigger honor to me [than winning the straw poll]. I hope it says that I'm a genuine guy who cares about other people and knows their concerns. I love mankind. I want to be kind. My mother told me, 'If you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all.' And I live by that."

During his introduction, Sonnenberg fired off veiled shots at Boebert for her district switch but didn't mention her by name. "I live in the same house that both my father and I were raised in," he said, speaking of his home in Sterling. "I've raised my family there. This district needs somebody that understands those issues and has grown up with [those] issues, and I want to be your next congressman to represent you about those issues."

As a seasoned lawmaker, he has both deep ties to the rural community and a bond with Republicans for his "conservative voting record" over the years.

"I was able to do the work and solve problems, being able to go outside — work across the aisle," Sonnenberg told the audience. "I'm proud of my record. You would be proud to have me as a congressman to work on your behalf to get things done."

After being elected to the Colorado House in 2006, Sonnenberg served four terms as a state rep and then two terms in the state Senate. He was on the Colorado Farm Bureau board of directors before his time in the legislature, and was inducted into the Colorado Agriculture Hall of Fame in February 2023. However, it's his longstanding ties to CD4 that he hopes resonate most with voters.

"This district is my home, and I have been advocating for this district for two decades, using the leadership skills and my experience that I have acquired over the years," he says.

Since announcing his candidacy last month, Sonnenberg has amassed over a dozen endorsements from law enforcement leaders, county commissioners and state legislators.

Sonnenberg had one of the most well-received moments of the debate when asked to elaborate on his arrest record after he and five other candidates admitted that they had been busted by the cops. The question came after Lynch had made headlines a few days earlier when news of a 2022 DUI and weapons arrest went public.
click to enlarge CD4 candidates raising their hands when asked if they had ever been arrested before.
Sonnenberg was one of the six CD4 candidates who raised their hands when asked if they had ever been arrested before.
Chris Perez
"When I was nineteen, I got arrested for driving 65 in a 55 [mph zone] and spent the night in jail because I didn't have enough bail money to get out of jail," Sonnenberg explained. "But I was up-front, and I need to be up-front; we need to be up-front. We're all sinners. We all fall short of the glory of God. We all ask for forgiveness and move on from there."

His words prompted gospel-like "amen" declarations from the crowd and even his fellow candidates.

"Amen," replied Harvey, before giving his own answer ("I screwed up at Air Academy High School").

While Sonnenberg may not trash-talk like the other CD4 Republicans, he certainly has similar political views. He agreed on immigration and border security, abortion issues and "Bidenomics" with several of his opponents, including Boebert.

And he, Boebert, Flora and Harvey all said they'd vote in favor of a national abortion ban.

"There were good points from every single one of the candidates," Sonnenberg says. "And there were bad points from every single one, including myself. It's just one of those things, I'm not going to bash any of them."

Asked about Boebert's performance in particular, Sonnenberg replies: "She did fine. Quite frankly, I think everybody did a good job. [Voters] were just able to look, and that's what this is all about. They were able to look and see the differences and who might be the best candidate."

It doesn't upset him that candidates like Boebert and Lynch have gotten a lot of attention lately because of issues in their personal lives, he says. In fact, he welcomes it.

"That spotlight highlighting their actions shows the difference between the candidates," Sonnenberg says.

Like Boebert, he also downplays the straw poll. "I know it means nothing right now," he says, adding that the candidate endorsements should be a bigger deal to voters. But he also plans to use this momentum in the CD4 race.

"It's just like when I started in the legislature: You learn from every experience to become better," Sonnenberg says. "To learn and listen to what others need. That's what makes a good representative, is listening. So that is helpful to have that during the debate. I'll grow from this ... I'll learn how to better do some things. Some of the other candidates made some great points that I'll learn from as well. The real race will continue; a lot of things can still happen. There's still a lot of issues we need to talk about and a lot of places we need to go. But I'm excited about these opportunities and where our campaign is heading."
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