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Noteworthy Colorado legislative primary races draw significant cash

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Noteworthy Colorado legislative primary races draw significant cash

May 22, 2024 | 6:00 am ET
By Sara Wilson
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Noteworthy Colorado legislative primary races draw significant cash
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A view of the Colorado Capitol on May 4, 2024. (Quentin Young/Colorado Newsline)

Seven sitting Colorado lawmakers are facing primary challenges this year as they work to retain their seats, leaving them with little break time between the end of the most recent legislative session and the thick of campaign season.

That includes two of the most progressive representatives, who face more moderate opponents and two Republican senators going against candidates who embrace more MAGA-style politics.

State legislative primaries will take place on June 25. Voters can check or update their registration online at the secretary of state’s website. Voters can find what House and Senate district they live in, as well as their current representatives, at the Legislature’s website.

The next financial reporting deadline for candidates is June 3.

Incumbents defend seats

In House District 4, centered on northwest Denver, incumbent Rep. Tim Hernández faces former federal immigration judge Cecelia Espenoza in the Democratic primary. Hernández was appointed to his current term by a vacancy committee last summer, when he won against Espenoza.

Hernández is backed by more than two dozen current lawmakers and a handful of organizations including the Denver chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America, the Colorado Working Families Party, New Era Colorado, YIMBY Denver and the Colorado Education Association.

During his first legislative session, Hernández ran successful legislation to create a Chicano special license plate. He also sponsored a bill to ban the purchase of so-called assault weapons in Colorado, which passed the House for the first time in state history but died in the Senate.

To date in this campaign cycle, he has raised over $84,000 and spent close to $36,000. In the most recent financial reporting period, from May 2 until May 15, Hernández raised close to $18,000. That included big donations from the political arms of the Aurora Council for Teachers and Students, the Colorado Organization for Latina Opportunity and Reproductive Rights, and the Denver Classroom Teachers Association.

Espenoza has raised a little under $84,000 and spent over $55,000. Nearly $14,000 of that spending was for direct mail to voters in the district, according to campaign finance filings. She raised just over $2,000 and spent about $18,000 in the most recent reporting period. She has received financial support from the Apartment Association of Metro Denver and the Colorado Medical Society.

Another of the closely watched Democratic primary races this year will be between freshman Rep. Elisabeth Epps and attorney Sean Camacho in the Denver-based House District 6.

Epps began the most recent legislative session with a reprimand from the House speaker for her actions during a special session last fall, when she joined pro-Palestinian activists in the chamber gallery. This year, she ran successful bills related to criminal justice and harm reduction. Two bills she sponsored — the assault weapons ban and one to let cities allow overdose prevention centers — passed the House and died in the Senate.

Camacho, who ran unsuccessfully for the seat in 2022, has out-raised and out-spent Epps by a considerable margin. Epps has raised about $35,000 and spent a bit over $9,000, while Camacho has brought in over $125,000 and spent over $84,000.

Camacho has received financial support from the Apartment Association of Metro Denver, the Colorado Medical Society, Associated General Contractors of Colorado and the business group Colorado Concern. He spent $8,000 to collect signatures for his ballot petition, according to campaign filings.

Epps has received money from Colorado WINS, the union for state employees. She reported spending just over $500 to consultants for petition and canvassing work.

Republican Sen. Larry Liston is facing two primary opponents in Senate District 10 in Colorado Springs: Rex Tonkins, the husband of the El Paso County GOP chairwoman, and business owner David Stiver.

Liston accused Tonkins last year of harassment at a party meeting, but a jury acquitted Tonkins. The state Republican Party then censured Liston over the incident.

Liston has raised over $90,000 this election cycle and spent over $72,000. He gathered signatures to get on the primary ballot, while Tonkins and Stiver made it onto the ballot through the party assembly process. He has about $72,000 in cash on hand.

Tonkins and Stiver, however, have barely fundraised. Tonkins has brought in a bit over $3,000 and Stiver has brought in just $520, yet has taken out almost $18,000 in loans for his campaign. Stiver has spent over $13,000, including close to $4,000 on direct mail materials and $400 on flower seeds.

