At Saturday’s Jefferson County Republican assembly, one message came through loud and clear: If Republicans want to keep their hold on the state Senate, the path to victory lies in persuading unaffiliated voters to join their ranks again.
In Jefferson County, Republican voter registration has dropped 21,388 since 2006, according to the most recent county registration data available through the Secretary of State’s office. County Republicans say most of these one-time GOP voters are now unaffiliated, a group whose registration in the county is up 24,881 over the same time period.
The assembly, a gathering of the party diehards whose votes as delegates help determine who makes the ballot, took place at Colorado Christian College as predictions of a blue wave in the midterms grow. Republicans want to take back the governor’s office, which has been under Democratic control since 2008, and build on their one-seat majority in the Senate. Democrats control the House and the split chambers have made for legislative sessions marked by gridlock.
As candidates for state Senate and House posed with delegates, asked for Facebook likes and passed around money bags for financial support, they voiced support for policies like ending sanctuary cities, fixing roads and bridges and curbing government growth.
“I would guess most voters would like the smallest effective governments at the least cost,” Don Ytterberg, a former chair of the Jefferson County Republican Party, told The Colorado Independent.
Christine Jensen, a mortgage business manager from Wheat Ridge seeking to replace Sen. Cheri Jahn, a term-limited Wheat Ridge Independent, held up a poster with a chart showing a growing state budget. Programs like Medicaid, she said, are squeezing other state programs like transportation. She told The Colorado Independent that she does not support expanding Medicaid further and will research options that would size down the program, which provides health insurance to low-income residents.
Jensen said she has been going door to door talking to constituents for months. The main issues, she says, are sanctuary cities and immigration. She wants to abolish sanctuary cities here in Colorado. And on immigration, Jensen said she supports immigration for those who want to follow a legal path to citizenship.
This year’s legislative session has been marked by sexual harassment and misconduct complaints, as well by scrutiny over how those complaints have been handled. The House has been more aggressive than the Senate in responding and recently cast a historic vote to expel one of its members accused by multiple women, including a fellow Democratic lawmaker, of sexual harassment. The Senate’s leadership has said such complaints should be referred to the Denver District Attorney to investigate cases of sexual misconduct. Jensen says she supports the Republican leadership’s approach, but could not speak to how it is dealing with reported allegations against three Republican senators because she has not seen the results of the investigation by the Employers Council.
“I’m a woman. I’ve had folks get inappropriate with me and I’ve dealt with it,” Jensen said. But, she added, “we have a system of due process and anyone who is accused of anything is, by the Constitution, granted due process. And the guilt has to be proven.”
In Jahn’s district, roughly four in 10 voters are unaffiliated. And in 2014, Jahn won the seat by a narrow .6 percent margin. No other Republicans are running for this seat in the primary. Jensen will face Rep. Jessie Danielson, D-Wheat Ridge, in the general election.
In addition to immigration and limited government, transportation needs and how to pay for them, which has been one of the toughest issues of the session, is also a key concern, delegates said.
Colin Larson, a coffee shop owner from South Jeffco, said he was out knocking on doors talking to constituents during the assembly on Saturday. He petitioned to be on the ballot to take the seat of Rep. Justin Everett, R-Littleton, who is running for state treasurer.
A key part of his platform is getting a third general-use lane built on highway C-470. He wants to use bonding to pay for it so it doesn’t require a tax increase.
“I just don’t think tax increases get used for what they’re earmarked for,” he told The Colorado Independent. “We just have a bad track record in this state for squandering our tax revenue increases.”
Larson will have a primary fight ahead of him. Frank Francone, the president of a tech company from South Jeffco, was at the assembly handing out pamphlets and seeking contributions. In his pitch to delegates, he gave a nod to President Donald Trump by referring to the state capitol as the “Denver Golden Dome swamp.”
Joan Poston came to the assembly wearing a red and white striped shirt and red suede hat. After the assembly, she was sitting in the bleachers recalling her previous attempts at running for public office: In 2013, she lost a race for Denver Board of Education and lost again in 2014 when she ran for city clerk and reporter. Now, she’s up against Rep. Chris Kennedy, a Democrat who won the seat in 2014 by nearly a 12 percent margin.
She was confident Republican turnout will be strong in November.
Said Poston: “I don’t believe that there is a blue wave. And if there is, we’re building a big red wall.”