COLORADO SPRINGS — El Paso County Democrats, who live in one of the most heavily Republican parts of Colorado, have elected Electra Johnson as their new leader.
The local architect and urban designer beat Shari Zabel, a trans candidate with an Air Force background. Johnson was an early supporter of Bernie Sanders and became politically active after caucusing for him at her neighborhood precinct last spring.
“You could say we have a mandate,” said John Jarrell, 33, who helped Johnson’s campaign for chair.
Jarrell is part of the #DemEnter movement in Colorado, which aims to get potentially disenchanted Sanders supporters into elected leadership roles in county Democratic Parties. It is the opposite of the #DemExit movement, which saw self-proclaimed Berniecrats bolt the party after the Democratic National Convention in Philly where Hillary Clinton took the nomination.
“The fact that we’re still here means that we’re taking a leading role,” Jarrell said of himself and other Sanders Democrats just prior to the vote for county party chair.
The vote came during the El Paso County Democratic Party’s every-two-years reorganization meeting in a community center cafeteria in Colorado Springs. A couple hundred local Democrats who make up the county’s central committee showed up to meet, eat breakfast, and to cast their votes for a reshuffling of the party leadership.
Johnson will replace Kathleen Ricker who served as county party chair for the past six years and chose not to run again.
CO Sen. Merrifield nominates Electra Johnson for next El Paso County Dem chair. It's contested. So big risk for someone considering guv race
— The Colorado Independent (@COindependent) February 4, 2017
Merrified, himself one of only a handful of Sanders supporters in the state legislature during last year’s caucuses, nominated Johnson to the post. He said he believed she could “bring all the branches of our many-branch tree together to fight and work in opposition to the ugliness that we’re seeing at the national level and the state level.”
A political newcomer, Johnson gained recognition throughout southern Colorado during her 2016 campaign for a seat on the El Paso County Commission. She decided to run for that post while caucusing for Bernie Sanders. She lost by about six points to a Trump-supporting retired Air Force officer but ran an impressive campaign for a seat on a local commission where no Democrat has won since the 1970s.
For months, her purple “Elect Electra” yard signs were impossible to miss in the leafy neighborhoods of Colorado Springs, or in store windows in the city and Manitou Springs.
For her part, Johnson said Democrats in El Paso County must come together to combat national-level Republican politics.
And the task they face here is larger than elsewhere, she said, because of the top-heavy GOP influence. She said the Democratic Party should be the voice for the voiceless and needs to connect to underserved communities, such as those living on the county’s east side.
“We must never be complacent again and we must reach out to everybody,” she said, adding the Democratic Party should be the party of inclusivity, of empowerment and bringing people together. “And we have to do it out of what we love and not out of what we fear.”
On the Saturday before the Nov. 8 election, Johnson introduced Sanders at a rally for Hillary Clinton in Colorado Springs.