Zenzinger v. Woods state Senate race heats up

Zenzinger v. Woods state Senate race heats up

Campaign finance reports suggest state Republicans fear that uber-conservative state Sen. Laura Woods is in danger of being ousted from her Senate District 19 in the northern suburbs of Arvada and Westminster. As of this week, it has become the most expensive legislative race in the state.

The GOP has stepped up in recent weeks and given Woods (left in picture) almost three times more than it has given any other Republican candidate running for office. Woods is one of the Senate’s most conservative members and is no stranger to controversy.

Last year, she was a co-sponsor of a “Parents Bill of Rights” that raised a debate about whether parents could opt their kids out of sex ed in schools or from immunizations. She is also vehemently anti-abortion, and sat on the Republican Study Committee of Colorado, which held a hearing last November on Planned Parenthood and whether the organization was illegally trafficking in fetus body parts (despite more than a dozen investigations nationwide, those claims have never been proven). Just weeks after that hearing, a man opened fire on a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs, killing three people, including a pro-life police officer, and injuring nine. Two days later, Woods posted a cryptic message raising the distinction between what is legal and what is right on her Facebook page. She did not express any sympathy for the shooting victims until 83 days later.

Woods – a former court reporter and small business owner who first won the seat in 2014 – is running against former state Sen. Rachel Zenzinger (right in picture), who has snagged large donations from the state Democratic Party and union groups.

Campaign finance reports filed Tuesday show the two candidates have collectively raised $346,146,17, more than any other legislative race in the state.

Woods so far has raised $123,909 in contributions compared to Zenzinger’s $176,636.  Woods transferred in an additional $43,948 from her 2014 campaign.

But Woods hasn’t been spending as much as Zenzinger, and so has a substantial cash-on-hand advantage headed into the final two months of the election cycle. Zenzinger has outspent Woods by more than 2:1 through August and now has $88,355.45 in the bank for the next two months. Woods has $169,215.79 in the bank.

Woods’ disadvantage in fundraising appears to have prompted Republican officials to open up their wallets. The Colorado GOP put in two contributions totaling $21,025 in the past three weeks – a major portion of what Woods took in during the last month. She raised a total of $46,491 in August.

Those donations dwarf any other made by the GOP to a state candidate this election cycle. The next largest is a $7,500 contribution on Aug. 31 to Republican Jessica Sandgren of Thornton, who is running against incumbent Democrat Rep. Joe Salazar of Thornton in House District 31.

The state GOP put only  $400 in cash into Woods’ 2014 run, plus more than $17,000 in non-monetary contributions.

Woods won her first election to the Senate in 2014, defeating Zenzinger, who was appointed to fill the unexpired term of Democrat Sen. Evie Hudak of Arvada. Hudak resigned rather than face a recall election over her support for gun control legislation passed in 2013. Woods (who was known as Laura Waters at the time) was one of the leaders of that recall effort. She won the 2014 contest by just 841 votes, which flipped control of the state Senate to Republicans for the first time since 2004.

Both Woods’ and Zenzinger’s contribution lists reveal that many of their donations come from unidentified individual donors. These contributions flowed in from small-donor committees that don’t identify most of their unnamed “members.”

Among Woods’ donors in the past month is a small donor committee called Coloradans for Common Sense. The committee, which backs Republicans for state office, has a checkered history of campaign finance violations for filing late reports. It is run by former Republican state Treasurer Mark Hillman of Burlington.

The committee took in more than $2,000 in the past month, but hasn’t disclosed a single donor. All donations are marked as “member contributions,” and the members aren’t identified.

Coloradans for Common Sense has raised more than $41,000 in its 12-year history, but has identified only one $25 contribution by name since 2010 –  that of former state lawmaker Ruth Prendergast. The committee has raised $33,714.15 in unidentified contributions in that same period.

Another small donor committee funded by unidentified donors is Homes for All Coloradans, which raises money to back pro-business, pro-property rights candidates. Woods received $4,000 from that committee in August. Its registered agent is Katie Kennedy, who handles those duties for quite a few Republican and/or business-backed committees.

