Mark Williams doesn't try to sugarcoat his minimal experience in politics. The newest candidate for Colorado's 2nd Congressional District even points to his lack of experience with pride.
"I'm not a career politician," reads the first line of the introductory paragraph on Williams's website. The Democrat continues: "We're yearning for a new kind of politics, the kind that begins at the grassroots and serves the people, not party or power."
The 54-year-old Air Force veteran hopes to replace Jared Polis, who's vacating the seat to run for governor, and has a diverse background, both personally and professionally.
Born on Sheppard Air Force Base in Texas to an Air Force diplomat and a Spanish immigrant, Williams spent his childhood bouncing between Panama, El Salvador and Brazil before moving to Virginia for the end of high school and college. After graduating from William & Mary College, he served in the Air Force and flew over Kuwait during the Gulf War before starting Dynamic Human Solutions, which hosts seminars that use meditation to develop mental and physical skills.
Although he fought in a war, Wililams still feels called to serve his country.
"There's a vision of how you show up in whatever way your nation calls you," he says. "That's why you see so many veterans stepping up [to run for office after Donald Trump's election]. The house is on fire right now, and ordinary people need to step up."
Williams served as chairman of the Boulder Democratic Party but took a more serious interest in politics after his daughter called him in tears the night of the last presidential election. After that conversation, he felt that Democrats needed to change to win back control of Congress and the White House. He wants to use 2nd District as a potential "testing ground" for a new way of garnering support to make Colorado a safer Democratic stronghold.
Texas Organizing Project, a grassroots lobbying group working to develop political ties with lower- to middle-class constituents, similar to former senator Harry Reid's hugely successful efforts to build deep Democratic political infrastructure in his home state of Nevada. The Cliffs Notes on the TOP and Reid's strategy: hold frequent town halls with an enhanced focus on transparency to shore up support from working-class voters.
"My feeling is we've got to rebuild the Democratic brand. We've got to rebuild our relationships in the community," says Williams. "We have a great get-out-the-vote operation. But in terms of funding and support, all that had been stepped aside. For me, it’s about that same playbook from the [Texas Organizing Project] and bringing [the working class] back into the fold.
Unlike those for Colorado's swingier 3rd, 6th or 7th districts, the war for the 2nd will more likely than not be waged in the primaries. Cook Political Report lists this seat, which represents the northwest suburbs of Denver, as solidly blue, with a Democratic lean of about nine points (compared to a statewide average of just a one-point Democratic lean). Polis won re-election in the 2nd by nearly twenty points in November; Hillary Clinton won it by an even wider margin. The district has been in Democratic hands since the early 1970s.
former U.S. senator Ken Salazar.
Williams questions what he perceives to be a Democratic inside job — Polis's intention to run for governor (announced on Sunday, June 11), with Neguse's entrance two days later — as part of the "anointed" politics he's hoping to reverse.
"If we can’t have a real primary in CD-2, you’ve got to be kidding me, folks. That kind of politics as usual. That’s what led people to call me up and say, ‘Are you seeing this? There's an anointed candidate,'" says Williams, who would've supported Bernie Sanders in the Democratic caucus (he didn't caucus because of long lines at his Boulder precinct) but voted for Clinton in November. "I'm talking about bringing a new vision."
Williams wants to call Neguse and request that he and other candidates self-impose "rational spending limits" on their respective campaigns, with the idea of focusing more on ideas than ad dollars. And he wants to showcase his business and military experience but explore a different approach to grassroots politicking to tilt future elections toward Democrats.
"We are going to change politics," he says. "We're going to bring that same activist energy to the table. There's a new unifying force right now, and that unifying force is in the White House."