JeffCo voters in Lakewood’s House District 23 will have the chance to choose a new representative for an open seat for the first time in 14 years. Republicans haven’t held the seat since 2004 when Ramey Johnson lost a close race to Democrat Gwyn Green. Democrat Max Tyler, who replaced Green in a vacancy appointment in 2009, is term-limited.
Republicans have struggled to regain their footing in this seat that has trended Democratic in recent years, including an embarrassing turn in 2014 when their candidate Nate Marshall was forced to drop out when news reports revealed him to be a white supremacist.
Republican Chris Hadsall (left, above) is hoping to reverse that streak this year, while Democrats are counting on Chris Kennedy (right, above), a legislative aide and Democratic staffer at the state Capitol since 2010, to keep the seat blue.
This election will mark Hadsall’s second attempt at the seat. He filed as a candidate in the last election, but was forced to withdraw due to his employment with the federal government, which prohibits running for office under the Hatch Act. Hadsall is relying on his military record, experience in the medical device industry, and outreach to Libertarians to carry him over the line.
Hadsall is a former Marine who served for nearly a decade and retired on a medical disability in 2007 after being hit by a suicide bomber in Iraq. He openly discusses his battles with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), which he said cost him his first marriage. He has since remarried and has four children with his wife Tracy and works for a medical device company in Broomfield. Hadsall has lived in the district five out of the last six years. He’s originally from a small town in Missouri, which he said gives him a good perspective on rural issues as well as urban problems. He enjoys Colorado’s outdoors and can be found riding his mountain bike in some of the area’s best trails, including on Green Mountain, which is in the district.
Kennedy previously was a structural engineer, working mostly on multi-family and single-family residential projects. That got him interested in renewable energy and later in politics. Kennedy is a lifelong Coloradan who has lived in the district for 11 years. He’s single and outdoorsy, enjoying climbing mountains, camping and cycling. He’s also a big music fan and until a few years ago was the frontman, lead guitarist and songwriter for Mitya, his own rock band.
Kennedy has worked in various capacities with Democrats for the past six years. He ran U.S. Rep. Ed Perlmutter’s successful 2014 re-election campaign, served as chair of the Jefferson County Democratic Party and also has worked for a handful of Democratic lawmakers at the state Capitol, including Tyler and Democratic Speaker of the House Mark Ferrandino of Denver.
Kennedy has a more than four-to-one advantage in fundraising, with $121,677 in contributions compared to Hadsall’s $28,834. Hadsall also loaned his campaign $2,952 earlier this year.
Kennedy has received more than $37,000 in contributions from political parties and unions. Large donations have come from the Colorado Democratic Party ($8,688); the Colorado Education Association, American Federation of Teachers and the Jefferson County Education Association ($7,500 total).
Hadsall has commented twice on his Facebook page about his fundraising disadvantage. Earlier this month he said he was “flattered” by the amount of money Kennedy has raised, saying, “It means the Political Establishment is nervous about the outcome of the election and knows I’m more than qualified to be your next State Representative.”
Hadsall’s biggest contributions, of $1,000 each, have come from a pro-business political action committee, Homes for All Coloradans — which has given its largest donations this year to Republicans — and from the Jefferson County GOP. He also received $400 donations from Joe Coors, Jr. (who passed away last week) and son Brad Coors of Parker.
Hadsall and Kennedy both spoke with The Colorado Independent about some of the hot-button issues facing Colorado, as well as topics important to their district.
In 2016, Republicans tried to repeal some of the 2013 gun control measures passed in 2013 that included a 15-round limit on ammunition magazines and mandatory background checks for private transfers of weapons.
Kennedy, who was then working for Ferrandino, said he would not support repealing those 2013 measures, calling them important protections to guard against gun violence. He disputes claims that the measures violated the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. “We didn’t undermine the Second Amendment, we respected it and made it harder for dangerous people to get weapons of war.”
Hadsall said he is “for liberty” and constitutional rights, but added that all of those rights come with responsibilities. He’s more interested in seeing issues of gun violence dealt with as a mental health issue, calling it a bigger systemic problem than just about guns. He’d also prefer to see the magazine limits law amended rather than nixed, but said the 15-round limit is an arbitrary number, and someone who wants to do that kind of damage will find a way around it. Such laws give people a “false sense of security,” Hadsall said. He claims support for background checks, calling them reasonable. Still, he has been endorsed by Second Amendment activist Laura Carno who helped lead the recalls against Democrats who passed gun laws, including universal background checks, in 2013.
Democratic lawmakers tried to push through a package of bills in 2016 designed to level the playing field on equal pay for equal work. While there is already a federal law requiring equal pay between genders, the bills offered in 2016 would have worked on some of the issues not covered by that law.
“It’s obviously a priority,” Kennedy said. He applauds the effort to require state contractors to adhere to pay equity standards, as well as another that would have forbid employers from asking potential employees about salary history, calling it a creative idea for a problem that’s been difficult to solve. Both of those measures did not pass in 2016, although a third, on allowing employees to discuss salaries with each other, did pass.
