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May 20, 2009 10:34 PM UTC

SD 31 Vacancy Election Redux

  • by: ohwilleke

( – promoted by Colorado Pols)

There are nine people running for the vacancy in Colorado Senate District 31 (replacing Jennifer Veiga) at the Democracy Party vacancy committee meeting at Morey Middle School in Denver this evening starting at six and probably lasting until ten, if all three rounds of voting are necessary for one of the candidates to receive majority support.

I am on the fence, although I am not indifferent to the stream of campaigning that has taken place.  Crossposted from here (links in original omitted).

Last night, for example, found Pat Steadman and Alex Sanchez on my front porch, more calls on my telephone, and more literature from Patrick Byrne and others in my mailbox. A steady stream of personal visits, phone calls, and literature have bombarded me since the race began, and I’ve studied it.

I do care about how much effort a candidate is putting into the race, because it is a proxy for how hard that candidate will work to be re-elected. If you can’t work hard enough to make your case to an audience of less than a couple hundred voters who are actually interested in politics, how can you make your case to 110,000 people in the district in a general election.

For example, Elmer “Butch” Hicks and John Maslanik have made virtually no effort, which is apparent to me anyway, to seek my vote, at the same time that other candidates are making multiple contacts in person and by phone, having supporters call, and getting out multiple rounds of literature. I personally know that John Maslanik is a good guy and loyal democrat, and I’m sure that the same is true of Butch Hicks, although I’ve never met him in person. But, if you are going to be a candidate you have to be more dynamic than either of them have been, even though both have experience as candidates for local office and Hicks has held office as a city council person.

As I noted before, jumping into a campaign at the very last minute, like John S. Wren, while permitted by the rules, shows a lack of initiative and commitment. And, the way he conducts himself in his day job undermines my ability to trust him.

Campaign effort isn’t everything, of course. Patrick Byrne has mounted a reasonably vigorous campaign. But, as he himself highlights, he is young, he hasn’t been involved in the party for very long, he doesn’t have long standing connections to the district or Colorado, and he isn’t long on political connections. He thinks that TABOR and the state budget, issue with which he is familiar from his experience as a budget analyst, are the most important issues facing the state. And as he sums it up:

TABOR doesn’t care if you’ve been a community organizer, the Gallagher Amendment doesn’t care how many old-school politicians are endorsing you, and Colorado’s backwards urban renewal laws don’t care how long you’ve had a (D) next to your name. At this time, SD31 needs an honest, fair-dealing technocrat like myself to untie the knots.

This is a great pitch for his position at his current job as a budget analyst for the Governor. But, this doesn’t cut it in a run for State Senate. Staffers need to be technocrats. Legislating, particularly in the State Senate where a majority caucus of twenty men and women must cover every single issue facing the state, is a job for a generalist who is good with people. The problem is not an inability to find accounting tricks or to know that the state budget is broken. The problem is how to use your coalition building skills to build the political consensus to fix it. Expertise is a price of admission to meaningful budget discussions. But, once you have crossed that threshold, budgets document your values, something which has little to do with expertise or intelligence. Age and seniority aren’t everything, but voters need some provable way to know that your heart is in the right place and that you can be an effective team player in the ultimate cooperative game.

I’m also puzzled by Bryne’s decision to take up immigration as a key issue in a diary at Colorado Pols posted during his campaign, when running for state office. Once again, he doesn’t seem to have the right political instincts.

In contrast, Doug Williams, whose background is in political work and real estate development, got in late, although not at the last minute, but understands very well that the job calls for a coalition building generalist who knows how to run campaigns and persuade legislators to take action. He presents as an effective person who has mounted a solid campaign once he got started. His very strong ties to Texas are not a plus, but it is hard to know how deep his Texas values run. It is also hard to know how effective he would be at developing a rapport with the people of SD 31. He has twinkle in his eye maverick charm, but is not exactly salt of the earth that your average SD 31 voter can easily relate to either.

For a political old hand, Ann Ragsdale, a Colorado General Assembly veteran, has run a surprising low key campaign. She is clearly the top dog among the Adams County candidates, and she has proven that she can do the job. But, it isn’t entirely clear what issues she is running on this time around, and she doesn’t appear to be reaching out vigorously to Denver members of the vacancy committee. Her reputation while in the General Assembly was as a centerist, which is a great thing to be in a close district or when Democrats are having a hard time getting coalitions together on issues that can be made law, but isn’t as much as a virtue in a safely Democratic party controlled district when Democrats control the House, Senate and Governorship.

