Election Day is 12 days away, and one of the hottest races for the state House is taking place in the suburbs immediately south of Denver in House District 3, which includes Greenwood Village, Cherry Hills Village, Englewood and Sheridan.
What’s at stake: control of the state House. Democrats hold a three-seat majority, 34 to 31. The Bridges-Brown race has been targeted by both parties as one of the seats that could swing either way.
Katy Brown of Cherry Hills Village won the June 28 GOP primary, defeating Englewood Mayor Pro Tem Rick Gillit. Jeff Bridges of Greenwood Village was the victor for the Democratic primary, besting former Greenwood Village City Council member Meg Froelich.
Both are vying to replace term-limited Rep. Daniel Kagan, a Democrat who is now running for the Senate in Senate District 26, one of the hottest senate races in the state.
Bridges has raised $213,638 through October 12. More than $112,000 of that has come in since the June 28 primary.
Brown hasn’t done as well. She’s raised a total of $105,443, with more than $78,000 of that since the primary.
Among Bridges’ biggest supporters: the Colorado Democratic Party, with $14,800 in contributions; unions, such as the AFL-CIO and firefighters, with at least $9,225; Conservation Colorado, $3,000; and Voices for Choice, $2,225.
Brown received $7,500 from the Colorado Republican Party. She’s also benefitted from the Colorado Education Association endorsement, which has brought in $11,700 from three groups affiliated with state and local teacher unions.
Both candidates also have benefitted from the spending of outside groups. Bridges is backed by independent expenditure committees like the Democratic-affiliated Coloradans Creating Opportunities, which spent more than $14,000 in October for canvassing in the district.
Brown has benefitted from support from the Republican-affiliated groups such as the Colorado Leadership Fund, a 527 committee that spent more than $6,000 in October on mailers.
Brown has lived in the district more than 10 years. She has served on the Cherry Hill Village city council since 2012, and before that was on the city’s Parks, Trails and Recreation Commission.
She is the owner of Visionary Consulting, a web development firm geared toward the tourism industry. Her clients have included the Colorado Tourism Office and the Colorado Lottery. She was named a Denver Business Journal “40 Under 40” business leader in 2011.
Her target issues include the broadening access to good jobs and bolstering entrepreneurship. A pro-business environment requires strong transportation infrastructure, a skilled workforce and access to affordable housing, she says. Given her background in science (she has both a bachelor’s and master’s degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in computer science and media), she also believes strongly in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) opportunities and scholarships.
On the list of issues Brown says residents care about: education funding, immigration reform, marijuana’s impact on children, and tools for law enforcement.
Transportation infrastructure is critical to the health of our economy, Brown said. Colorado’s population is expected to grow by 50 percent within the next 20 years, and “we cannot support that population growth without investing” in roads and transit.
Brown thinks the difficulty with the hospital provider fee comes from how the money would be used. If that can be resolved, she would support reclassifying the fee to lift TABOR constraints.
“It’s not a tax on everyday citizens,” she said. “I do think we have to make sure it’s not a blank check for larger government spending on programs that are not a priority.”
When it comes to gun control, Brown said, “I support the Constitution,” noting the Second Amendment language protecting the right to and bear arms shouldn’t be infringed upon. “People do have legitimate concerns about growing gun violence and public safety, but you can’t ignore the Constitution because it’s convenient.”
Brown says her district’s residents don’t bring up abortion. She is a Catholic and said she respects life in all of its forms.
“But the Supreme Court has ruled abortion is a constitutionally-protected right, and you can’t ignore it. I respect those who feel abortion is wrong, but passing laws at the state level cannot accomplish a solution to that issue,” she said.
Brown doesn’t support recent attempts by lawmakers to legislate pay equity. Those bills, she says, set up a new kind of glass ceiling and would keep women from achieving more.
“As a woman, I don’t want government negotiating on my behalf or capping what I can earn as a hard working dedicated employee. I can achieve more than a male counterpart,” she says.
