Former CU Law School dean Phil Weiser muscles past Rep. Joe Salazar in battle to the Dem primary, but both make the ballot

Delegates supporting Phil Weiser for attorney general waved signs in the halls of the 1stBank Center in Broomfield on Saturday. Photo by Rey-Lynn Dawn Little.

Phil Weiser, a former University of Colorado law school dean, earned the top spot on the primary ballot after winning over the most delegates at the Democratic state assembly on Saturday. 

Joe Salazar, who showed an early lead among voters in a recent poll, also won enough votes to make it on the ballot. 

Weiser won nearly 53 percent of the vote. Salazar won nearly 37 percent of the vote. The candidates needed 30 percent to make the ballot for the primary in June. Candidate Amy Padden, a former prosecutor, failed to make the cut with about 10 percent of the vote. She still has a chance to make the ballot if she gathered enough valid signatures to petition on. Those signatures are still being verified by the Secretary of State.

Democrats from all over Colorado converged on the 1stBank Center in Broomfield Saturday to decide who among the Democratic candidates would be heading to the primaries in June. Over 3,200 delegates gathered at the Colorado Democratic State Assembly to cast votes on candidates for governor, attorney general, secretary of state, treasurer and University of Colorado Regent — the festive assembly that cost the Democrats $60,000 to host.  

“This is my first time here — it’s overwhelming,” said Paul Pearson, chairman of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen. “I enjoy the energy and the fact that there are so many viewpoints represented in the Democratic Party.”

Before the call to order, crowds carrying signs and wearing buttons swelled outside of the indoor stadium while campaign volunteers handed out T-shirts, snacks and flyers in an attempt to persuade undecided voters to join their camp. Once the assembly began, delegates settled in to listen to candidates make their cases.

“Our democracy is at stake, Colorado,” said Weiser in his speech to delegates. “We can do better. We must do better, and together, we will do better.”

Weiser is a former Obama administration official and served as dean of the University of Colorado Law School from 2011 to 2016.  He also worked as a law clerk for Justices Byron White and Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Weiser said he wants to address broadband access, protect students defrauded by for-profit education, and fight the opioid epidemic by suing pharmaceutical companies and using the money for better treatment options.

“It’s the attorney general’s job to keep people safe. That’s the law, and that’s what I’m going to do,” Weiser said.

Salazar is a member of the so-called Dog House Dems, a group of progressive lawmakers in the House of Representatives, and his campaign platform focuses on advocating for LGBTQ groups, indigenous populations, communities of color and the disabled.  As a representative, Salazar has advocated for more public health and environmental protections when the state issues oil and gas drilling permits.

“It’s time we had a real street fighter standing up for Colorado,” Salazar said.  

For Salazar, watching his lead go to Weiser doesn’t mean changing his platform.

“This tiger doesn’t change its stripes,” Salazar told The Colorado Independent.

Like other delegates, Paul Pearson wore buttons of support. Unlike other delegates, his collection didn’t include any candidates, just buttons from union and workers’ organizations.

“I’m a union guy,” Pearson said. “I’m 99 percent sure I’m voting for Joe.  He’s been a strong union supporter in the past based on his voting record.”

The June primary could be a four-way race between Weiser, Salazar, Padden and Denver-based attorney Brad Levin, who has also petitioned to be on the ballot. The winner of the primary will face Republican district attorney George Brauchler in what is certain to be a fierce race to replace current Attorney General Cynthia Coffman. On Saturday, Coffman failed in her gubernatorial bid.

Secretary of State candidate Jena Griswold won the vast majority of the delegates at the Democratic state assembly at the 1stBank Center in Broomfield on Saturday. Photo by John Herrick

Griswold gets tough on Secretary of State platform

If campaign signs are a measure of support, then Secretary of State candidate Jena Griswold’s landslide win would not come as a surprise to anyone sitting in the 1stBank Center.

Griswold moved on to the Democratic primaries after winning 98 percent of the vote. Her opponent, Phillip Villard, is now out of the race.

Griswold said she wants to see more cybersecurity, automatic voter registration, better transparency in the campaign finance disclosures and tax release requirements for party nominees.  

She attacked her Republican opponent, Secretary of State Wayne Williams, for handing over public voter data to the Trump administration last year, prompting thousands to unregister to vote. Griswold is a vocal critic of President Donald Trump’s now-defunct Commission on Election Integrity. 

“Let there be no mistake, I look forward to working with a Democratic governor and a Democratic legislature to pass automatic voter registration,” Griswold said. “I’m optimistic about our future, but I know one thing: we need to win this race, so that when we march to that ballot box in 2020 our voices are heard loud and clear.”

Griswold, a business owner and lawyer, worked on President Barack Obama’s campaign as a voter protection attorney in 2012.  

Ericka L. Salerno, the chair of House District 22, voted for Griswold because of the support Griswold showed her.

“When my sister died, she came and consoled me,” Salerno said. That support cemented a friendship, but Salerno said that Griswold’s commitment to the issues is what earned her vote.

“She’s committed to making sure that voter suppression doesn’t happen. They’ve made it harder for seniors to update IDs and to make it to voting facilities. I’m hoping she’ll encourage them to allow voting to come to the senior buildings — she’s said that she’ll work on that,” Salerno said.

Young and Douthit move on to the primaries

Rep. Dave Young, D-Greeley, and Bernard Douthit are set to move onto the Democratic primaries as candidates for state treasurer.

Young received 52 percent of the vote while Douthit inched by with about 32 percent. Charles Quin Scheibe, Colorado’s chief financial officer since 2007, did not make the ballot. The Democratic candidates are vying to replace current Colorado treasurer, Walker Stapleton, who is running for governor.

The state treasurer manages Colorado’s $6 billion investment budget. This budget includes the Public Employees’ Retirement Association, or PERA, which serves 585,000 public employees and currently has an estimated $32 billion in unfunded debt to retirees. 

Young is chair of the House Appropriations Committee and a member of the Joint Budget Committee.  During the 2017 legislative session, his bills focused on reforming Medicaid and long-term services and assistance for seniors and people living with disabilities, according to his website.

Douthit, who runs a math tutoring business in Denver, says the state should streamline the tax filing process for businesses and set up a public bank, among other policy proposals, according to his website.

Susan Berzac, a retired delegate from Castle Rock, supported Douthit, or “Bernie” as his supporters called him.

“I like his background, his education, what he’s done.” Berzac said. “I just feel that, financially, he would be more educated. But I’d also be comfortable with any Democrat.”

Correction: A previous version misstated the results of a recent poll, which surveyed voters, not delegates.

Delegates supporting Phil Weiser for attorney general waved signs in the halls of the 1stBank Center in Broomfield on Saturday. Photo by Rey-Lynn Dawn Little.