After Jared Polis and Walker Stapleton secured their party’s nomination to run for governor, attention shifted toward figuring out who they would choose to run with them as lieutenant governor.
The speculations swirled. Would either end up picking one of their former opponents? Would Stapleton chose controversial former congressman Tom Tancredo? Would Polis — well actually, Polis gave few hints about this running mate, until he gave actual hints on Twitter before announcing his pick.
In the end, it was a little anticlimactic. They both chose names familiar in political circles, though they likely weren’t immediately recognizable to most voters.
Democrats struck first. Former state Rep. Dianne Primavera was introduced by Polis on July 2. Nine days later, inside the hangar that houses the Wings Over the Rockies Air & Space Museum, Stapleton introduced state Rep. Lang Sias as his running mate.
The lieutenant governor’s position varies in responsibilities by state.
In five states, including neighboring Wyoming, it doesn’t even exist — but in Colorado, the position is usually molded around its office holder. Metropolitan State University of Denver political science professor Norman Provizer said lieutenant governors used to have more formal duties, such as president of the senate, but that duty was removed from the state constitution in 1974. They still have formal duties, like being acting governor when the governor is out of state, and are next in line in case of death, impeachment, a felony conviction or resignation of the governor.
“If you look at the Colorado Constitution, and things like that, there really aren’t jobs outlined except hang around and see if something happens to the governor,” Provizer said.
Primavera could become the sixth woman to serve as lieutenant governor. If successful, it would mark just the second time in the state’s history that a woman lieutenant governor is succeeded by another woman. She previously served four terms in the Colorado House of Representatives, representing Broomfield County and parts of Boulder County.
“I think both of us bring real-world experience,” Primavera said of the Democratic ticket. “Jared has been an entrepreneur, a very successful businessman.”
Down the road, Sias currently represents House District 27 in Arvada. He’s served since 2015, when he replaced Libby Szabo after she resigned from the legislature to serve in the Jefferson County board of commissioners. He was elected in 2016 and won’t be running for his office this year after joining the campaign.
He’s hoping Stapleton’s business background, coupled with his military and legislative experience, will make a good package.
“I think Walker is a very smart, experienced guy,” Sias said. “I think we fit together pretty well because he was working statewide, as treasurer, and I was working the details of getting legislation passed, I think those two together, they work pretty well together.”
Both Primavera and Sias cite healthcare-related bills among their proudest work in the General Assembly.
Sias pointed to bills passed during the 2017 legislative session as some of his proudest work, including two bills signed into law that he said dealt with protecting consumer rights in freestanding emergency rooms.
For Sias, it represented a chance to “take on some pretty powerful interests groups” on behalf of residents. The bill earned him a bipartisan award from the Colorado Consumer Health Initiative
“We had constituents who were being charged amounts that they could not have possibly expected were reasonable,” Sias said. “Those were pretty significant and we had a good team that worked on them together.”
Primavera introduced bills related to increasing cancer awareness and providing more funding for its research, like those pink license plates that say “Join The Cause.” The bills had been available for a few years before Primavera pushed to add a charge that would help raise money to raise money for treatment.
“It was just paying for roads and raising awareness for breast cancer. I worked with a coalition of people and patient advocates and decided to put the license plates to work,” Primavera said. Each plate now generates about $75 for cancer treatment.
She sponsored a 2015 bill that allows for the donation of unused prescription drugs from licensed healthcare facilities like nursing facilities and hospitals. At a healthcare conference in Keystone recently, Primavera said she was approached by people from a Colorado Springs nonprofit who get their medication this way.
“I was really happy when I heard that, that bill is actually working,” Primavera said.
Outgoing Senate Minority Leader Sen. Lucia Guzman said she worked with Primavera on several committees. The two worked together on several bills while working in the two different chambers.
During her time in the assembly, Guzman said Primavera was known for being a voice for working on healthcare and Medicaid issues. She called Primavera “a good humanitarian.”
“I think one of her greatest strengths is she’s a good human being,” Guzman said. “She’s a gentle spirit, but at the same time, she’s a fierce voice for the underserved … she’s respectful of diversity, so I think she would be very instrumental in bringing in a great voice around the state in terms of diversity issues.”
Sias said another bill he was proud of was House Bill 1375, which changed the way local school districts provided funding for charter schools. Sias co-sponsored the bill with a bipartisan cohort including State Rep. Brittany Pettersen (D) and state Sens. Owen Hill (R) and Angela Williams (D).
“What we found was within certain school districts, mill levy revenue was being shared very unequally,” Sias said. “It was having a significant impact on some of our vulnerable populations, including (students on) free and reduced lunch and minority kids.”
House Assistant Minority Leader Rep. Cole Wist, a Republican, who served alongside Sias for three legislative sessions, said the outgoing legislator built a reputation for building consensus among both major parties. He called Sias a close friend.
Wist said Sias was instrumental in building bipartisan support for House Bill 1375. Wist said Sias is known within the caucus for being an educational policy expert.
“He’s a thoughtful guy. He’s not going to be someone who yells or screams, he’s going to listen,” Wist said. “If I was running for governor, I would want someone like that on my team.”
The two have some pretty different life experiences shaping their lives — which could shape their role as LG.
Provizer said Lt. Gov. Donna Lynne and former lieutenant governor Joe Garcia both ended up shaping the position to fit their past work and life experiences. Lynne, who has an executive business background, also serves as Chief Operating Officer, while Garcia used his past work in higher education to focus on educational policy.
“Those are all created. None of them are mandated,” Provizer said. “Their jobs make sense given their background. So what you could do, and it’s only a guess, is look at the background of the lieutenant governor candidates.”
For Primavera, her advocacy for patient care is extremely personal.
It can be traced back to September 21, 1988, when she was first diagnosed with breast cancer. A mother of two young girls, she had been told she wouldn’t be alive in five more years. The illness turned her life upside down, physically and financially.
Once she got her health back, she considered a run for office, a thought she said would have been a cruel joke once upon a time. She ended up running in 2004.
“People didn’t give me a lot of respect,” Primavera said. She said her opponent in that race for a House seat referred to her as “a housewife interested in politics.” She lost that race, but the seed for another ran had been planted.
She would go on to run and win the seat in 2006 and 2008, before losing it in the 2010 election. She would be elected again in 2012 and 2014 before term limiting out.
A big factor for Sias is his past military experience, having served in the U.S. Navy as a fighter pilot and in the Air National Guard.
Sias said that service “impacts me in a couple of ways” that will play out if he ends up as lieutenant governor. He said he believes he could be an advocate for not just veterans at the Capitol, but for the military community at large in Colorado.
“There’s a real sense of accomplishment and pride when you do something that you know is having an impact, that’s having a positive impact,” Sias said. He said flying planes is neat, but working with his colleagues was the most important part. “Nobody cares where you came from. But you find a way to work together and do something that’s very important.”