Here is the financial state of the other primaries with incumbents:

  • Democratic Rep. Junie Joseph will face Tina Meuh in House District 10 in Boulder. Joseph has raised nearly $99,000, which includes money from the Colorado AFL-CIO union, and spent over $93,000. Meuh has raised about $54,000 and spent a little over $23,000.
  • Republican Rep. Mary Bradfield will face former educator Jan Koester and businessman Bill Garlington in House District 21 in Colorado Springs. Koester and Garlington show very little raising and spending. Bradfield reported spending about $31,000 so far, including $13,000 in petition signature gathering efforts. She has also reported about $18,000 in contributions, including over $16,000 rolled over from a previous campaign.
  • Rep. Julia Marvin has a challenger in Jacqueline “Jacque” Phillips in Adams County’s House District 31 Democratic primary. Marvin defeated Phillips in a vacancy committee election for the seat earlier this year. Marvin has raised close to $8,000 and spent about $3,000. Phillips has raised a little over $17,000, including about $4,500 from herself, and spent about $10,000. She has received donations from the Denver Pipefitters Local 208 and the Thornton professional firefighters association.
  • Republican Rep. Barbara Kirkmeyer is going against construction projects manager Natalie Abshier in Senate District 23 along the Interstate 25 corridor north of Denver. Kirkmeyer, who sits on the powerful Joint Budget Committee, is one of the most influential Republicans at the Capitol and sponsored numerous successful bipartisan bills this year, including a consequential property tax relief bill. Kirkmeyer has a huge cash advantage over Abshier with about $89,000 raised so far and about $25,000 spent. Abshier, meanwhile, has raised about $400 and spent a little over $3,000, relying on loans.
Noteworthy Colorado legislative primary races draw significant cash
Ballots wait to be counted at the Adams County Government Center in Brighton, Nov. 7, 2023. (Kevin Mohatt for Colorado Newsline)

The open primaries

As state senators and representatives term out, there are also about two dozen open seats this year with no incumbent.

The most costly House primary race so far has been between Lakewood City Councilwoman Rebekah Stewart and health care activist Kyra deGruy Kennedy, who are vying in the Democratic primary to replace Rep. Chris deGruy Kennedy, Kyra’s husband, in Lakewood’s House District 30.

DeGruy Kennedy has the backing of close to 30 current state lawmakers, the Colorado Working Families Party and Colorado WINS. She has raised over $86,000 and spent close to $53,000.

Stewart has raised over $116,000 and spent about $42,000. She has received money from the Colorado Medical Society, The Doctors Company’s political action committee, and Architects of Colorado.

In the northwest Aurora-based House District 36, educator Bryan Lindstrom is competing in the Democratic primary against school board member Michael Carter to replace outgoing Democratic Rep. Mike Weissman.

Lindstrom has raised about $76,000 and spent about $61,000 and has received money from Colorado WINS, Colorado AFL-CIO and the Denver Classroom Teachers Association. He has endorsements from Democratic state lawmakers including Rep. Javier Mabrey, Rep. Lorena Garcia and Sen. Lisa Cutter.

Carter, meanwhile, has raised about $56,000 and spent about $54,000. He has endorsements from U.S. Rep. Jason Crow, Rep. Judy Amabile and Rep. Shannon Bird, all Democrats, among others.

There are also four state representatives looking to switch over to the Senate who face primary challengers:

  • Rep. Judy Amabile is competing against education consultant Jovita Schiffer in Boulder’s Senate District 18 Democratic primary to replace outgoing Senate President Steve Fenberg. Amabile has raised a staggering $182,000 compared to Schiffer’s $26,000.
  • Rep. Lindsey Daugherty faces Westminster City Councilman Obi Ezeadi in Senate District 19‘s Democratic primary to replace Sen. Rachel Zenzinger of Arvada. Daugherty has raised about $129,000 compared to Ezeadi’s $134,000. Ezeadi has endorsements from many progressive lawmakers, while Daugherty has the backing of House Speaker Julie McCluskie, Fenberg and Gov. Jared Polis, among others.
  • State Rep. Mike Weissman will face attorney Idris Keith in Democratic Senate District 28 primary to replace Sen. Rhonda Fields of Aurora. Weissman has raised about $78,000 and Keith has raised about $59,000. Weissman is endorsed by Attorney General Phil Weiser, Treasurer Dave Young, AFL-CIO Colorado, Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition Action Fund and the reproductive rights group Cobalt, among others. Keith does not list endorsements on his campaign website.
  • Republican Rep. Lisa Frizell is facing Timothy Wesley Arvidson, a self-described “America first” candidate, in Douglas County’s Senate District 2 Republican primary to replace Sen. Jim Smallwood. Frizell has raised about $28,000 and taken on $10,000 in loans while Arvidson has raised just under $5,000.