One notable Woods donor from 2014 that hasn’t shown up so far this year: Rocky Mountain Gun Owners, which kicked in $4,000 to Woods’ last race. An independent expenditure committee funded almost entirely by RMGO has raised about $65,000, but has spent all but $4,100 of that in support of Republican state House and Senate candidates other than Woods.

Zenzinger is an education consultant who represented the senate district for one year following Hudak’s resignation.

Her biggest donations have so far come from the state Democratic Party, which put in $17,500 into her campaign between May and July.

Zenzinger’s next largest pool of donors are from unions. Six committees funded by local, state and national teacher unions have contributed a total of $9,150, with the largest donation of $4,850 coming from a committee funded by the Colorado Education Association. She has also received money from the United Food and Commercial Workers; electrical, pipefitters and firefighters unions; and the American Federation of Labor chapter in Colorado.

Most of those groups are also small donor committees where the majority of their funds come from unidentified donors.

 

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About the Author

Marianne Goodland

has been a political journalist since 1998. She covered the state capitol for the Silver & Gold Record from 1998 to 2009 and for The Colorado Statesman in 2010-11 and 2013-14. Since 2010 she also has covered the General Assembly for newspapers in northeastern Colorado. She was recognized with awards from the Colorado Press Association for feature writing and informational graphics for her work with the Statesman in 2012.

7 Comments

  1. Athena Roe on said:

    I strongly support Senator Laura Woods re-election campaign after working with Senator Woods on judicial and probate court reform issues. Moreover, the democrats in my precinct did nothing to help me or other families defrauded by lawyers and others during probate court proceedings. As the precinct co-chair for H.D. 18 (yes I am a democrat) and as a candidate who petitioned for the ballot to give El Paso County voters a fresh voice, I can truly say that Senator Woods is not only a true “states woman” but a leader for the people. Lastly, this election more than ever, we need candidates who speak for the people. We can no longer support high paid puppets. Go Senator Woods! We in El Paso County are your friends and supporters.

  2. Mary Ellen Johnson on said:

    While I am extremely liberal, this past legislative session I discovered that compassion and caring know no political parties. Senator Woods was co-sponsor on a bill that would finally, finally end juvenile life without parole sentences. She faced stiff opposition, particularly against some district attorneys, and was threatened with losing the 2016 election. Yet Senator Woods stood strong and helped shepherd two very contentious bills that gave children, some having served nearly thirty years in adult prison, a second chance. Legislators of both parties voted for redemption and against retribution. Thank you, Senator Woods, for your courage on behalf of the previously forgotten 48.

  3. Lori Frank on said:

    Senator Woods has been conservative, but I would not call her ultra conservative or out of the mainstream.

    She is a sensible and understanding lawmaker, wants the best for our kids (and will not undermine parental choices), and is willing to work across the aisle.

    She is also a friend to SMALL BUSINESS, something that fears Rachel Zenzinger.

    Please know what you’re voting for this election.

  4. L.P. Smithson on said:

    Rachel Zenzinger actually upholds Obama’s decree to allow biological males into school locker rooms and showers with our daughters; and to allow biological females into shower facilities with our sons.

    Something this personal should be taken up by each community, not by Washington DC and those local lawmakers to whom Obama cannot do any wrong.

    I personally think that private accommodations are appropriate for those who are gender misaligned.

  5. Luanne Fleming on said:

    I strongly support Senator Laura Woods re-election. Many families have been working with Senator Woods on judicial and probate court reform issues that continue to destroy families. Many democrats in my district did nothing to help me, my family or others defrauded by lawyers and court appointed officials in probate court proceedings. Senator Laura Woods is a true leader for the people of Colorado. We need candidates who listen and react. Senator Laura Woods worked hard for our families and she will work hard for you! Yes, I am a Democrat who supports a Republican Senator for re-election! Go Senator Laura Woods you deserve your seat. You have our full support!

  6. Derek on said:

    Interesting that Luanne Fleming’s October 8th comment is almost a word for word copy of Athena Roe’s comment on September 9th.

    The fake grassroots support smells more like Astroturf. Variations on a theme, or multiple sock puppets speaking regurgitating the same talking points.

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