Colorado Senate Watch 2020: Dan Baer wants to tackle corporate money in politics

The former ambassador says he’ll challenge cynicism head-on.

U.S. Senate candidate Dan Baer poses for a portrait outside of his office building in Five Points, May 13, 2019. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

U.S. Senate candidate Dan Baer poses for a portrait outside of his office building in Five Points, May 13, 2019. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

(Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

staff photo

Dan Baer didn’t grow up in Denver proper, but he was born here, inside a house on South Garfield Street.

“My mom was a hippie in the 1970s and so I was born at home,” Baer said, laughing. “I was born in Denver and then I grew up in Golden and Littleton.”

Baer’s career took him far from home. He split his time living in Washington, D.C., and overseas while working as a U.S. Ambassador to the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe during the eight years of President Obama’s tenure. Like other political appointees, he was fired when President Trump took office in January 2017.

Baer most recently worked as executive director for the Colorado Department of Higher Education. He also taught classes at the University of Denver.

“My husband and I moved home to Denver mainly because I think, like a lot of other people, we felt like the election was a seismic event, that the values we cared most about were under threat here at home,” Baer said.

Now, his eyes are set on returning to Washington. Baer, 42, last month joined the long list of Democrats hoping to take a crack at U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner, the Republican and junior senator facing multiple challenges to his seat in Congress. Baer thinks his diplomatic work in Washington and abroad (he worked in Austria) gives him a leg-up over the many other candidates seeking the seat.

If his campaign is successful, Baer would be the first out gay man elected to the U.S. Senate.

But he said this week that’s not a reason to run, though he said it does make his candidacy historic.

“Certainly, the life that I live is not because I was an activist 30 years ago, it’s because other people were activists and political leaders 30 years ago, who laid the groundwork for the kind of possibility that I’ve been able to enjoy,” Baer said.

He said he’s spent a large portion of his career strengthening institutions in countries that have not been as fortunate as the U.S. It’s one of the reasons he’s now running for Senate — that, and he feels the country is in a “dangerous moment” requiring a sense of optimism.

Baer found his source of optimism in the form of last year’s election results in Colorado (the one that marked a big victory for Democrats).

“I genuinely believe that the biggest risk is that people give up on the system,” Baer said. “And I think what was most inspiring about the 2018 election, was that people didn’t give up.”

He wants to hit reset on both politics and the economy.

It means focusing on getting “big money and corruption” out of American politics. Baer said the country has gotten to the point where corporations are writing the rules, tipping legislation in their favor at the expense of working people. Supporting campaign finance reforms, including ones targeting so-called dark money, would be his top priority.

Dan Baer at New Belgium Brewing Company in Fort Collins. Photo courtesy of Baer's campaign.

Dan Baer at New Belgium Brewing Company in Fort Collins. Photo courtesy of Baer's campaign.

His campaign is not accepting corporate PAC money. He said removing corporate influence from politics would mean having “public servants who are serving the public rather than corporate special interests.”

Like other candidates, he also wants to address healthcare. He sees the current system as dated, and says it was crafted for a previous economic era where people got their health care from work in jobs they typically held for decades.

“We need to be looking at ways to make sure that healthcare is portable and that people can have healthcare even as they change jobs, as they want to leave jobs and start a new company,” Baer said. “Right now, our healthcare system is a retardant on people pursuing the kinds of opportunities that will lead them to middle-class lives.”

He supports Medicare For all Who Want It, which is kind of middle ground over the more well-known Medicare For All idea supported by some Democrats. A bill backing this plan was introduced earlier this month in Congress; CNN reported the legislation would allow employers to continue using certain plans instead of getting rid of private insurance, which is what Medicare For All would do.

“The framework should be that we are a country that is rich enough that everybody should have access to coverage,” Baer said.

Tackling climate change is another biggie for Baer. He supports a Green New Deal and said he wants more people to see climate change through an economic lens. He said the original New Deal alluded to in the green proposal is a reminder that it’s biggest focus was providing more opportunities to revive the country’s economy through new programs.

He believes he could use his past in international diplomacy to work with other countries to tackle the issue.

“This is not a problem that the United States alone can solve, but it’s going to affect us all in terms of health, in terms of security, in terms of our job and welfare,” Baer said. “That has to be a top priority.”

Here are the other Democrats running against Gardner so far.

The list grew by one this week, with Alice Madden announcing this week. Here the people who have announced:

  • Climate activist Diana Bray
  • Economist Ellen Burnes
  • Former state Sen. Mike Johnston
  • Community organizer Lorena Garcia
  • Former House Majority Leader Alice Madden
  • Navy veteran Keith Pottratz
  • Former House Speaker Andrew Romanoff
  • Professor Stephany Rose Spaulding
  • Former U.S. Attorney John Walsh
  • Scientist Trish Zornio

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