Who’s running for governor of Colorado? Democratic edition

This is the first time in a long time that Democrats have had a primary, and they’re going all in.
7 min. read
The Women’s March on Denver. Jan. 21, 2017. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

I used up my best joke when I wrote about all the Republicans running for governor of Colorado. There are also a lot of Democrats hoping to snag this job and replace term-limited Gov. John Hickenlooper. If a Democrat wins in 2018, it will continue a long run of Democratic governors in a state where Republicans otherwise do pretty darn well.

This is the first time in a long time that Democrats have had a primary, and further muddying the waters, unaffiliated voters can opt to vote in this one if they like. With plans for more renewable energy and better health care access and debt-free college, these candidates largely are running to the left of centrists like Hickenlooper and former Gov. Bill Ritter. It remains to be seen whether they're out ahead of the electorate or right where they need to be to capture enthusiasm on the left in the age of #resistance.

There was a flood of interest after Ken Salazar, a former interior secretary and state attorney general, announced he wouldn't run, and things got even weirder when U.S. Rep. Ed Perlmutter, one of the favorites in the race, announced he wouldn't run for governor after all.

Here’s the list of all the declared Democratic candidates to date:

U.S. Rep. Jared Polis meets with Jeanette Vizguerra at the First Unitarian Society of Denver where she'd taken sanctuary to avoid deportation, Mar. 3, 2017. Polis sponsored legislation on her behalf, ultimately leading to a reprieve. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Jared Polis is a five-term congressman representing Colorado's second congressional district ("liberal Boulder") and one of the wealthiest men in Congress, having earned a fortune in a range of online ventures, including Blue Mountain Arts e-cards and ProFlowers.com. He's staying in Congress during the race to oppose President Donald Trump's agenda, and he's vocal in doing so on social media and elsewhere. He's largely self-financing his race, which is one reason he's considered a frontrunner by many observers. (His campaign asked me to add that he is accepting small donations up to $100 and not accepting PAC money.) He's running on an agenda of reaching 100 percent renewable energy by 2040 and offering universal full-day kindergarten and preschool around the state. Polis is also a former State Board of Education member, one of two Democratic candidates to have previously won statewide office. If elected, Polis would be the first openly gay governor of Colorado.

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Cary Kennedy speaks at the Colorado Health Institute's Hot Issues in Health conference, Dec. 8, 2017. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Cary Kennedy is a former state treasurer and former chief financial officer and deputy mayor of Denver. As treasurer, she's already won statewide elected office, considered a good measure of viability for governor candidates, but she also lost a re-election campaign to current Treasurer Walker Stapleton, who is running for governor on the Republican side. She's proved herself to be a capable fundraiser, and a polling firm that's done work for her campaign recently said she would do much better in the general election against Tom Tancredo than another poll found Polis would perform. Got that? "She's more electable," was the message. Kennedy came out early on with a "Medicaid-for-all" plan that would establish universal health care in Colorado regardless of whatever Congress does or doesn't do.

Lt. Gov. Donna Lynne announces her run for the governor's seat outside of the First Baptist Church on Capitol Hill. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Donna Lynne is Hickenlooper's appointed lieutenant governor who said when she took the job that she had no interesting succeeding him. That changed, and now she's running for governor. A former executive with Kaiser Foundation Health Plan, she's interested in expanding access to health care and making it more affordable. She's also running on improving infrastructure and jobs and reducing the urban-rural divide. She has a long and impressive resume in the public and private sector, entirely on the administrative side, that she built while raising her children as a single mother. Her supporters see her as pragmatic and focused on results rather than gamesmanship, and she's no slouch at fundraising.

If either Kennedy or Lynne were elected, they would be the first female governor of Colorado. The same is true for Republican Attorney General Cynthia Coffman.

Gubernatorial candidate Mike Johnston speaks at a rally in support of the Affordable Care Act, Feb. 25, 2017. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Mike Johnston is a former state senator whose non-political career has been focused on education. Johnston was the first major candidate to announce on the Democratic side. He grew up in Vail, where his dad was the mayor. A former Teach for America fellow, Johnston founded a program to train principals for urban schools and founded his own school, Mapleton Expeditionary School of the Arts, before entering politics. He's been successful in raising money from small donors, but he's also drawn a lot of financial support from out-of-state education reform interests. He's proposed to offer students two years of debt-free college or career training in exchange for community service. While he's best known for his work on education, he says he's not a one-issue candidate and identifies infrastructure and job training to keep the state economically competitive as among the most important issues facing Colorado.

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Noel Ginsburg speaks at the Colorado Health Institute's Hot Issues in Health conference, Dec. 8, 2017. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Noel Ginsburg is the founder and CEO of Intertech Plastics, a company that does custom injection molding, and the co-founder, with his wife Leslie, of the I Have A Dream Foundation, which works to increase the state's high school graduation rate. Ginsburg is positioning himself as the moderate in the race, warning voters that other candidates are promising things for free that they may not be able to deliver. This is the first time he's running for political office. Ginsburg wants to sponsor a ballot measure to reform the Taxpayer's Bill of Rights that governs the state's finances. He advocates an energy policy that includes fossil fuels and wants to see more attention paid to mental health issues.

Erik Underwood is a pretty eclectic candidate for governor. Just last year, he was running for U.S. Senate as a Republican, though he didn't make the ballot. Now he's switched his party affiliation and he's running for governor as a Democrat. He told The Colorado Independent he's always been socially liberal, and he's decided the Democratic Party better fits his views. He lives on 35 acres outside of Boulder in a rural area, and he describes himself as a well-off tech entrepreneur. He wants to create a state residency program for undocumented immigrants and change how lottery proceeds are distributed.

Moses Carmen Humes has previously run unsuccessfully for mayor of Colorado Springs and for the fifth congressional district, probably the state's safest Republican seat in Congress. On her Facebook page, she describes herself as the first transsexual woman to run for governor of Colorado and says she wants to "move Colorado forward to a better future."

Adam Garrity describes himself on his Facebook page as "just a spiritual being having a human experience." He's a founder of MaryJanecoin, a cryptocurrency (like bitcoin) aimed at the cannabis industry.

Michael Schroeder told The Colorado Independent he wants to crack down on stoned driving and make sure Colorado doesn't lose itself to marijuana. “I want to end this f–king drug thing, and I want to make Colorado the number one tech state in the world,” he said. “So we’re going to put the money where the mouth is and we’re not going to be a bunch of dopers in Colorado.”

Correction: This story has been updated to reflect that two Democratic candidates have previously won statewide office. Jared Polis was elected to State Board of Education as an at-large member.

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