Earlier this month, TV star Ben Higgins of the ABC matchmaker reality show “The Bachelor” confirmed to The Colorado Independent that he’s considering a future in Colorado politics.
The plan is for Higgins, who lives in Denver, to run as a Republican for the seat in the House of Representatives currently held by Democratic Rep. Dan Pabon.
But last week, when GOP ballots went out for the election in House District 4, where Higgins lives, his name wasn’t on them. Instead, the ballot listed Republican Willie Pinkston as running for the seat unopposed. The primary election is June 28.
On June 2, Pinkston told The Independent that he “definitely” planned on “stepping aside,” if Higgins chose to run. He also has a new baby and a 17th Street insurance firm to run. He says he met with “The Bachelor” star and was impressed. He called him “likely the only other Republican who can win” in the urban Denver district that leans heavily Democratic.
“He’s got name recognition … we’d love to support him since he wants to run and is capable,” Pinkston said June 2.
Two weeks later that hasn’t happened, and Pinkston says he has no status updates to share “at this point.” But that doesn’t mean Higgins — or someone else — couldn’t still wind up the Republican nominee to run against Pabon in November, despite his or her name not appearing on a ballot for West Denver voters to consider in the primary.
It turns out there’s a process in place for Higgins to get on the November ballot if Pinkston steps aside like he’s said he would. In Colorado, if the nominee of a party decides to take his or her name out of contention after he or she is elected in a primary, but before the general election, a panel called a vacancy committee convenes to select a replacement.
The committee would be made up of a handful Republican activists or officials from the district in question, and would end up choosing who runs against Pabon. In other words, it would be local party pooh-bas who handpick a candidate they want to run against Pabon— not voters who make up the Republican electorate in House District 4. And while Pinkston has said he’d step aside for Higgins, there’s no guarantee that someone other than Higgins won’t try for the nomination, too.
Colorado is one of only a handful of states that allow vacancy committees to choose lawmakers. About half the states require elections; in other states, governors appoint lawmakers in the event of a vacancy.
These events don’t usually capture the general public’s attention. But a high-profile candidate like Higgins at the center is likely to bring more visibility to how a vacancy committee works.
In the past, these committees in Colorado have placed memorable people into positions of power. One example was in 2008 when a 15-member El Paso County vacancy committee installed anti-tax folk hero Douglas Bruce, who is currently in prison on charges stemming from tax evasion, onto a seat in the Colorado House. During his swearing-in ceremony, Bruce kicked a photographer and drew a censure from his colleagues.
Beyond such controversial appointments, some in Colorado might even warn of vacancy committee abuse.
Consider what happened in 2013 when a then-Democratic lawmaker from Westminster named Evie Hudak stepped down from her seat in the Colorado Senate to avoid the prospect of a recall election over a package of gun control measures passed by Democrats. The move incensed conservatives, who had hoped voters would recall and replace her with a Republican. Instead, because she resigned, Democratic activists on a vacancy committee picked her Democratic successor.
In both of these cases, though, the people appointed to power were replacing lawmakers who had already been elected and were serving in the Statehouse. In the case of a potential Higgins scenario, he would be replacing a candidate who won a primary election but hasn’t yet served in the House.
It could be a candidacy case of musical chairs, the ‘ol switch-a-roo. If Pinkston steps aside and Higgins steps in, a vacancy committee could offer him the final rose and The Bachelor would be on the ballot. But what if someone else were to offer themselves up for contention? Higgins might just be in for another bout of made-for-TV drama.
Anyone placed in power by a vacancy committee can only stay there until voters decide their fate in the next general election. Over the years there has been some hand-wringing about whether this practice is good for democracy or should be changed.
Higgins and Pinkston have plenty of time to decide what they’ll do.
Higgins wrapped his reality TV show in March, got engaged to to his co-star Lauren Bushnell, and has been deciding what to do next. In a statement to The Independent, he said he believes he has plenty to offer because of his years in the financial services industry and the work he has done with charities and organizations like Humanity and Hope United Foundation, the Baker Youth Club and a homeless shelter.
“Whatever lies ahead, love, grace, and hope are ideals that guide my life. I will take them with me into my next adventure,” he said in early June. “Lauren and I aren’t sure yet what that will be, but in terms of representing House District 4, Willie Pinkston is an amazing person and any decision I make regarding entering the race will be based on what is best for Willie, his family and for Lauren and me.”
While any eventual decision might not be the hottest topic among the public in District 4, it’s sure to draw national attention because of Higgins’ star power.