Where the Bernie-Crats At? The Top Progressives in the Primaries
Lindsey Bartlett

Where the Bernie-Crats At? The Top Progressives in the Primaries

The primary elections are right around the corner — June 26, to be exact — and candidates are out in full force knocking on doors and encouraging their supporters to turn out at the polls.

But this election cycle is different, at least for the Democrats. The divide between establishment Democrats — i.e., Hillary Clinton and her ilk — and a new wave of U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders-inspired (and, sometimes, outright endorsed) candidates has defined this election on the left.

Here are the progressives running at nearly every level of the ticket (listed in no particular order):

Saira Rao is done with the Democratic establishment.
Saira Rao is done with the Democratic establishment.
Saira Rao

Saira Rao
Saira Rao is a first-generation Indian-American who could become the first woman of color to represent Coloradans in Congress if she beats 22-year incumbent Diana DeGette. The seat she's running for, U.S. House District 1, spans Denver, Englewood, Sheridan and parts of Littleton. Though she's running as the anti-establishment candidate, Rao used to be a corporate Wall Street lawyer; she left to open a book company that promotes ethnic and racial diversity in children's and young-adult fiction. Despite having been a fervent Hillary supporter in 2016, she wrote a viral Huffington Post op-ed back in December about how she "broke up" with the establishment wing of the party and has refused to take PAC money (unlike DeGette) to illustrate her commitment to the progressive wing. Rao says that if she gets elected, she plans to attract federal housing dollars and will fight for progressive values, including tuition-free public colleges, student loan debt forgiveness, an end to the death penalty, environmental justice and immigrant rights.

Air Force Veteran Mark Williams is running against former CU Regent Joe Neguse for U.S. House District 2 in Boulder.
Air Force Veteran Mark Williams is running against former CU Regent Joe Neguse for U.S. House District 2 in Boulder.
Mark Williams

Mark Williams
Mark Williams, a 54-year-old Air Force veteran who fancies himself a David to his competitors' Goliath, is vying for Jared Polis's congressional seat, U.S. House District 2 in Boulder. (Polis is running for governor.) Williams isn't a political outsider, though: He was the Boulder County Democratic Party chair before stepping down last year to run for office. Williams is running against former University of Colorado regent Joe Neguse, the party favorite to win. Neguse's monied campaign has raised $613,922 to Williams's $54,463 (though Williams has publicly called Neguse a fake progressive for taking corporate PAC money). Neguse's top two individual campaign donors are Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck, a corporate lobbyist and law firm that boasts about quashing local fracking bans in Lafayette, Fort Collins and Longmont at the Colorado Supreme Court, as well as the firm Holland & Hart, which also boasts about its energy litigation in the West.

Levi Tillemann
Levi Tillemann
Levi Tillemann

Levi Tillemann
Levi Tillemann is an ex-Obama administration energy adviser whose family history is steeped in politics. He says he is committed to 100 percent renewable energy by 2035, is hostile to the oil and gas industry, and has written a book on clean-energy cars. Tillemann is running against ex-Army Ranger Jason Crow, a corporate attorney for Holland & Hart who is the establishment candidate and party sweetheart to win the race for U.S. House District 6, which comprises Aurora, Brighton and Centennial.

Representative Joseph Salazar speaking during an anti-Donald Trump rally in Civic Center Park on April 15.
Representative Joseph Salazar speaking during an anti-Donald Trump rally in Civic Center Park on April 15.
Westword Staff

Joseph Salazar
Joe Salazar is a Thornton state representative, longtime civil rights attorney and former state civil rights investigator who is fighting to become the next Democratic state attorney general. Salazar has been endorsed by Sanders and has the backing of progressive political organizations like the Colorado Working Families Party. He is running against the monied campaign of Phil Weiser, a first-time political candidate who has raised $1.4 million and has the backing of oil and gas-cozy former politician Ken Salazar. With high-profile fracking lawsuits across the Front Range, this race could shape the future of oil and gas in Colorado.

