Commission pure GOP

The Gazette l Matt Steiner

Democrats will likely have to wait at least until the next election to crack the Board of El Paso County Commissioners.

By 9 p.m. on Tuesday, Republicans appeared to have a chokehold on both contested commissioner races. Longinos Gonzalez in District 4 and District 3’s Stan VanderWerf both held early leads, although one Democrat made a significant push to threaten the conservative status quo that has dominated county leaderhip since the early 1970s.

Electra Johnson held onto more than 46 percent of the District 3 vote aginst Vanderwerf’s 53 percent with more than two-thirds of the tally reported. She didn’t expect to close the gap before the night was through but said she is “not done yet.”

“My opponent can do nothing and still win in this county,” said Johnson, who previously commented to The Gazette that all VanderWerf needed was an “‘R’ next to his name.”

“What we’ve done is made it hurt,” she said. “We’ve run a hell of a campaign. Just wait until the next election cycle.”

Johnson said she and her workers sent out 65,000 mailers and knocked on 35,000 doors since she joined the race in the spring.

VanderWerf, who ran on a platform that includes boosting the local economy and a continued focus on disaster recovery and planning, exuded confidence during a campaign night party at the Antlers Hotel in downtown Colorado Springs. But the retired U.S. Air Force officer refused to call the race over.

“It’s not called yet, but the numbers look good,” he said, pointing to his almost 5,000 vote lead at 9 p.m.

Vanderwerf said Johnson put up a good fight noting that, “She motivated her base and she brought a lot of people into her campaign.”

Gonzalez was also tentative about claiming victory after the early returns despite his holding more than 63.5 percent of the vote over Democrat Liz Rosenbaum in District 4.

Gonzalez had dinner at a local restaurant with friends and was on his way to the Antlers when he did a phone interview with The Gazette. He said his dinner mates poked fun at his outward display of nerves despite his lead.

“My friends were laughing a little bit because I kept checking my phone,” he said. “My hands kept shaking.”

At one point in early 2016, more than a dozen candidates had joined the fight for the three open commissioner seats. That mix was whittled to just five competitors after the June 28 primaries.

Gonzalez defeated Scott Turner by 33 votes in one Republican primary after Turner demanded a recount. And VanderWerf defeated Karen Cullen with more than 56 percent of the vote in the District 3 Republican primary.

Waller won by the largest margin in the primaries, bumping Tim Geitner in a heated race in which Geitner accused Waller of dishonest campaign practices. Waller’s victory paved the way to assume the District 2 seat early after Amy Lathen resigned in early July to become the executive director of the nonprofit Colorado Springs Forward.

Rosenbaum and Johnson were uncontested in their Democratic primary elections. A Democrat has not been elected to the Board of County Commissioners since Stan Johnson won the District 1 seat in 1970.

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Duran, Grantham leaders

ColoradoPolitics.com l By Joey Bunch

Democrats elected the state’s first Latina House speaker Thursday, choosing Rep. Crisanta Duran of Denver, as the parties selected their chamber leaders for the next two sessions.

House Republicans chose Rep. Patrick Neville of Castle Rock, one of the Capitol’s strongest conservatives, to lead their caucus. The move was a surprise, as Rep. Polly Lawrence from the Douglas County side of Littleton, was thought to be a frontrunner. She instead was not nominated at her request.

Senate Democrats re-elected Sen. Lucia Guzman of Denver as their minority leader, and Senate Republicans elected Sen. Kevin Grantham of Canon City as the chamber’s president.

The GOP retained its one-seat majority, 18-17, in the Senate on Election Day, while House Democrats expanded their majority by three seats to 37-28.

“For me it is important that this speakership recognizes the diversity in our state, but also that we lead for everyone, that we don’t leave anyone behind,” said Duran, who served as the Democratic House leader last year under Dickey Lee Hullinghorst, who was term-limited. “We don’t leave our workers behind, we don’t leave undocumented students behind, we don’t leave our ranchers and farmers.

“We need to work together together to make our state as wonderful as it can possibly be, and I look forward to working with people across the state to do just that.”

Duran won the top job without challenge.

Rep. K.C. Becker of Boulder was elected House majority leader over Mike Foote of Lafayette and Faith Winter of Westminster.

The House Democrats elected Alec Garnett of Denver as assistant majority leader, Brittany Pettersen of Lakewood as whip, Jovan Melton of Aurora as deputy whip, Daneya Esgar of Pueblo as caucus chair and Jeni Arndt of Fort Collins as assistant caucus leader.

Besides Neville, House Republicans elected Cole Wist of Centennial to be assistant majority leader and Lori Saine as whip.

Senate Democrats chose Leroy Garcia of Pueblo as assistant minority leader, Mike Merrifield of Manitou Springs as whip and freshman Sen. Lois Court as caucus chair.

The Democratic caucus in the upper chamber chose Matt Jones of Boulder for a new leadership position to work on environmental issues, though in the minority they’ll need help from Republicans to pass anything.

After Grantham, Senate Republicans chose Jerry Sonnenberg of Sterling president pro tem, Chris Holbert of Parker to be majority leader, Ray Scott of Grand Junction as assistant majority leader,  Vicki Marble of Fort Collins as caucus leader and John Cooke of Greeley as whip.

Caucus leadership for each party is important, because it decides which bills parties propose and oppose, and the majority in each chamber picks which committees bills are assigned to—friendly where they can make it to the floor for a vote, or unfriendly where they are killed.

The legislative session begins Jan. 11.

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Gardner takes top role

The Denver Post l By Mark K. Matthews

Colorado U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner is poised to become the next chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee.

The post will put the freshman lawmaker in a prominent national role as he leads Republican efforts to retain control of the U.S. Senate in 2018.

Politico first reported Gardner’s likely ascension Wednesday afternoon and Colorado Republicans confirmed that Gardner was well-positioned to become NRSC chairman during a vote next week for the spot.

In an interview, Gardner sounded optimistic.

“Obviously, I’ve expressed my willingness to continue to fight for a majority that believes in limited government and economic opportunity for the people of this nation and that’s what I’m going to do in any capacity I can,” he said. “Right now, that is a real possibility.

“I feel confident that with the support of my colleagues we will be in a position to be able to help,” Gardner added.

The Yuma Republican campaigned quietly this year to win his colleagues’ support, traveling the nation to support GOP candidates seeking election in 2016.

In 2014, Colorado U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet led the Democratic campaign efforts.

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