Hadsall believes in equal pay for equal work, pointing out that he has three daughters. Still, he doesn’t support changing the law if it creates mandates. His campaign, drawing on his experience in the health sector, has featured broad opposition to mandates in health insurance as well. “The problem I have with insurance mandates,” Hadsall told the Independent, “anytime the government mandates something, the market doesn’t stabilize and is constantly trying to catch on to what that rule or regulation means.” Kennedy supports maintaining the health insurance mandates already approved in Colorado.
Some of his strongest views are on raising the minimum wage, which will be on the November ballot. Hadsall is strongly opposed to the measure because he believes it will hurt small businesses. Minimum wage wasn’t intended to be a living wage, he said. But for those who have to make a living on minimum wage, many can work more than one job, and those workers should be helped with education or other training to move into higher-paying jobs. Hadsall, who said he came from a poor family, said he believes there should be a safety net for low-income people, but that government also needs to help those on public assistance find a path to success and self-sufficiency.
The hospital provider fee has been the subject of much controversy between the House and Senate and between Democrats and Republicans for the past two sessions. The fee is levied on hospital overnight patient stays as well as outpatient visits. That money is then matched with federal dollars and redistributed to hospitals to cover uninsured patients and to expand Medicaid. Democrats and a handful of Republicans want to see the fee removed from the state’s revenue limits, as established under the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights. The fee would then be reclassified to be exempt from TABOR restrictions and revenues would be spent on uninsured patients and Medicaid expansion.
Kennedy believes that converting the fee to an enterprise, which is allowed under TABOR, is the right thing to do. The state has a lot of funding needs, from K-12 education to higher ed to affordable housing and transportation. He believes the fee should have been classified as an enterprise when the law was first passed in 2009.
Hadsall thinks the hospital provider fee is an issue that should be decided by voters, given that at up to $600 million in tax dollars is at stake. Otherwise, he supports keeping the provider fee revenue under TABOR. “Something this significant needs to be done by the voters,” he said.
House Republicans tried six times in the 2016 session to either restrict or end access to abortions. Kennedy said he would have opposed all six measures, and supports a woman’s right to make decisions about her own body. Republicans “make it sound like it’s about health, or in the case of Texas, about providing high medical standards. It’s a ruse,” Kennedy said, “designed to shut down options for women’s health care. (The Texas law, HB2, would have required abortion clinics to adhere to the same facility standards as out-patient surgery centers. That law was thrown out by the U.S. Supreme Court earlier this year.)
Although Hadsall said he is pro-life, he doesn’t support personhood laws, one of the six measures attempted in 2016. He is comfortable with exceptions but not for late-term abortions, But he also believes it’s an issue that voters in his district aren’t particularly interested in, and that the legislature should focus on other priorities.
What voters in the district are interested in, Kennedy noted, is transportation. He thinks voters should consider whether to fund the state’s multi-billion dollar transportation infrastructure needs. “We need to have a serious conversation with voters about what they expect from government and whether they’re willing to pay for it.” Trying to find the dollars through rooting out waste, fraud and abuse just isn’t enough, he said. “You can’t cut your way to prosperity.”
Hadsall said transportation is a big issue in the district, from road construction to the need for sound barriers along Sixth Avenue west of Simms. He also supports asking voters for help, such as through increasing gas or sales taxes, but only if the General Assembly can guarantee that such taxes would go to transportation needs and not just plug holes in the General Fund. “People will support a tax” if they know it will go to fix roads, he said. He also wants the General Assembly to think creatively about reducing traffic congestion, such as coming up with incentives for employers to allow workers to telecommute.
Builders and developers have claimed for years that Colorado’s construction defects law overly favors homeowners in multi-family units like condos and townhomes. Builders blame the law for stifling the addition of new condos and townhomes to the state’s tight housing market. In Lakewood, the city council passed its own construction defects resolution two years ago. Similar resolutions have been passed in at least a half-dozen other suburban communities.
Kennedy said he would be open to supporting a compromise on the construction defects issue, which has been tied up in the legislature for several years. In the 2016 session, groups came within a week or two of crafting a compromise, but it died in the final month of the session.
Kennedy supports one aspect of the construction defects proposed change: that those who serve on boards of homeowners association not have the only say on whether to sue a builder for defects. Kennedy pointed out that if a homeowner doesn’t have a defective home, a lawsuit from the HOA keeps them from selling or refinancing the home. “There is reason to scrutinize the process,” Kennedy said. Homeowners have a right to have significant defects repaired, and if the legislature can find that middle road, he added, “I would be inclined to support it.”
Hadsall doesn’t want revisions to the construction defects laws to protect “bad actors” but thinks builders and developers don’t know if the Lakewood or other city resolutions will protect them from frivolous lawsuits. There are common sense measures that can be taken, he said, such as mediation or arbitration between homeowners and builders, which has been proposed in previous legislation at the Capitol but is also now the subject of a lawsuit awaiting action from the Colorado Supreme Court. Give the builders a right to cure defects, and make sure lawsuits are supported by a majority of the homeowners in an HOA, not just the board, he said.
Mail ballots for the November election will go out on Monday, October 17.