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Will a #MeToo wave help elect a woman as Colorado governor?

By: DAVID O. WILLIAMS, Colorado Politics
April 22, 2018 Updated: April 23, 2018 at 7:47 am
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Former Colorado State Treasurer and current Democratic gubernatorial candidate Cary Kennedy gestures after accepting her nomination for governor at the 2018 Colorado Democratic State Assembly at the 1STBANK Center in Broomfield on April 14, 2018. Photo by Andy Colwell for the Gazette

Cary Kennedy sees two waves potentially carrying her into the governor's mansion in November: not only a blue wave of support for Democrats, but also potentially a women's wave born of frustration with President Donald Trump and the many sexual-harassment scandals that have plagued Congress and the Colorado Legislature.

"I see women all over the state motivated and getting involved, getting engaged because they're frustrated. They're mad at the president. They want to see women treated better," the former state treasurer told Colorado Politics. "They want to see equality, with women represented in leadership positions, and they're engaging in the political process like I've never seen before."

Kennedy is coming off a Democratic state assembly win in Broomfield on April 14 that saw her claim the top line on the June 26 primary ballot by a margin of 61.65 percent of the delegates to 32.85 percent for the presumed Democratic front-runner, U.S. Rep. Jared Polis of Boulder.

Colorado has never had a female governor in its 142-year history. The closest it came was 20 years ago when former Democratic state treasurer and lieutenant governor Gail Schoettler lost to Republican Bill Owens by fewer than 8,000 votes.

Another female candidate for governor this year is Lt. Gov. Donna Lynne, a Democrat hoping to replace her term-limited boss, Gov. John Hickenlooper. She sidestepped the state assembly and instead, at press time, was waiting to hear from Secretary of State Wayne Williams' office whether she successfully petitioned her way onto the primary ballot.

Lynne, a former executive with Kaiser Permanente, agrees with Kennedy that women are very politically active across the state right now.

"I'm happy that women are energized, but I think a lot of people are energized," Lynne said. "(They want to) make sure that we have qualified people in the office, that we continue to build on the legacy of Gov. Hickenlooper and economic progress as well as some of the other progress that we've seen in this administration. Voters are energized, but also very mindful that a strong governor is really important, given some of the challenges that we have in Washington and the fact that some of the things that we've gained in the last eight years are being eroded."

On the Republican side, at the party's April 14 state assembly, Colorado Attorney General Cynthia Coffman failed to get the requisite 30 percent of the delegates needed to get on the primary ballot.

Coffman did not go the petition route, meaning she is out of the race. But prior to the assembly result, she told Colorado Politics that she, too, sees a women's wave coming in Colorado.

"The stories of sexual harassment and the fact that is getting attention makes some people think that having a women's perspective on issues and on government might be a good thing," Coffman told Colorado Politics last month. "There's a sense now among women that we can talk about these things and not be considered either to be exaggerating or making up facts, because of the sheer number of us who have had (harassment) experiences."

A CBS News national poll in January showed women overwhelmingly see a need to elect more women.

In the survey, 54 percent of women said it was very important to put more female candidates in political office, and another 28 percent said it was somewhat important. Among Democratic women, the "very important" group soared to 77 percent.

Kennedy, who was surging in the race even before the state assembly after decisively winning preference polling during the Democratic caucuses last month, previously served as deputy mayor and chief financial officer under Denver Mayor Michael Hancock, who has been embroiled in his own harassment scandal over text messages he sent to a female subordinate. Hancock has since apologized.

"(Harassment) isn't just in the Capitol and in politics, but it's throughout our culture, and I'm proud that women are raising this issue strongly and I'm pleased to see things are changing," Kennedy said. "With respect to Mayor Hancock, I know that he made a public apology and it was a very painful experience, I think, for both of them. She has accepted his apology, but his behavior was inappropriate."

Kennedy and other political observers say the #MeToo, #StandUp and Women's March movements are bound to impact the current campaign to replace Hickenlooper and other key national races.

A record number of women have entered U.S. House races this year, shattering the previous record in 2012, but that was also a Republican and anti-Obama wave year that saw Kennedy ousted as treasurer by current treasurer and GOP gubernatorial front-runner Walker Stapleton.

"Quite frankly, it's surprising that a forward-looking state like Colorado hasn't had a woman (as) governor," Kennedy said. "We've been a state for over 140 years, and there is momentum here in Colorado and throughout the country to have women equally represented in positions of leadership, both in the public sector and in the private sector."

Emerge Colorado Executive Director Michal Rosenoer, whose left-leaning organization recruits and prepares women to run for office, told Colorado Politics that "2018 is shaping up to be an incredible year for women, both as voters and candidates."

Some wondered if an anti-Trump backlash might energize women in 2016 - a trend that never materialized and in fact was the opposite case among white women - and Rosenoer says she believes some female voters may have been complacent during the Obama administration.

"I do think that activism loves a clear and obvious enemy, and in that respect Trump has motivated a massive amount of women, both white and women of color, to get involved in politics in a more real way," Rosenoer told Colorado Politics.

"It's possible many of us got complacent under an Obama administration when we were talking about the difference between fine and good, and now we're talking about the difference between life and death for some families and people of color and immigrants who are looking at deportation and those kinds of shifts in priorities," she added.

Joni Inman - executive director of the right-leaning Colorado Women's Alliance, which does not recruit candidates, but is instead a more issues-oriented group - says Colorado has a history of strong female voter turnout that is not necessarily linked to current events.

"I do believe women have gotten more involved in political discussions over the past few years than ever before, but Colorado female voters have always been very strong," Inman said.

"In the last presidential election in 2016, there were approximately 3 million registered voters in Colorado and, of those, 1.9 million were women. So, two-thirds of the voting public in Colorado is female. That's not a new phenomenon."

Of those Colorado female voters, nearly 1.5 million voted in 2016 (nearly 150,000 more than men), and Democrat Hillary Clinton wound up winning the state by 4.9 percentage points.

Inman said women are not that focused on sexual harassment in the 2018 election.

"I don't think that the #MeToo movement is generating more interest in politics," Inman said. "I think a number of things that have happened over the last couple of years have encouraged women to speak out more vocally than perhaps they have in the past."

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