Pat Steadman and Alex Sanchez have both mounted extremely solid campaigns for this race that show their commitment to the seat. Both men have personal stories that make clear that they understand extremely well how average people in SD 31 see the world. Steadman’s progressive political credentials, and knowledge of the legislative process are unimpeachable, and I know him to be an intelligent man. Sanchez makes his living delivering carefully prepared public statements for the Denver Public Schools and it shows. Sanchez knows how to give a short, effective pitch.

As I think through the matter, perhaps the biggest concern about Steadman is whether he will be able to transition smoothly from fighting the power to being in power. Acting as a scrappy street fighter on particular issues is a different role than presuming the kind of entitlement that makes it possible for you to make an unwieldy state government bow to your will. Then again, at the rank and file level of the legislature being part of a base which reliably votes and encourages people to vote the right way has its value.

Sanchez has more experience acting from a position of authority, but is not terribly quick on his feet when asked unexpected hard questions. He doesn’t have much of a public policy paper trail either, so it is hard to know how his early life, corporate experience, and time as a member of the top administrative team for the Denver Public Schools will collectively impact his decision making when new economic issues come up. I trust him to make decisions in good faith while thinking carefully about the needs of ordinary people in his district. I’m not always sure what conclusions that internal dialog will lead him to in the end.

Jill Conrad has also mounted a vigorous campaign, although not the most relentless one and wins the prize for the flashiest campaign moment, distributing a DVD to every member of the vacancy committee in addition to her literature. She also wins props in the ability to campaign to diverse constituencies department for the fact that she is a sitting elected official who won office in an at large Denver seat on the Denver Public Schools Board, a race she won as the teacher’s union candidate in 2005 despite the fact that her opponent, Brad Buchanan, raised more money and was supported by most of the current school board and the Mayor’s wife, Helen Thorpe. Jill Conrad’s education policy expertise is clear. She is a liberal with an emphasis on bread and butter issues. She is remarkably coy about her roots and background, although she is well spoken and her obvious affluence belies her description of herself as a mere “PhD student.” Her life before getting her master’s degree at the University of Colorado at Boulder in 1997 is basically a blank slate. She is a competent politician with no obvious flaws, but also has no obvious connection to the district other than her home address.

I won’t reach conclusions here, and haven’t in my own mind. There are some candidates who will have a very high hurdle to win my vote in the vacancy committee election, and others who are front runners, but the process in this race with so many candidates and multiple rounds of voting in short succession means that I may end up voting for a backup choice in later rounds of voting in any case.  


40 thoughts on “SD 31 Vacancy Election Redux

  1. As an advocate for things he believed in, seems to me that makes Steadman a good advocate as an elected official.  Too many legislators don’t work their own bills.  A lobbyist will know and be able to do that.  Additionally, lobbyists don’t get much done without building coalitions and if you are too scrappy and too much of a street fighter you will piss people off.  Steadman has cordial relationships with folks on all sides of issues, a testament to being a consensus builder, or civil enough to disagree without being disagreeable.

  2. It sounds like several qualified people are interested.  That’s a good problem to have.

    If you have time, can you give a bit more information on the make-up of the district?  Since it’s Adams County, I want to assume it’s a suburban area, but I’ll bet there’s a bit more to it than that.

    Also, thanks for the excellent summary.  I feel like you’ve described different people I have met before so I have an image of what each is like – strengths and challenges, as we like to say.

    1. Colorado Senate District 31 include parts of Arvada and Westminister in Adams County, and parts of the City of Denver in the downtown core and the northern part of Denver including most of Denver neighborhoods Berkley, Globeville, Elyria-Swansea, Five Points, Coor’s Field, LoDo, Downtown, Golden Triangle, Lincoln Park, Baker, Capital Hill, Alamo Placita, Byers, West Washington Park and Valverdre.

      It is a safe Democratic Party District, with voter registration 42% Democratic and 18% Republican, and unaffiliated voters who are at least 50% likely to vote Democratic. About 40% of the District is in Denver and 60% in Adams County, as measured by voters on election day.

      The district includes low income, working class, middle class and upper middle class neighborhoods, many of which have experienced significant gentrification since Denver’s last major real estate bust in 1982-83.

  3. We always value your opinions, and this time is no different.

    I would second what dmindgo said, there appear to be a few candidates who could do a good job replacing Sen. Veiga.

    My biggest concern would be to have someone who is as good on GLBT issues as Veiga was, but without, IMHO, the allegiance to corporate interests like pharmaceutical companies and payday loan businesses.

      1. he’ll be making sure that the payday loan companies can still charge a billion percent interest, and the drug companies can still lavish doctors with gifts without any fear of ethics legislation?

