May 31, 2023 - High Country Politics - Government and Elections News from the American West

The Heartland POD

May 31 2023 • 12 mins

PACs supporting Mike Johnston spend big in final sprint of Denver mayoral election | Susana Cordova will be Colorado’s next Education Commissioner | New Colorado GOP Chair Dave Williams is off to a rocky start | Kari Lake is running for Senate in Arizona | Ringo Starr on tour in Western U.S.

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Welcome to High Country - politics in the American West. My name is Sean Diller; regular listeners might know me from Heartland Pod’s Talking Politics, every Monday.

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COLORADO NEWSLINE: Denver mayoral candidates Mike Johnston and Kelly Brough sprint to the finish line

BY: CHASE WOODRUFF - MAY 30, 2023 4:00 AM

Left: Denver mayor candidate Kelly Brough receives the endorsement of the Greater Metro Denver Ministerial Alliance at an event on May 12, 2023. Right: Brough’s runoff opponent, former state Sen. Mike Johnston, receives the endorsement of progressive former mayoral candidates and Democratic state lawmakers in Civic Center Park on May 10, 2023. (Chase Woodruff/Colorado Newsline)

A half-million dollar contribution from former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg was part of a flood of large donations that has helped former state Sen. Mike Johnston open up a 2-to-1 fundraising lead over opponent Kelly Brough as the Denver mayor’s race enters its final week.

Advancing Denver, an independent expenditure committee supporting Johnston’s run, raised more than $4 million through May 22.

The pro-Johnston super PAC has relied on many of the same out-of-state billionaire donors who boosted Johnston’s gubernatorial bid in 2018, including Bloomberg, LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman and hedge fund managers Steve Mandel and John Arnold. Kent Thiry, the former CEO of Denver-based dialysis giant DaVita, is the group’s largest local donor, while venture capitalist Art Reimers and private equity CEO Eric Resnick have also chipped in with six-figure contributions.

About three-quarters of Advancing Denver’s haul has been spent on TV advertising in support of Johnston, with the remainder spent on digital ads and mail.

Johnston and Brough had raised roughly equal amounts in direct contributions through the end of April, reporting total receipts of $932,060 and $895,612, for their campaign committees, respectively.

A Better Denver, the independent expenditure committee supporting Brough, has struggled to raise large sums since the April 4 first-round election, adding just $211,650 to the $1 million it had previously raised in February and March.

To date, the group’s top donor during the runoff is Pete Coors, former Republican nominee for U.S. Senate and prolific donor to conservative causes. Coors gave $50,000 to A Better Denver on April 24. Other top donors to the pro-Brough PAC have included real estate interests like the National Association of Realtors, Colorado Construction Industry Coalition and developer Lloyd Fulenwider.

The Apartment Association of Metro Denver, a landlord group, has made contributions to both candidates. After giving $25,000 to Brough in February, the group followed up with another $10,000 contribution to Brough in late April, and a $10,000 contribution to Johnston a week later.

Ballots for the city’s runoff election were mailed earlier this month. Voters can return their ballot to a 24-hour drop box or vote in person until 7 p.m. on June 6.


Susana Cordova, former superintendent of Denver schools, will be Colorado’s next education commissioner

Erica Breunlin and Jesse Paul

9:13 AM MDT on May 30, 2023

Denver Public Schools superintendent Susana Cordova at DPS headquarters on April 3, 2020. (Andy Cross, The Denver Post via The Associated Press)

The state’s Board of Education on Monday named Susana Cordova as the sole finalist among 23 applicants after a unanimous vote. Her appointment is expected to be formalized when the board next meets.

State Board Chairwoman Rebecca McClellan told The Colorado Sun “We really appreciated her sharp focus on results for students and outcomes for students with an eye toward equity,”

“She’s not only talked the talk, she’s proven that she’s capable of achieving gains for students.”

Cordova will take over the position from Katy Anthes, who is stepping down from the role in July after serving as commissioner since December 2016.

Cordova began her career as a bilingual language arts teacher and has since worked in education for more than 30 years, including as a teacher, principal, district leader and currently as a superintendent in residence for Transcend, a national nonprofit focused on helping schools make classrooms more equitable for all students.

Cordova was also previously a deputy superintendent for the Dallas TX Independent School District.

Cordova has also taught as an adjunct faculty member at the University of Denver’s School of Education and now serves on the university’s board of trustees.

Cordova will begin steering the state education department at a particularly consequential time for Colorado schools, as districts continue to help students recover from lost time and learning during the pandemic and as many communities struggle to recruit and retain educators and manage declining student enrollment.

