DENVER — Latino leaders gathered on the steps of City Hall here Tuesday to strongly encourage community members to vote for Democratic leaders. They reminded the crowd that the state’s new universal mail ballots would be landing in mailboxes across the state in the next few days.
“There’s been a lot of inaction and we want to see action, particularly from our community. We’re encouraging people not only to come out but to cast their ballots and support candidates who support our community,” said city councilman Paul Lopez.
He is not talking about Republican candidate for governor Bob Beauprez, who is running to unseat Democrat John Hickenlooper.
“On one hand, you have Governor Hickenlooper who has signed bills into law that help children — immigrant children who by no fault of their own are in this country — be able to go to college,” said Lopez. “On the other hand, you have a candidate, Bob Beauprez, whose only answer is to send troops to the Colorado border to block three-year-olds from having a better life.”
Former state senator Polly Baca pitched for Colorado U.S. Senator Mark Udall. She said his challenger, Republican Congressman Cory Gardner can’t be trusted. She said Colorado is at the heart of the battle over which political party will control the U.S. Senate.
“Cory Gardner is using dishonorable tactics to fool the voters of Colorado, but don’t be fooled,” she said. “He is blatantly distorting his record on immigration reform, women’s rights, minimum wage and other issues important to our community.”
Baca noted that Gardner opposes the bipartisan Senate immigration bill and voted three times in the last two years to end President Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), which halted deportations of young undocumented immigrants.
Democratic state Senator Jessie Ulibarri leveled his sites at Congressman Mike Coffman, who’s currently running for re-election against Democrat Andrew Romanoff to represent the 6th Congressional District, which includes Ulibarri’s own Adams County.
“For 25 years, almost the entirety of my life, Coffman has been running against Latino and immigrant communities. As Secretary of State he purged the voter roles and as a congressman voted time and again against comprehensive immigration reform,” said Ulibarri. “Now he’s done an about-face during election season.”
Ulibarri and Coffman for years have butted heads over voter access. In 2008, when Coffman was Colorado’s Secretary of State, Ulibarri was working on a major voter-turnout effort.
“Coffman initiated a purge that pushed thousands of eligible Colorado voters off the rolls in advance of the 2008 election,” said Ulibarri.
In 2009, Ulibarri joined a lawsuit against Coffman for the purges.
“Coffman was actually sued in court and we won, proving he had gamed the system to try and rig the rules in his favor and in the favor of his buddies running for Congress,” said Ulibarri.
He added that voters should keep in mind that Democrats passed sweeping election reforms in 2013 geared at increasing voter participation through all-mail balloting and same-day voter registration. The bill gained no Republican supporters in the legislature, despite being supported by Republican county clerks. Republican lawmakers said the law was poorly drafted and encouraged voter fraud.
“The fact that the Republican Party has consistently tried to block folks from exercising their democratic right to go vote speaks for itself,” said Lopez. “Why are they so afraid that folks like us will vote?”
Ben Monterroso of voter outreach organization Mi Familia Vota was also in attendance. He’s spearheading a 60,000 voter outreach program in Colorado exclusively targeted on “low propensity” latino voters.
“It’s those voters nobody pays attention to because they don’t vote on a regular basis,” said Monterroso, adding that the group is just wrapping up a massive voter registration push and they’ll be following up with those voters as well.
Mi Familia Vota is operating in four cities this election cycle — Denver, Pueblo, Aurora and Greeley — with bilingual volunteers and paid canvassers knocking doors in all four communities.
“It’s not only the language,” said Monterroso. “It’s about being bicultural. It’s a lot easier for us to relate to our own people on our issues.”
Those issues begin, but don’t end, with comprehensive immigration reform. Monterroso says Mi Familia Vota supports candidates who support the Affordable Care Act, job creation and education accessibility — such as in-state tuition for undocumented students, as was passed in the state legislature in 2013.
Monterroso is looking at the long game. He wants to see Latino voter participation jump this cycle and then hold strong for years to come.
“Our community is going to be making choices based on the issues, not based on the political party or the last name you have,” he said.