        1. Veiga’s support for some of the financial interests,which I have previously mentioned here that I strongly opposed, in my opinion stem from the kind of clients her law firm has.  If you look at the lobby firm that Steadman works for, you will see the vast majority of his clients are non-profit associations and public interest clients. I don’t think he at all has that same kind of bias.  But he is indeed the right person to take up the GLBT flag.

        2. He did not represent Pay day lenders at the capital.

          I do not know his position on the issue, but I bet you can ask him.

          You can also review his clients at the SoS

          I support many he lobbied for and believe he was responsible in building his business.

          1. My comment was more of a dig at Veiga than a suggestion that Pat would follow in her footsteps.

            I looked at his SoS page, and all those groups are indeed causes worth lobbying for.

            Incidentally, it’s been nice to have you back the past few days. Are you going to be sticking around? We’ve really missed you these past few months, especially with the recession.

            1. I figured out how to reconcile my job with blogging.

              Hopefully I will be able to do some financial regulation diaries soon. (I know everyone is excited to read about regulation)

            2. I’m not in SD31, but if I were I would definitely cast my vote for Pat. A helluva guy whose heart and mind are both in the right place.

  4. I disagree with your “concern” that he wouldn’t be able to transition from “fighting” the power to “being in power.”  Pat has sheperded tremendous legislation through wiley, tough, and diligent efforts.  He knows how to work with both sides to get bills passed.  Jill, Alex and others can’t say that.  Honestly, he’d be far more effective than Ann.

  5. Ask any one who has worked with her when she was in the legislature in the past, and they will tell you that she has been so “moderate” as to not get much done.  A very uninspiring legislator for a seat that is safe.  In such a seat, it’s my opinion that a real leader is the key.  Rasdale is definitely not that.  

  6. His experience drafting and shepherding legislation through the process far eclipses the rest of the field combined. Even former State Rep Ragsdale cannot boost Pat’s success rate.

    I also like Pat for his views on election laws, which closely mirror my own: keep it simple, keep is efficient, and don’t make it confusing for voters. Once elected, I hope the leadership has the good sense to assign him to State Affairs. His knowledge of election process would be a great asset for that committee.

    Pat also has the proven record on gay issues. He has avoided the “you’re either with us or against us” mentality that sometimes surfaces in gay politics. He has nearly 20 years experience, that I am aware of, taking to mainstream voters about these issues and pointing out the common ground we all share on issues such as equality, health benefits, and family financial planning.

    I would strongly urge anyone with a vote on tonight’s vacancy committee to please support Pat Steadman.

    I have a bit of a vested interest in this as it is my district. I have finally figured out where I am moving to and it will still be in SD31.

    1. While Pat is a great candidate, I’m not sure he “By far the best”.  Is he paying you?  He has stiff competition to be sure.  While he has done great work on behalf of causes we can all agree on, he has also had some questionable clients that would make most voters cringe. If that is what you mean by, “by far,” than you are correct.  

    2. While Pat is a great candidate, I’m not sure he “By far the best”.  Is he paying you?  He has stiff competition to be sure.  While he has done great work on behalf of causes we can all agree on, he has also had some questionable clients that would make most voters cringe. If that is what you mean by, “by far,” than you are correct.  

    3. who will make a great State Senator. Just look at who he’s worked for and with over the years, in both a professional and volunteer capacity. As Democrat, it’s a list of all the things worth fighting for.

      I would love nothing more than a legislature full of public servants like Pat Steadman.

  7. Jill is my choice for SD 31.  The transparency she brought to the school board after the Manual HS shut down is proof of her leadership abilities.  Much of the process of that shut down was done behind closed doors. Jill changed the process so that would never happen again.  She is a great leader and just what my district needs – a woman fighting for all of us and not just for her own narrow constituency.  She active, engaged and smart as hell. Jill Conrad is a proven leader that can deliver.

    1. Look, Conrad to her credit, wanted the board to delay closing Manual for ONE week so that plans could be made for the students who were being shut out.  She could not muster enough support on the board for one damm week.  

      Ask Conrad to give an accounting of what happened to those manual students.  For that matter, ask Sanchez.

      Ask parents of the schools which were closed last year, how they feel about Conrad and “transparency.”

      I am concerned about dps people…starting with Bennet..and now Conrad…jumping ship before their terms are over…

      It is one thing to use the BOE as a stepping stone to paid political office…it is another to run away from consequences of bad decisions….

      As for you, Prog-Matic, “a woman fighting for all of us?”  


