As Denver came to a near-standstill because of a freak spring blizzard, state House District 3 vacancy committee chair Paula Van Dusen said Thursday, “We’re going to make every attempt, come hell or high water” to hold the meeting to choose a successor to retiring state Rep. Anne McGihon.
The festivities begin at 7 p.m. tonight.
7:10 p.m. – With 62 of the 100-member vacancy committee in attendance, festivities are under way in the basement of the University Park United Methodist Church, which sits across the street from the University of Denver. All nine candidates are here and have spent the last hour mingling, cajoling and shaking hands in the church basement. Each of the hopefuls will get 5 minutes to speechify — that’s 45 minutes to hear all nine — followed by question and answer, before a three-stage ballot process begins. Each candidate needs to be nominated and seconded by a member of the vacancy committee, so that could be the first hurdle for candidates with lean support.
7:30 p.m. – So far, all three candidates have cleared the nomination hurdle — Cherry Creek School District social worker Stephen White; National Abortion Rights League of Colorado board member and attorney Judith Judd; and recently retired Washington Post journo T.R. Reid, an expert in health care reform.
Reid is clearly the most polished speaker of the group so far — “he oughta be, he gets six thousand bucks a pop on the speaking circuit,” one observer notes — and has hit several applause lines.
Daniel Kagan, an attorney who repped the Clinton campaign in Colorado and was a Clinton delegate to the Democratic National Convention last year, tells a compelling personal story about growing up the son of Holocaust survivers in a mid-Atlantic accent — he grew up in England and emigrated to these shores in the early 1970s as a young man and soon attained citizenship. He gets the biggest cheers of the night yet — actual whoops and hollers.
Next up: legislative staffer and netroots activist Aaron Silverstein. If the number of candidate stickers worn by the roughly 50 volunteers and spectators in the church basement tonight are any indication, Silverstein would have the edge tonight. His speech runs long — if this were the Academy Awards, the music would have gotten quite loud by the time he finished — but Silverstein hits an emotional stride in the last minute or so and wins heavy applause.
Precinct captain and high school leadership curriculum director George Brown is next. Like White, Brown nominated himself and has his nomination seconded by Denver Dem secretary Owen Perkins, which doesn’t bode well for support when it comes to balloting.
Colleen O’Brien, the AP government teacher at Overland High School and a long-time party activist, only gets two minutes to speak because her nomination takes quite some time, but she makes the most of her brief time. It’s clear she’s used to speaking to smart civic students — she gets laughs, sets heads nodding and goes out on a rousing note.
8 p.m. – Sam Cassidy, who was Roy Romer’s lieutenant governor for a couple years in the mid ’90s, gives an erudite speech, even quoting Justice Brandeis and Aristotle, and finishes within seconds of the deadline. Solid applause for Cassidy.
Doug Farquhar, who withdrew from the contest yesterday, nominates Shelley Watters, who has worked as an aide to Denver City Council members and ran for a council seat herself two years ago. Watters speaks crisply and efficiently, mentioning her past employer, Sen. Joyce Foster, whose endorsement could pull serious weight among long-time HD 3 residents.
8:05 p.m. – The committee will conduct 15 minutes of question and answers before the first round of balloting instead of waiting until only six candidates remain, as one version of the published rules stated. Last chance for last-minute nominations from the floor — there are none, so Rep. Anne McGihon’s replacement will be one of these nine hopefuls.
8:15 p.m. – Not surprisingly, all nine candidates answer the same to the first question — they all support the Employee Free Choice Act. “We’re all good Democrats,” one of the candidates says. Silverstein gets in a dig at the state’s two U.S. Senators, calling on Democrats Mark Udall and Michael Bennet to come out and state their positions on the contentious question.
Less uniformity on the next question — “Do you support CSAP (Colorado Student Assessment Program) tests?” Pretty much everyone agrees CSAPs should be on their way out, but the three educators — O’Brien, Brown and White — hit their stride, railing against CSAP eloquently and forecefully. You get the idea they’ve had this conversation before.
High speed rail from Denver International Airport up Interstate 70 into the mountains? General agreement it’s a good idea but some skepticism whether it’s the best idea or will be accomplished anytime soon. Kagan says it’s not politically viable in this economy — “sadly, sadly,” he says. Brown calls it a “pipe dream” and suggests other options.
8:25 p.m. – Same-sex marriage? It’s clear this is a group of progressive Democrats from a safely Democratic district — no wavering, no hesitation, no hemming and hawing. It’s unanimous, every candidate says he or she backs same-sex marriage. “There’s not enough love in the world,” Brown says, and each candidate answers the same: leave the government out of loving relationships. Big round of applause. It’s worth noting, there’s not nearly this much agreement among national Democrats, including President Barack Obama, who has said he supports civil unions but opposes gay marriage.
8:30 p.m. – Final credentials report — 63 voting members. The voting will begin momentarily. In the first, elimination round, vacancy committee members get to pick up to three candidates. The top six vote-getters advance to the next round. This could take a while.
9:05 p.m. – Six candidates made it to the second round (in no particular order, HD 3 chair Paula Van Dusen announces):
George Brown, Aaron Silverstein, T.R. Reid, Daniel Kagan, Judith Judd and Sam Cassidy. That means Stephen White, Shelley Watters and Colleen O’Brien have been knocked out.
In the next round, vacancy committee members will only vote for one candidate. If anyone gets a majority, that’s it. Otherwise, the top two finishers will advance to the final round.
9:30 p.m. – The results are in — Daniel Kagan and Aaron Silverstein make the finals. Not to overstate it, but this contest pits the Democratic establishment (Kagan was instrumental in getting Hillary Clinton’s name placed into nomination at the DNC) vs. the upstart (Silverstein is a regular contributor to the liberal blog Square State when the Legislature isn’t in session). The results should be known in another 15-20 minutes.
9:50 p.m. – There is a new HD 3 rep, but we’re not going to learn who it is for a minute. Bg rounds of applause for the volunteers who helped put the vacancy election together on short notice and — it must be said — pulled it off smoothly on a snowy night when nerves must be frayed.
After the announcement, which is coming any minute now! — the representative-elect will give a speech and sign a stack of paperwork.
The winner is … Daniel Kagan. Enormous cheering erupts and the crowd stands as Kagan heads toward the stage.
It was fairly close — 35 votes for Kagan, 28 for Silverstein.
Kagan delivers a brief speech thanking his neighbors and fellow Democrats for their confidence and urges anyone with a concern to reach him this weekend. McGihon’s resignation becomes official at the end of the day Friday.