Colorado Democratic Chair Rick Palacio: Democrats need to focus on state and local races

Rick Palacio, chairman of the Colorado Democratic Party for the last six years, is running for vice chair of the Democratic National Committee.

staff photo
Rick Palacio at the Democratic watch party. (Chloe Aiello/Denverite)

Rick Palacio at the Democratic watch party on Election Night. (Chloe Aiello/Denverite)

Rick Palacio, chairman of the Colorado Democratic Party for the last six years, is running for vice chair of the Democratic National Committee.

Palacio announced he would not seek another term at the head of the state party shortly after the election. Former State Sen. Morgan Carroll is running for chair of the state party.

“I think Colorado has some great lessons to be taught to our neighboring states and the rest of the states as a whole,” he said. “We’ve had some great successes in spite of some Republican waves. I feel strongly that we have an opportunity at the DNC to rebuild and reboot. I think we need a strong voice at the table from a Western battleground state.”

What does the Democratic National Committee do?

Vox has a good explainer here that focuses on the race for chair, which features Minnesota Rep. Keith Ellison and former Secretary of Labor Tom Perez. The DNC raises money for the party, sets the rules for presidential primaries, plans the convention and can do a range of things to support the party and candidates at the local level.

Palacio is running for one of three at-large vice chair positions.

Palacio said the party has focused too much in recent years on being a conduit for money for presidential races and not enough on building up capacity at the state and local level. That would be his focus, he said, if elected.

“We need to put more emphasis on the states,” he said. “With a Donald Trump administration and Republicans in control at the federal level, the next couple cycles the fight back is really going to happen at the state level. We have an enormous number of gubernatorial races and state legislatures at stake.

“I think the focus of the DNC should be to support states and state parties and lower-level races as well,” he added.

Republicans control the governorship and both houses of the state legislature in 24 states, while Democrats control just six states. Republicans gained total control of three states in 2016, while Democrats gained control in just one.

Palacio said Colorado Democrats have done a good job building connections between progressive activists and elected officials and that approach can serve the party well in other states.

Palacio comes from a union family — his great-grandfather was a coal miner who helped build the United Mine Workers union during a time when organizing was pretty dangerous — and was the first Latino and openly gay chair of the Colorado Democratic Party.

Some post-election analysis contends that the Democratic Party has strayed too far from representing working class interests for the sake of “identity politics.” Palacio said that’s a false dichotomy.

“I don’t think there is a Sophie’s Choice here,” he said. “The Democratic Party has value in our diversity. It’s really what makes us a great party. We don’t segment ourselves. We have farmers and ranchers and laborers and school teachers and African-Americans and Latinos and so on. We have common values of making sure we have a level playing field and making sure everyone can achieve the American Dream.”

On his website, Palacio said the party needs to focus more on people and less on data and analytics. That’s been a criticism of Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign.

Palacio has the endorsements of Rep. Ed Perlmutter and Jared Polis, as well as his vice chair in Colorado, Bev Ryken, DNC LGBT Caucus Chair Earl Fowlkes, DNC Hispanic Caucus Chair Iris Martinez of Illinois, and Hispanic Caucus Vice Chair Andres Ramirez of Nevada.

Elections for leadership positions are scheduled for Feb. 24.