Susana Cordova, then superintendent of Denver Public Schools, looks on as students work on laptops in a classroom in Newlon Elementary School early Tuesday, Aug. 25, 2020. The school was one of 55 Discovery Link sites set up by Denver Public Schools where students could participate in remote learning during the pandemic. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski, Special to The Colorado Sun)

Cordova will begin her tenure just as a state task force is considering changes to how Colorado evaluates its schools, which could potentially affect how much funding schools receive.

Gov. Jared Polis celebrated Cordova’s selection in a written statement Tuesday, saying

“Her prior work boosting academic progress and improving access to high-quality education for learners of all backgrounds as superintendent of Denver Public Schools is sure to benefit students across the state as she brings this passion and experience to this new role,” said Polis, a Democrat. “I look forward to working with Susana as a member of my cabinet as we continue to carry forward our bold education priorities.”


Colorado GOP paid no staff in April while fundraising lags under new Chairman Dave Williams

Sandra Fish

4:20 AM MDT on May 24, 2023

Dave Williams speaks during a Republican state central meeting on March 11, 2023, in Loveland where elections for a chairman, vice chairman and secretary of the Colorado GOP were conducted. (Olivia Sun, The Colorado Sun via Report for America)

If the Colorado Republican Party had employees in April, they didn’t get paid.

It’s the first time in at least 20 years the party didn’t pay any employees.

And the party’s bank accounts have less money than the $120,540 a recent filing said the party had on hand, the GOP acknowledged in an addendum filed Saturday with the Federal Election Commission.

The Colorado GOP raised only about $58,000 in the first four months of the year, including less than $15,000 in April. The party spent more than $15,000 last month, with $9,100 going to health and dental benefits. It’s unclear if anyone is working for the party; no staff is listed on its website.

The lack of a payroll for a state party in Colorado is unusual.

“There have been other cycles where the party pays only one or two salaries in the off year,” said Kristi Burton Brown, who chaired the party during the last election cycle. “If they want to run it all-volunteer, they certainly can.”

The party raised only a little more than $18,000 in the first two months of the year, before Williams was elected chairman.

From January through April, Colorado’s GOP spent more than $263,000. That compares with $539,000 spent in the first four months of 2021, another nonelection year when five people were paid for their work in April. Of this year’s spending, $73,000 went to Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck for legal services.

“Anybody who gets elected state chair should probably prioritize raising money,” said Dick Wadhams, who ran the state party from 2007 to 2011 and has been critical of Williams. “You can’t run an operation without money.”

The state Democratic Party raised nearly $92,000 in April, and spent nearly $211,000, including about $26,000 on payroll for a half-dozen employees. That left the party with nearly $196,000 in cash at the end of April.

The Democratic Party raised more than $419,000 in the first four months of the year, while spending about $454,000. The party’s state-level account had nearly $32,000 at the end of March.

And the Colorado GOP has trailed Democrats in political spending in the state in recent years.

Campaign accounts or PACS for several of the state’s top elected Democrats have donated to the federal party account this year including U.S. Sens. Michael Bennet and John Hickenlooper; U.S. Reps. Diana Degette, of Denver, Yadira Caraveo, of Thornton, Jason Crow, of Centennial, and Joe Neguse, of Lafayette; Gov. Jared Polis; Treasurer Dave Young; and others. Hickenlooper also sent two emails recently asking people to donate to the state party.

The Colorado GOP received $12,500 from the terminated 8th Congressional District campaign of state Sen. Barbara Kirkmeyer, of Brighton, in early March. It’s the only money the party has received from Republican officeholders or candidates this year.

Tagged:Colorado Democratic Party, Colorado Republican Party, Dave Williams


Arizona set for unpredictable Senate race

ByTal Axelrod

May 23, 2023, 3:06 AM

Democrats and Republicans can at least agree on one thing: They have no idea what's going to happen in next year's Arizona Senate race.

The election is shaping up to be an unpredictable three-way contest in one of the nation's premier battlegrounds featuring an incumbent who left her party (Sen. Kyrsten Sinema), a polarizing conservative who remains a rock star with her base (Kari Lake), and a Democratic nominee-in-waiting who would represent a shift to the left for the historically moderate-minded state (Rep. Ruben Gallego).

Sen. Sinema first set the stage when she switched from being a Democrat to an independent late last year. While she called that choice a "reflection of who [she’s] always been," the switch also prevented a primary fight with Arizona Rep. Ruben Gallego -- and paved the way for something more unusual.

State data shows just under 35% of Arizona voters are registered Republicans and 30% are registered Democrats, while 35% aren't registered with either party.

If Sinema retires, the race to succeed her could feature Gallego, a Marine Corps vet and former House colleague of Sinema's who has become vocally critical of her, and Republican Kari Lake, a former TV anchor, election denier and 2022 Arizona gubernatorial candidate.

