Jeff Bridges will move from the Colorado House to the Senate, thanks to overwhelming support from a Democratic Party vacancy committee that selected him Saturday morning to replace the resigning Sen. Daniel Kagan.
On his way out, Kagan said the circumstances of his resignation have been widely misreported and misunderstood.
A standing-room-only crowd gathered inside a meeting room at the Englewood Civic Center to hear from Bridges and three others — Iman Jodeh, Angel Engel and Kyle Schlachter — who sought to fill Kagan’s seat in Senate District 3, which includes Littleton, Englewood and Cherry Hills Village. A group of 118, comprised mostly of precinct committee members and captains, handed Bridges 70 percent of the vote.
Bridges, the son of wealthy venture capitalist and former Colorado politician Rutt Bridges, told the crowd prior to the vote that he was best equipped among the four candidates to ensure that Senate — flipped from GOP to Democratic control in November — most effectively wields its new majority.
“Over these next two years we have a unique and historic opportunity,” said Bridges, in a nod to the fact that Democrats now control state politics. “I know how to pass a progressive agenda through a Senate that we just barely hold.” Republicans held an 18-17 majority in that chamber last session, but Democrats now have a 19-16 edge.
His election by the vacancy committee triggers another vote Monday night at the Englewood Civic Center, since Bridges will be vacating his seat in House District 3. Union organizer John Stone, who was the field director for Sen. Brittany Pettersen’s campaign, will face Meg Froelich, a documentary maker and former board member of Emerge Colorado, a group that works to develop and elect women candidates. There’s still time for others to get in the race, too, though none of Saturday’s three also-rans are eligible because they don’t live in HD3.
Bridges just a couple months ago beat Republican Toren Mushovic by 23 points in the race for HD3. Asked whether he has any mixed feelings about resigning the House seat voters so recently handed him, he said, “I’ll be able to fight for them even more effectively from the Senate.”
It’s become common in Colorado for legislators to win their seats via vacancy committee, as Bridges did. As the Colorado Sun noted in December, 24 members of the 2018 legislature — nearly a quarter of the General Assembly — were appointed by vacancy committees, which are made up of tiny fractions of their districts’ constituencies.
While party officials counted ballots for about half an hour on Saturday, Kagan took the mic and said that an unusual allegation last legislative session had “absolutely no bearing” on his decision to step down.
Republicans accused Kagan of improperly using a women’s restroom at the Capitol in 2017, and a subsequent outside investigation found the claim to be true. Kagan has said the allegation was a retaliatory attempt by the GOP to distract from the fact that Sen. Randy Baumgardner — who also recently resigned — stands accused of sexual misconduct against multiple women.
“I would never make such an important decision based on such a trivial incident,” Kagan said of his resignation, to rousing applause. “The press has suggested, or speculated, repeatedly, that the one incident back in 2017 caused pressure or a request or suggestions that perhaps I ought to step down. That is simply not the case. No one on either side of the aisle, Republican or Democrat, staff or senator or representative … ever suggested to me that I even consider stepping down.”
To the contrary, Kagan said, his resignation was informed by his feeling that he was no longer “the very best person” for the job. He said he knew he could not give “110 percent” anymore, and that he stepped down with the knowledge that there was a “deep bench” of more energetic candidates ready to replace him.
The crowd of Democrats at the Civic Center cheered him on throughout his speech. Froelich said after the vote that she continues to support and believe Kagan, and that media reports describing the resigned senator as having been “embroiled” in controversy were overstated.
“He was more simmering in it, or maybe sautéing,” she said.
Party officials who led Saturday’s vote said they were surprised that Bridges won so handily. Engel and Jodeh tied in second place, with 14 percent each. Schlachter received two of the 118 votes.
Jodeh, a Palestinian-American who runs the educational nonprofit Meet the Middle East, was vying to become the first Muslim to serve as a state legislator in Colorado. The new legislature, sworn in on Friday, features historic diversity, with more women and Latinos than ever before. But Jodeh said more work remains, and that the roughly 80,000 Muslims in Colorado also deserve representation at the Capitol.
“It’s time that we represent the diversity of America,” she said. “I think we owe it to ourselves as a state to start reflecting our party.”