Former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder fired up Five Points community members on Thursday as he stumped for the state’s Democratic ticket and urged voters to support two anti-gerrymandering measures.
Holder, the country’s first African-American U.S. attorney general and a potential 2020 presidential candidate, spoke to a full house at Brother Jeff’s Cultural Center in the historically black neighborhood.
Joining Holder in Thursday’s panel were Democratic Secretary of State nominee Jena Griswold and former U.S. Attorney for Colorado John Walsh. The trio discussed redistricting during Thursday’s panel, which was hosted by the Colorado Democratic Party.
Community organizers and center founder Brother Jeff S. Fard emceed the panel. He started off by asking how communities of color, who are often disproportionately affected by gerrymandering, can continue preserving their ability to vote.
Holder said, “gerrymandering allows people to take positions inconsistent with what their constituents say and not suffer an electoral consequence.” He believes a fairer redistricting process could benefit people of color.
“We see the greatest amount of voter suppression in the same places we see the greatest amount of gerrymandering,” Holder said.
These redistricting efforts “are designed to keep people of color away from the polls,” he added.
“If you don’t have that power, if you don’t have the ability as a community to express yourself, to really be heard in the numbers that you should, your interests are therefore not taken into consideration,” Holder said.
The crowd on Thursday included several African-American and Latino elected officials including state Rep. Janet Buckner, state Rep. Leslie Herod, state Sen. Rhonda Fields, state Rep. Joe Salazar, and Denver City Councilmen Albus Brooks and Councilman Paul D. Lopez.
Holder is advocating for Colorado Amendment Y and Amendment Z, two anti-gerrymandering measures on the state ballot.
Both are up for statewide ballot consideration in November and were referred to the ballot by the General Assembly. Amendment Y focuses on how Congressional districts are drawn, while Amendment Z focuses on state redistricting.
Redistricting is set to take place in Colorado after the 2020 U.S. Census.
The two amendments in Colorado seek to establish 12-member commissions, with members from both major parties, that would be responsible for redrawing legislative lines. Supporters say the goal is to limit partisan politics from the process and provide more transparency about the redrawing process.
Griswold — the only female major party candidate for executive office in Colorado — said fighting for Coloradan’s voter rights is a major driving force behind her run.
“This position is about making our voices heard,” Griswold said
She worked with the Obama-aligned Organizing for America during his 2012 reelection bid as a voter protection attorney. Among the secretary of state’s duties are overseeing elections, which in Colorado are among the safest in the nation.
“I learned from that administration that the secretary of state should be opening up access, to getting more people to vote, making it easier,” Griswold said. “And what I would like to do if elected is expand automatic voter registration.”
Walsh, whom Holder playfully suggested should run against U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner in 2020, worked alongside Holder under Obama.
“If we get those amendments passed, there are going to be opportunities for the people in this room to get on those commissions and make sure that those lines are drawn in a fair and nonpartisan way that take into account the interests of communities of interests and communities of color,” Walsh said.
If he ends up running for president, Holder can already count on at least one supporter in Denver.
Holder told media before Thursday’s panel that he’s in the process of deciding whether or not to run in 2020, though right now he’s focusing on helping the Democratic ticket.
Fard wants Holder to run in 2020. He wanted people to remember Holder’s stop in Five Points if he ever ends up running.
“We gotta do it, man,” Fard said, with people cheering. “Let’s do it.”
Ultimately, people need to make sure to remember to vote to make their voices heard, Holder said. He added that 4.3 million people who voted for Obama in 2012 sat out the 2016 election. Their votes could have shifted the results, he said.
“You have to vote,” Holder said. “I don’t want to hear any excuses. I don’t care what the weather is like over the next four weeks. I don’t care how long the lines are going to be. I don’t care what barriers they put up in place. Everybody should be out there and voting.”