Vacancy meeting kicks off to replace retiring state Sen. Veiga in SD 31

Denver and Adams County Democrats are crowded into the Morey Middle School auditorium — stuffy but dripping historic charm — to pick the successor to state Sen. Jennifer Veiga, who announced last month she is stepping down to move to Australia with her partner. Nine candidates have announced they’re running to represent Senate District 31, including a former state lawmaker, a prominent lobbyist and a Denver Public Schools board member.

Democratic officials, including precinct committee members and elected officials who live in the district, will cast as many as three rounds of ballots until a winner emerges with a majority. When the meeting convened, 157 credentialed voters had checked in, out of 186 possible voters — a strong turnout.

“The magic number is 79,” said one political operative working the crowd as the nomination speeches get underway. Should a candidate win a majority on the first ballot — with at least nine hopefuls on the ballot — it would be a stunning show of strength. If that doesn’t happen, the first round of balloting narrows the field to four, and then the second round will leave voters with two choices.

If the volume and enthusiastic cheers from the crowd are any indication, this is a contest between lobbyist and gay-rights activist Pat Steadman and Denver Public Schools communication director Alex Sanchez, who is also gay. Veiga, who was the Legislature’s first openly gay member, has endorsed Steadman, but as the first-ballot selection of Obama education advisor Michael Johnston to replace retiring Senate President Peter Groff’s last week showed, it’s folly to predict the vote until votes are cast.

Check back for each round of balloting and instant results once a winner is chosen.

Vacancy rules allow nominations from the floor, so we won’t know until voting begins how many will be on the ballot. Here are the candidates announced so far, with links to their candidate profiles on the Senate

Patrick Byrne, a budget and policy analyst at the Colorado Department of Transportation

Jill Conrad, an at-large member of the Denver Public Schools Board of Education

Elmer “Butch” Hicks, an RTD driver, treasurer of the Colorado Democratic Party and the Adams County Democrats, and a former Westminster city council member

John Maslanik, an investment manager and past candidate for RTD director

Ann Ragsdale, a former state representative who stepped down last year due to term limits

Alex Sanchez, director of communications for Denver Public Schools

Pat Steadman, a lobbyist and gay-rights advocate responsible for many laws on the books and on the ballot

W. Douglas Williams, a late entrant to the race, ran as a Democrat against Tom “The Hammer” DeLay, the Texas Republican who quit Congress under threat of indictment

John Wren, an even later entrant to the contest, a business consultant and adult educator and a self-described “recovering Republican”

A 10th candidate, an Illyria resident wno identifies himself only as “Tom,” nominates himself from the floor, taking shots at Veiga for hushing him when he raised concerns about problems surrounding the district’s industrial core along the Platte River and Interstate 70.

From the floor, a woman shouts a nomination for Gary Jackson, the vice chair of the senate district.

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Ernest Luning

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