Colorado Senate Watch 2020: Andrew Romanoff is back, with CEO experience

The former Colorado House Speaker served in the legislature for eight years and most recently worked as president for a mental health advocacy organization.
5 min. read
Andrew Romanoff speaks to a reporter at a coffeeshop in Cherry Creek, Feb. 19, 2019. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Former Colorado House Speaker Andrew Romanoff spent four years in the General Assembly calling U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner a colleague when Gardner served in House District 63.

"He was a very pleasant guy, very affable," Romanoff said. "I got nothing against him personally. I just happen to disagree with him on every major issue that faces the country."

Romanoff, 52, is making his second run at the Senate after gunning for a seat in 2010. His latest run is motivated by seeing families "struggle and suffer" from what he sees as fixable issues. He doesn't see a sense of urgency from the U.S. Senate. And despite his experience, he's not expecting the nomination to be handed to him.

He and former state Sen. Mike Johnston are the highest-profile contenders for the nomination, but the field is large and growing.

"People have lost faith in the whole political system because they don't see members of Congress taking on the fights that are affecting their lives," Romanoff said. "That's not acceptable to me."

He spent the last four years as CEO and President of Mental Health Colorado. It was a role he took following the death of a family member, who died by suicide. He's met people across the state he said have been "equally devastated" by mental health illnesses, including addiction.

Mental health figures to be one of the issues he focuses on.

Healthcare, climate change, immigration reform and improving economic prosperity for all Coloradans are a few of the things he wants to address. But it's figuring out how to provide access to mental health services that could set him apart from other candidates.

Romanoff estimates that about 500,000 people in Colorado don't have access to healthcare services they may need. The estimate is based on figures from the 2017 Colorado Health Access Survey, which reported one in 13 Coloradans did not get needed mental health services.

Some of the reasons include insurance that doesn't cover it, stigma keeping them from seeking it or simply not having insurance in the first place. He has a plan for how to provide more high-quality healthcare to residents.

"To me, the answer's got -- at least the answer that I learned from working on this issue for 20 years -- is a system of Medicare for all," Romanoff said. "Where you lower the age of Medicare eligibility to zero ... making sure everyone is in the same pool is one way to hold down costs."

A mental health walk-in center on East Colfax Avenue at Clermont Street, Nov. 8, 2018. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Mental Health Colorado helped put successful ballot measures in place to increase funding for mental health services in five counties. It included Denver, where voters approved Caring 4 Denver.

"I think people recognize increasingly that it's cheaper to prevent or treat mental illness than to ignore it or criminalize it," Romanoff said.

There's progress in Colorado's legislature to pass legislation improving access throughout the state. At the national level, Gardner joined U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet last year in co-sponsoring a bill providing rural communities with mental health resources.

Romanoff said there are laws already in the books to address these concerns at the federal level. He thinks the issue is lack of enforcement. There are mandates within the Affordable Care Act calling for the expansion of mental health and substance use treatment that he believes aren't being enforced.

Romanoff said these services fall under "essential benefits" under the ACA, but don't seem to actually be working this way.  He added that people are still ending up going out of network, which can include higher costs and lengthy traveling, to ensure they get their care.

Romanoff cites the passing of Referendum C as among his proudest accomplishments in his eight years in the legislature.

The bill essentially gave Colorado a 5-year break from TABOR. It was forwarded on the ballot by the legislature, where Romanoff then served as Speaker in the lower chamber. He teamed up with Republican Gov. Bill Owens for the proposal, which Romanoff said enabled the state to "shore up" funding for things like schools and colleges.

The Colorado State Capitol, Nov. 20. 2018. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

"We built the largest coalition, I think, in Colorado history to pass that measure," Romanoff said. "We got 1,000 organizations around the state to sign on and it was a bipartisan proposal that succeeded."

He also teamed up with State Treasurer Cary Kennedy in 2008 to establish the BEST Grant Program, which helped provide funding to repair and rebuilt in schools, and legislation that helped domestic violence survivors.

Here are the democrats running against Gardner so far.

These are the people who have announced and/or have filed paperwork with the Federal Elections Commission:

  • Activist Derrick James Blanton
  • Former state Sen. Mike Johnston
  • Community organizer Lorena Garcia
  • Navy veteran Keith Pottratz
  • Romanoff
  • Scientist Trish Zornio

Recent Stories