Both Gallego and Lake are more associated with their parties' ideological flanks than the centrists who have historically won statewide.

state GOP strategist Lorna Romero said "It's gonna be like nothing we've ever seen before in Arizona. I think what's going to make it nasty is obviously Ruben and Kyrsten don't get along personally. And depending on who the Republican is, if you get a firebrand like a Kari Lake again, we've seen how she's operated before, that's going to take it to another level."

Nineteen operatives from both parties who spoke with ABC News for this story mostly thought that Sinema would run again, pointing to her ongoing fundraising and continued involvement in high-profile legislative pushes like on immigration.

Senator Kyrsten Sinema questions witnesses during a Senate Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee hearing in the wake of recent of bank failures, on Capitol Hill, May 18, 2023. Evelyn Hockstein/Reuters

Sinema, who previously served in the House for three terms, quickly thrust herself into the heart of several of the chamber's most significant and successful legislative efforts, including on infrastructure, same-sex marriage, guns and more.

Her style of legislating has generated mixed reviews, with supporters pointing to her scorecard and liberal detractors saying she has been overly eager to water down Democratic priorities, including raising the minimum wage, supporting prescription drug pricing reform and scrapping the Senate filibuster as a way to codify abortion rights.

Cesar Chavez, a former Democratic state lawmaker said "Overall, I think the state of Arizona is content with the work that Sen. Sinema done. The issues that Sen. Sinema has advocated for will definitely result in a positive tick in her numbers."

Steve Slugocki, a senior adviser to Arizona Secretary of State Adrian Fontes, a former chair of the Maricopa County Democratic Party had the opposite view. He said, "I cannot stress enough how deeply unpopular she is. I traveled the state everywhere last year. The first question was always, 'What are we going to do about Sinema? How can we replace her?'"

Sen. Kyrsten Sinema arrives at the Capitol, May 9, 2023. Congressional Hispanic Caucus Chairman Democratic Rep. Ruben Gallego speaks at a CHC event. Getty Images

All of this will play out in the larger context of the battle for the Senate, with the Democratic caucus holding a slim 51-49 majority, but defending 23 seats in 2024, making operatives eager to avoid a spoiler candidate, but without any agreement on who that would be.

A former aide to Sen. Sinema said "She has shown she knows what it takes to win in Arizona. I look at these other candidates, and I do not see proven winners. "So yeah, as a Democrat, I'm nervous because I want to keep Kari Lake out of the Senate."

"If she's in the race as an independent, Ruben's already at a disadvantage as a Democrat just because of the lower registration numbers that we have," said one former state lawmaker who is supporting Gallego. "So, it comes down to how many votes is Sen. Sinema going to take? Even if it is a very small percentage, any small percentage at all could tip this."

To be sure, Democrats aren't the only ones wringing their hands.

Republican strategists told ABC News that a three-way race with a Democrat and an independent with a Democratic background would normally be a boon to the GOP candidate. But failed 2022 candidate Kari Lake is looming in the wings and is coming off a narrow loss to Democrat Katie Hobbs, which many observers attributed to her embrace of baseless claims of 2020 election fraud.

A source familiar with Lake's thinking told ABC News they're confident she'll run for the Senate, likely launching a campaign in the fall. This person also confirmed that Lake recently met with several senators, including National Republican Senatorial Committee Chair Steve Daines of Montana, and that with her broad name recognition and support from conservative voters, she would enter the race as the overwhelming primary favorite.

GOP strategist Lorna Romero said "[T]he Sinema breakup from the Democratic Party looks good for Republicans on paper, theoretically. But I think that the big heartburn is what's going to happen out of a Republican primary, and are we just going to do the same ridiculous mistakes over and over again, and Democrats are just going to continue to win in the state,"

Still, virtually every person who spoke to ABC News added the caveat that their analyses could end up being off given the unpredictable nature of a potential race with the incumbent running as the third-party candidate.

"We've never seen anything like that in Arizona," one Democratic strategist said. "I just think trying to predict anything right now, you might as well shake a Magic 8 Ball and see what it tells you."

CONCERT PICK OF THE WEEK: Sir Richard Starkey MBE, otherwise known as Ringo Starr!! Ringo Starr and his All Starr Band are on a Western U.S. tour with shows this week in San Diego, Eugene and Bend OR, and next week playing Denver’s Bellco Theatre and the Pikes Peak Center in Colorado Springs. Tickets and information at

Welp, that’s it for me! From Denver I’m Sean Diller. Original reporting for the stories in today’s show comes from Colorado Newsline, Colorado Sun, ABC News, Arizona Mirror, and Denver’s Westword.

Thank you for listening! See you next time.

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