Although politically engaged folks seem to be at odds over just about everything these days, there's one thing on which they agree: The current system, in which Republicans and Democrats spend a lot more time arguing than getting things done, is a mess. But Unite Colorado aims to change that, at least here, by way of an ambitious plan to back independent legislators who pledge to put the people's business in front of endless bickering that accomplishes nothing.
"We are a new movement that seeks to bridge the growing partisan divide, specifically by electing common-sense independent candidates to office," says Unite Colorado executive director Nick Troiano, who will host a Denver Press Club event at 11:30 a.m. today, January 9, to introduce the local media to Steve Peterson, Maile Foster, Eric Montoya and Jay Geyer, the organization's first four 2018 hopefuls, who are profiled at the bottom of this post.
"We believe now is the time," Troiano adds, "because a plurality of Colorado voters are independent, but no candidates running as independents have been elected to the current legislature. And we aim to change that."
Senator Cheri Jahn has already taken a step in this direction. Last month, she left the Democratic Party and announced that she would serve out the remainder of her term as an unaffiliated member because, as she wrote on her Facebook page, "this system is terribly broken." But Unite Colorado wants to turn this frustration into a political strategy.
"The goal — and this may take more than one election cycle — is to elect a significant-enough number of independents to the legislature that it will change the balance of power," Troiano notes. "It's the fulcrum strategy: A coalition of independents can be the swing vote and use their leverage to forge common-ground solutions."
As a result, he goes on, "neither party will be able to ram through their agenda. The only legislation that will be able to pass is legislation that can garner support from the other party or independents. And we think that will force the kind of collaboration that seems to have disappeared in recent years."
Troiano stresses that "there is no litmus test" for Unite Colorado candidates, "and in fact, we believe those kinds of tests are part of the problem in both political parties. The reality is, most people might agree with the Democrats on some things and the Republicans on others — and being independent is having the ability to think for yourself and champion the best ideas, wherever they come from."
As a result, Unite Colorado has published what it calls a "Declaration of Independents" that Troiano says is "meant to define what it means to be the type of political independent we'd support...to put people before political parties or special interests and having a desire to find common ground to actually solve problems, as well as a belief in good governance, which means transparency and accountability in the governing process."
Meanwhile, Troiano points out, the guiding principles for the candidates focus on "opportunity, the idea that every Coloradan should realize their full potential; equality, because we believe everyone should be equal under the law; stewardship; and a commitment to both environmental and fiscal responsibility, so that we don't live beyond our means at the next generation's expense."
In Troiano's view, "these ideas pull a little from each side. So our candidates might not agree on every specific policy, but they do have shared principles."
On what do they differ? Troiano admits that he has no idea.
"I don't know where there might be policy divergence," he concedes, "because although we've spent a lot of time recruiting them, we weren't applying tests on policy. We were seeing if they had strong character and integrity, if they aligned on a common approach to governance, and if they have a credible path for victory."
This last comment is key for Unite Colorado, which is financed by individual donations coordinated through Unite America, a spin-off from the national CentristProject.org. "This isn't about making noise," he stresses. "This is about winning elections. And for the first time, Unite Colorado is building what has been missing: infrastructure for independent candidates to run credible campaigns, including a grassroots community, a donor network and talented campaign staff. Independents who ran in the past didn't have that. Now they do."
Continue to meet the initial wave of Unite Colorado candidates, featuring UC photos and text.
Steve Peterson, Senate District 30
Steve is a native Coloradoan who has spent the last 19 years flying around the globe as a strategy consultant. In that time, Steve has consulted for most of the major American airlines, most recently managing merger integration between two large logistic service providers.
Maile Foster, House District 18
Maile moved to Colorado Springs in 2000 and has been improving the lives of people around her ever since. After working for IBM for over 20 years, she transitioned to financial planning in 1995. She has since created a successful small business, is a board member for Reach Pikes Peak and is the former president of the Colorado Springs Rotary.
Eric Montoya, House District 31
Eric is a lifelong Coloradan and a member of the Thornton City Council. A single father, he helps direct his family’s local small business. On City Council, he has helped advance responsible economic development, smart growth, and enact public safety measures that benefit the hardworking people of Adams County.
Jay Geyer, House District 33
Jay is a husband, father, and military veteran. As a Sergeant in the United States Army, Jay learned the importance of putting country and people before a political party — values that will serve him well in the Colorado General Assembly. He currently teaches ethics and environmental justice at the University of Colorado Boulder.
Keep Westword Free... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Denver with no paywalls.