  8. Andrew – I agree this is a masterful redux of most of the candidates, except Jill Conrad.  “Obvious affluence?”  Not sure what that means other than an unnecessary quip on her address, and a decade or so of being self-employed, and as far as “no obvious connection to the district?” How about her activism and party leadership with the Denver Dems up until her election 4 years ago?  And her obvious commitment to DPS since then, representing the entire city and county of Denver?  Frankly, I think the entire last section of your comment is completely irrelevant, unnecessary and offensive.  Believe me, she gets it.  Recall SHE was the one who held strong at the closing of Manual High School and demanded more transparency and community involvement.  I obviously know her better than you do, but I also know that she has extensive public policy experience, both nationally as well as in Colorado and Denver.  Granted, education is her passion, but that does not make her single-sighted when it comes to knowing well ALL of the issues we as a state face.  If anything, her policy experience puts her at least on par with Pat and Ann, and even better she lacks Alex’s apparent naivetГ©.  Honestly, I believe Jill is not only masterful at finding common ground among everyone, on both sides of an issue, she is also extremely knowledgeable of the legislative process.  And finally, I would love to see the seat retained by a very capable woman.  

    1. I am not sure who Andrew is.  If you are  replying to Dwyer’s post, which is who I am, then my comments stand.

      Recall SHE was the one who held strong at the closing of Manual High School and demanded more transparency and community involvement.

      I think that the closing of Manual HS was wrong and the treatment of the students then in that school, horrible.  There was neither transparency and certainly no community involvement, let alone adequate parental notification.  I come back to Manual, all the time, because it exemplifies what is so god awful about DPS.

      IMHO, Jill is a go-along to get-along.  This characteristic may well work in party politics.  However, don’t credit her with taking strong positions and carrying them through, when I find no evidence of that; nor, have you offered any examples.  Jill is a nice person; I think of her as a Girl Scout Leader type.  I like the choice of Stedman for the state senate.

      I see Jill’s future in some kind of highly paid staff position with Obama’s “Serve America.”

      Finally, I deliberately use good, old-fashion Anglo-Saxon words to cut through crap.  I hate jargon and gobble-gook.  Don’t personalize it.

      If of course, none of your comments were directed towards my post, then “never mind.”

      1. I reread Andrew’s article and I see what you were responding to…but my comments do stand.  The way to refute an opinion is to offer facts, not more opinion.  I might suggest you do that, in the future.

        1. It was good decision to close, redesign and reopen Manual.  It saved the school from a certain death, and now it is a thriving learning environment.  Critics of the action were wrong.

          1. The issue at Manual HS is about the way the students who were at Manual at the time of closing were treated.  “Thriving learning environment?”….your source?  

            The kids at manual were allowed by dps to used as guinea pigs by the Gates Foundation and when the experiment proved to be disastrous, the school was closed because the state was going to take over one of the three schools which had been rated unsatisfactory twice and was due for the third and final unsatisfactory.  That would have been embarrassing to gates, barbara o’brien, dps, and the dems in an election year..

            How bennet handled the closing of manual is a pr classic.  if the repubs want to defeat him in 2010, they have no farther to look than manuel hs.   I do not want a republican representing colorado in the US Senate; however, all the puff pieces in the world will not cover up that nightmare…if the repubs ever go after it….but ;they may not…simply because bennet has the backing of BMC and his tenure has not been that bad for the BMC interests….vamos a ver.

  9. “As I noted before, jumping into a campaign at the very last minute, like John S. Wren, while permitted by the rules, shows a lack of initiative and commitment. And, the way he conducts himself in his day job undermines my ability to trust him.”

    I wish you were a bit more specific on that day job jab. Wren, the only candidate I slightly know, strikes me as just the type who is a “generalist who is good with people.”  

    1. blog, and that is one of several links in the original version that I didn’t carry over to the Colorado Pols post, because it is tedious to redo html links.  In the linked post, I stated:

      “He describes himself as a “business consultant and adult educator” who “has also served President of . . . the Rocky Mountain Direct Marketing Association[.]” He has a long and reasonably solid looking resume which he has distributed by e-mail.

      But, I have to be honest. I’ve recently received some direct marketing of his business consulting services which has, rightly or wrongly, not left me favorably inclined towards his run. Simply put, the e-mail ad I received came across to me as misleading and too close in style to other disreputable advertising for comfort. I dispatched it to my junk e-mail box.”

      I don’t trust people who send me questionable spam.

  10. You HAVE to or Jesse Jackson will cut your balls off. No, not Jesse Jackson. Barney Frank. Barney Frank will cut your balls off like Jesse Jackson said he wanted to do to Obama if you do not pick the gay one!

      1. Just in case you guys are too busy bust each other’s chops, Colorado Independent has a current blog showing that Pat Steadman won with 93 votes, over Ann Ragsdale’s 63 votes in the third round of voting.


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