“As a small business owner, I pay my employees commensurate with their contribution to the company, and business owners should have to do that,” she added. “People are not identical or interchangeable. Everyone has special skills and talents they bring to the table,” and business owners should be able to compensate people based on the value they bring to the business.
Brown speaks often about the economic diversity of the district.
“Everyone has their own paths in life,” she said. Hers started in Louisiana, in public schools, and she says she has bootstrapped her way to the Cherry Hills Village, one of Colorado’s most affluent communities. “Those are opportunities that I want everyone to have.”
Bridges is the son of Rutt Bridges and Barbara Bridges. Rutt Bridges, who developed software for the petroleum industry, is a multi-millionaire who was one of four Democrats who pumped millions of dollars into state House and Senate races in 2004, helping Democrats take control of the General Assembly for the first time in three decades.
Bridges, for his part, studied divinity for a master’s program at Harvard. His experience finding common values, he said, would influence his work as a lawmaker. “It’s great training for the state House.”
He praises Ken Salazar’s work in the U.S. Senate – statesmanship he would like to emulate if elected.
“That guy made government work. He found common ground and brought people together,” he said. “We need people to work together to make government work. That’s not happening and that’s why I’m running.”
Bridges has had to fend off criticism from opponents that he hasn’t lived in the district for years. He filed for the House race a week after buying a condo in Greenwood Village.
“Values come from where you grow up, and I grew up in the district,” the Arapahoe High School graduate told The Colorado Independent. “This is my home. I grew up here. No one else in the race can say that,” he added. “Every kid dreams of growing up, spreading their wings and then coming back home.”
As he tells it, the important issues in the district include the economy and education.
“Colorado’s economy is doing very well, but it’s not being felt by everyone I talk to.” People are struggling all across the district, he said.
As for education, Bridges noted that the state funds public education on a per-pupil basis at about the same rate as Alabama – a record he called “shameful.”
“If we want the economy to keep going and growing, we need great public schools,” he said, adding that failing to fund public education threatens the state’s future economic prosperity.
Bridges said his Democratic neighbors complain about “how nasty and partisan and obstructionist governing has become.” “The nasty tone from Washington has seeped into Colorado,” he said, hampering the state’s tradition of people working together to make Colorado better. “We need to bring that back.”
He is a strong champion of abortion rights. “We have to continue to resist legislative efforts to roll back a woman’s right to choose” and to block government intrusion between a woman and her doctor, he said.
On gun control, Bridges opposes any efforts to roll back the 2013 legislation that capped ammunition magazines at 15 rounds and required background checks for gun transfers. He pointed out that his high school, Arapahoe High, had a shooting several years ago, and added that he had friends at Columbine during the 1999 massacre.
“My life has been personally touched by gun violence,” he said.
He notes that mass shootings aren’t the only aspect of the gun issue Coloradans need to worry about. Suicides and domestic violence are as, if not more, concerning. He agrees with Republicans when they talk about how ending gun violence requires addressing mental health issues. “That’s an opening to do more about improving mental health services,” Bridges said.
When it comes to the hospital provider fee, he said, “This is a simple accounting fix.” Every other fee that came into the budget since TABOR was passed hasn’t been included in the TABOR spending cap. The hospital provider fee shouldn’t be subject to TABOR restrictions, either, he said.
Another challenge presented by with TABOR is that it has made it impossible to fund transportation, and Bridges looks forward to seeing how that might be addressed on the November ballot. Crumbling roads and bridges hurt the state’s economy, especially when enjoying the mountains and open space is a major reason for why people live in Colorado, he said.
Bridges is a strong supporter of pay equity, including the measure proposed in the state House this session requiring state contractors meet equal pay standards. Every person should earn what he or she deserves, regardless of gender, race or sexual orientation, he said.
Based on state reapportionment maps, Republicans hold a one-point advantage over Democrats in voter registration (35 to 34 percent), with independents not far behind at around 30 percent of voters.
And although the district regularly swings between Democrats and Republicans for senators, voters have kept the House seat in Democratic hands for the past 20 years. Still, Kagan won his 2014 election by a mere 450 votes.