Unite Colorado Seeks Independent Candidates for Statewide Office | Westword

New Political Group Seeks Independent Candidates for Statewide Office

A political movement is recruiting centrist-minded Coloradans to run in eleven state legislature seats this fall.
A Unite Colorado billboard in Pueblo seeks political candidates for a new, independent political movement.
A Unite Colorado billboard in Pueblo seeks political candidates for a new, independent political movement. Unite Colorado
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Unite Colorado is looking for qualified candidates to fill that most democratic of job openings: political office.

The group, whose goal is to bridge the partisan divide, is recruiting eleven candidates for the upcoming midterm elections in districts where either a Democrat or a Republican is running unopposed.

Unite Colorado has already recruited five candidates for state office (you can read more about four of them here): four for state House of Representatives seats and one for state Senate, according to Nick Troiano, executive director at Unite Colorado.

"Independents don't traditionally have the same kind of infrastructure as major parties. That's what we're building with Unite Colorado," Troiano says. "For people who want help knowing how to run for office — help with their campaigns, financial resources, grassroots support — they reach out to us, and then we evaluate their district. We evaluate them as a candidate, as a leader, and figure out if it's a good fit."

Unite Colorado is backing up the support with some significant dollars. Financial figures released on May 7 show that all five independent candidates out raised both their Democratic and Republican colleagues, raising a total of $130,000 — a large sum for state-level House and Senate races.

Troiano says Unite Colorado's parent organization, Unite America, is targeting the Centennial State because it believes Coloradans want a third party here more than other states.

Indeed, third-party presidential candidates consistently outperform in Colorado, which is known for having an independent streak. Libertarian Gary Johnson campaigned heavily here in 2012 and 2016, earning more than 5 percent of Colorado's votes in 2016 (he received 3.3 percent nationally). Remember Ralph Nader? He earned nearly double the votes in Colorado when he ran for president in 2000 that he did nationally. Even as far back as 1992, independent Ross Perot received around 23 percent of Colorado's votes, more than the 19 percent he received nationally.

"I do think we're in a completely different political moment now than in the past because of the large dissatisfaction with the political status quo."

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That said, no member of the state legislature has been elected as an independent (Senator Cheri Jahn switched from a Democrat to an independent in December, when she was already in office). Troiano hopes to change that, perhaps as soon as this fall.

"I do think we're in a completely different political moment now than in the past because of the large dissatisfaction with the political status quo," Troiano says. "Sending Democrats or Republicans back into office and expecting things to change is kind of the definition of insanity."

Should Unite Colorado get candidates elected, Troiano believes independents could have an immediate impact as a result of narrow majorities in both state legislative chambers. Currently, the state Senate has an 18-16 Republican advantage, with Jahn serving as an independent. Democrats hold a 36-29 advantage in the House. If independents are elected, Troiano says, it'd force both parties to seek their support to pass legislation that requires a majority vote.

"If neither Democrats nor Republicans have an outright majority, those few independents in the center would have a disproportionate amount of influence to be able to bring both sides together on important issues," he says.

But should Unite Colorado be successful this fall, it'd almost certainly be at the expense of House Democrats: All of the eleven districts where Unite Colorado is looking for candidates are currently held by Democrats.

"The fact that Centrist Project/Unite Colorado is mainly fielding spoiler candidates in Democratic-held seats tells you all you need to know about this shady front group run by a 'fiscal conservative who adheres to the core Republican values of limited government and personal responsibility,'" says Eric Walker, communications director for the Colorado Democratic Party.

Troiano pushed back on claims that the centrist project is unfairly skewed against them, saying it's merely a coincidence that the eleven uncontested seats are held by Democrats and that partisan gerrymandering is partially to blame.

"The eleven seats that are uncontested by a major party in November happen to all be seats with no Republican challenger," Troiano says. "In part, that is because Democrats focused on recruiting a challenger in every district this year [unlike past cycles] and because, as an AP analysis showed, partisan gerrymandering at the state legislative level favors Democrats in Colorado — meaning there are more safe Democratic seats than Republicans ones.

"To be clear: Unite Colorado is not just targeting one party or the other," he continues. "We are challenging a self-serving political duopoly that has insulated itself from electoral competition. We've already recruited and endorsed candidates in both Democratic and Republican districts, and we are continuing our candidate recruitment in both Democratic and Republican districts."

Update: After this post published we included the fundraising figures released May 7.
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