Hazel Gibson
Hazel Gibson is an audiologist and mother to a child with autism who was raised by a single working mom in a trailer. She is entering Colorado politics for the first time with her bid for term-limited senator Irene Aguilar's seat, which represents south Denver's Senate District 32. Gibson's platforms focus on affordable housing, universal health care and sustainable energy, and she's running against two fundraising machines: Robert Rodriquez and Zach Neumann, both of whom have raised well over $100,000 each. Rodriguez, another progressive in the race, is the former vice chair of the Democratic Party of Denver and is supported by a long list of Democratic power players, including Congressman Ed Perlmutter, Colorado House Speaker Crisanta Duran, former Senate Minority Leader Lucia Guzman and Senator Irene Aguilar, Polly Baca — the first Hispanic woman elected to the state Senate — and Ken Salazar. Neumann has received corporate campaign support, including a $4,000 contribution from medical insurance lobby COPIC, as well as tens of thousands of dollars in the form of mailers from the state's medical malpractice insurer Assuring Quality Healthcare Access for Colorado, as well as from the realtor lobby Prosperity Through Property Rights and the National Association of Realtors PAC.

Immigrant-rights activist and policy expert Julie Gonzales is in a three-way primary race with other progressive candidates to replace term-limited senator Lucia Guzman.
Immigrant-rights activist and policy expert Julie Gonzales is in a three-way primary race with other progressive candidates to replace term-limited senator Lucia Guzman.
Julie Gonzales

Julia Gonzales
Julie Gonzales is in a contentious three-way primary battle to replace term-limited senator Lucia Guzman for Senate District 34 in northwest Denver. Gonzales is running against attorney Milo Schwab and military lawyer and Army National Guard Captain Alan Kennedy-Shaffer, who both pass the progressive litmus test with their stances on universal health care, improved public-school funding and a clean, renewable-energy future. But Gonzales has her progressive peers beat on fighting for communities of color in Denver, which is critical, considering that the district includes communities that are overwhelmingly Latino, like Globeville and Elyria-Swansea. She co-founded the leading Hispanic nonprofit advocacy group the Colorado Latino Forum and pushed for a hotly contested 2013 bill to allow undocumented immigrants to attend college and pay in-state tuition. The Yale graduate is currently the policy director for the Meyer Law Office.

Serena Gonzales-Gutierrez is a third-generation resident of House District 4, where she is running in a three-way primary to replace term-limited Dan Pabon.
Serena Gonzales-Gutierrez is a third-generation resident of House District 4, where she is running in a three-way primary to replace term-limited Dan Pabon.
Serena Gonzales-Gutierrez

Serena Gonzales-Gutierrez
Serena Gonzales-Gutierrez is a social caseworker for Denver who has worked in juvenile justice and child welfare for fifteen years. She is also a third-generation resident of House District 4, where she is running to replace term-limited Dan Pabon, and is the granddaughter of towering Chicano activist Rodolfo "Corky" Gonzales. Gonzales-Gutierrez is in a three-way Democratic primary challenge to represent the communities of Berkeley, West Colfax, Sloan's Lake and West Highland. She has received $1,400 in political leadership PAC funding from four sitting members of the Colorado General Assembly, as well as $1,000 from the American Federation of Teachers, but her $39,000 in total campaign contributions is far behind the money raised by her primary competitor, Amy Beatie, executive director of the Colorado Water Trust, who has devoted her career to saving the state's rivers. Beatie has raised nearly $92,000, which also includes some PAC money.

Emily Sirota with U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders, who has endorsed her campaign.
Emily Sirota with U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders, who has endorsed her campaign.
Emily Sirota

Emily Sirota
Emily Sirota and her opponent, Ashley Wheeland, have strikingly similar platforms: They both support strong neighborhood schools, want universal health care, and want stronger workers'-rights protections in the state, including guaranteed paid family and sick leave and collective bargaining. Both have even committed to not accepting corporate PAC money.

Sirota is a Sanders-backed candidate who ran for Denver Public Schools in 2011 (but ultimately lost). She ran against "no excuses" charter schools with strict disciplinary policies springing up in urban, predominantly low-income communities. Sirota has a master's degree in social work and serves as the director of operations and admissions at the Temple Emanuel early learning center.

Ashley Wheeland, a Colorado native, served as the Larimer County field organizer for Ken Salazar's U.S. Senate campaign and then worked as his legislative aide in D.C. Wheeland has years of health-care policy experience, including working on transgender and reproductive health issues in Colorado. She most recently served as senior policy and political director at Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains.

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