The 2020 Democratic U.S. Senate primary in Colorado has been spun as a two-way battle between political veterans, former Gov. John Hickenlooper versus former Speaker of the House Andrew Romanoff, but also between two competing ideologies: Hickenlooper being characterized (pejoratively) as a “moderate” Democrat, while Romanoff has fashioned himself in this race as the “progressive champion” campaigning on progressive policy planks such as Medicare for All and the Green New Deal.
The reality beneath the spin of this race is very different from popular perceptions, as we have pointed out in this space to some consternation from Romanoff’s supporters. Hickenlooper’s record as governor was more progressive than even his own presidential candidacy cared to admit, strongly supporting gun safety measures, the Affordable Care Act, and LGBT rights among many other causes. And the hard truth is that Andrew Romanoff has taken both sides on most of his signature issues like universal health care and oil and gas drilling throughout his long career, often in response to the perceived needs of the race he was running.
This is not a conclusion we come to based on any bias or preference in this race. Like Romanoff’s fundraising, managing only a small fraction of Hickenlooper’s number in a race considered the nation’s most competitive, this is reality–and observers on all sides ignore it at their peril.
Today, the Colorado Sun’s Jesse Paul dived into another issue Romanoff has a long record on, immigration–and it’s a story that every Democratic primary voters who thinks they know Andrew Romanoff needs to read.
As Colorado’s House speaker from 2005 to 2009, he oversaw the passage of what at the time were considered among the most restrictive policies in the nation when it comes to people living in the U.S. illegally…
“What is extraordinarily frustrating is that he’s never acknowledged the actual harm he helped create for the immigrant community –– legislation that’s still impacting those communities,” said state Sen. Julie Gonzales, a Denver Democrat and longtime immigrant advocate. “I want to work alongside people to build the world that we all want to see. It’s hard to believe them when they were actively involved in building policies that harmed members of our community but who now say, ‘Trust me.’’’
Romanoff says the measures were a “serious mistake” that produced unintended consequences that he deeply regrets. But at the time he maintained that the measures didn’t compromise his beliefs and told The Los Angeles Times that at least some of the policies were “tough, effective, enforceable and practical.” [Pols emphasis]
This isn’t the first time that Romanoff’s compromised record on immigration has back to bite him. During Romanoff’s 2014 run for Congress against Mike Coffman, Romanoff’s votes on immigration in 2006 became a critical liability as Coffman used it to shame Romanoff before the district’s Latino voters while hypocritically burnishing Coffman’s own “pro-immigrant” credentials. Likewise during Romanoff’s losing 2010 U.S. Senate primary bid, when the 2006 immigration bills undermined Romanoff’s then run to the left against Michael Bennet.
At the time, the 2006 immigration bills were praised by pundits and moderates as a way of flanking hard-line Republicans like Tom Tancredo on the issue, who had proposed a ballot measure with even harsher sanctions against undocumented people in Colorado. That year Bob Beauprez relied heavily on lowbrow anti-immigrant demagoguery to attack Bill Ritter, an attack that backfired and contributed to Beauprez’s crushing defeat. In retrospect it has become obvious that the 2006 immigration bills did far more harm than good to the Democratic coalition in Colorado, at best an opportunistic betrayal of Latino voters and at worst evidence of enmity against immigrants on both sides of the aisle.
In 2013 the worst of 2006 immigration legislation, Senate Bill 90, was repealed. By Gov. Hickenlooper. The facts of this history are simple and incontrovertible. Hickenlooper literally was the governor who undid Speaker Romanoff’s cardinal error.
It is telling that Romanoff never apologized for the 2006 immigration special session publicly until just days after Hickenlooper entered the race. But in 2014 in particular, Romanoff ran a very different campaign against Mike Coffman, casting himself as a balanced-budget championing moderate instead of the “progressive champion” he’s running as today. In the 2020 primary, on the other hand, the only way that Romanoff can possibly overcome Hickenlooper’s lopsided support in polls and overmatched fundraising performance is to essentially run as the second coming of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
Romanoff’s record, and immigration won’t be the last issue for which it’s the case, does not back that up.