Will Shafroth is relying on a lifetime of work for environmental causes to get him elected to Congress in Colorado’s heavily Democratic 2nd District. But Shafroth also plans to use his nice-guy reputation to set himself apart from a pair of more strident opponents in a multi-million-dollar primary that will effectively determine who goes to the U.S. House of Representatives.“Stylistically, this district has had someone who was about bringing diverse coalitions together, working with Republicans, Democrats and independents,” Shafroth said of prior 2nd CD reps Mark Udall, Tim Wirth and David Skaggs. “It is grounded in being a good listener.”
Shafroth said his personality is better suited to building consensus than Democratic primary opponents Jared Polis and Joan Fitz-Gerald.
But in an interview Shafroth also admitted that his name recognition is not as good as either Fitz-Gerald, the former president of the Colorado State Senate, or Polis, a former State Board of Education chairman who used his personal fortune to help Democrats regain control of the Colorado General Assembly, the governor’s office and a majority in the Congressional delegation.
Shafroth, meanwhile, ran Great Outdoors Colorado from 1993 to 2000, directing lottery proceeds into land conservation and recreation projects. Since 2000 he has directed the Colorado Conservation Trust, a private foundation that Shafroth said has collected $17 million to help preserve agricultural lands, wildlife habitats and open space.
Shafroth said his decision to petition on to the primary ballot did not signal a fear that he would have failed to get 30 percent of the delegate votes needed to get on the ballot at May’s Democratic assembly. He said going door-to-door will help his name recognition and allow him to discover what issues matter most to voters.
“I’ve been in the Democratic system in Boulder,” Shafroth said. “That’s where 50 percent of the delegates will come from. I think I could have done that (gotten 30 percent of the assembly votes).”
Udall, who is vacating his 2nd CD seat to run for the U.S. Senate, petitioned his way on to the Democratic primary ballot when he first ran for Congress, Shafroth said.
Still, Shafroth is the only candidate in the primary who has never before run for office. Fitz-Gerald was elected to the General Assembly, Polis to the state ed board.
In a race where money will talk, Shafroth is confident that he can raise the $1.25 million to $1.5 million he says it will take to be competitive.
“I have outperformed my fundraising goals in the past two quarters,” he said.
He chalks some of that up to a lifetime working as a dedicated environmentalist, which he says is the bread-and-butter issue of the 2nd CD. But with all three candidates running on green platforms, supporting women’s reproductive rights, demanding health care reform and opposing the war in Iraq, Shafroth is counting on the race coming down to a cult of personality.
Polis’ push for ethics reform through Amendment 41 angered some who thought the amendment was poorly written and extended far beyond lobbyists giving free tickets and buying free meals for legislators.
Fitz-Gerald was a powerful leader, but her personal style was occasionally confrontational with Republicans and even with some members of her own party.
“I’m not part of the system,” Shafroth said. “And this is a great year for people who haven’t been part of the system.”
In a deep-pockets primary with better-known opponents, that may be Will Shafroth’s only hope.