Democratic U.S. Senate candidates introduce themselves to activists at Denver forum

Democratic candidates line up for photos after a forum sponsored by local Indivisible grounds for 2020 Colorado U.S. Senate candidates on Sunday at Barnum Park in Denver.

Candidates vying for the Democratic nomination to challenge Republican U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner in 2020 made their pitches to progressive activists Sunday at a Denver forum sponsored by Colorado Indivisible and other left-leaning groups.

The nine candidates took turns delivering 5-minute versions of their stump speeches, addressing a policy topic drawn at random from a box:

• Said John Walsh, a former U.S. attorney in the Obama administration: “The reality is, and I think everybody here knows, that today we are facing a crisis in our democracy.” On immigration, the topic he drew, Walsh said he joined fellow former U.S. attorneys to denounce the Trump administration’s family separation policy, and his law firm advocated for detainees at the Immigration and Customs Enforcement facility in Aurora.

“We can have secure borders and still be an open, welcoming country that lives up to what the Statue of Liberty and its wonderful poem says.”

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• Andrew Romanoff, former state House speaker and past president of Mental Health Colorado, addressed the filibuster, a Senate procedure that requires a super-majority to move most legislation.

“That means I have unlimited time, apparently,” Romanoff quipped. “I’ll be brief. I think we ought to eliminate it. It doesn’t serve a useful purpose, and it’s blocking progress on a lot of the core changes that we need. I joined this race because I think we are literally running out of time — to rescue our planet, to repair our democracy, to restore the American dream.”

• Mike Johnston, a former state senator and candidate in last year’s gubernatorial primary, drew the Electoral College — a flashpoint in Colorado this year, as conservatives seek to overturn legislation to pledge the state’s electoral votes to the winner of the national popular vote.

“Yes, I support reforming the Electoral College; I support the popular vote. I think we ought to believe the idea that one person, one vote is what this country was built on,” Johnston said.

• Lorena Garcia, head of the Colorado Parent Coalition, drew loud cheers when she selected “impeachment” from the topic box.

“That’s a pretty easy one. Actually, it’s not that easy,” Garcia said. Although Americans can vote officials into office, “if we can’t vote them out because it’s too long from now, and they’re destroying our democracy right now, in office, then we have an obligation to investigate their criminal behavior. And if that leads to impeachment, then that’s what that leads to.”

• Stephany Rose Spaulding, a professor and pastor who ran against U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn of Colorado Springs last year, drew the census.

“This crisis that we believe our democracy is in comes with naturalization acts, comes with documents like the Declaration of Independence, comes with documents like the Constitution that literally did not regard all human beings or peoples in this place as citizens,” Spaulding said. The controversy over whether to include a question about citizenship in the 2020 Census should encourage people to reflect on the Arapaho, Cheyenne and Utes who once occupied Colorado and “were forcibly removed from a place.”

• Ellyn Burnes, a natural resources economist and former head of the Boulder Democratic Party, discussed the Supreme Court.

“Increasingly, too many of us are being left behind — undervalued, overlooked. Some of those who can’t be here today are those who are facing decisions of the Supreme Court,” which should protect women’s rights and support “people coming to this country as young children who didn’t have a voice or a say and who deserve to be here and be educated.”

• Said Alice Madden, a former state House Democratic leader and Obama administration official: “We are facing two man-made disasters like no others. One is Donald Trump himself, and the other is climate change.”

China, her topic, is “a country to be reckoned with. America used to be the country of ideas. China’s taken that over. They have more patents issued every year than we do. It’s important for us to think about a real manufacturing renaissance in this country. We can demand a living wage; we can demand good governance of these companies. And you know what, there’s environmental protections here that do not exist in China.”

• Climate activist Diana Bray drew her signature topic, the Green New Deal, a legislative framework aimed at battling climate change.

“I would love for you all to also organize a climate debate for the U.S. Senate candidates that are here — and show the (Democratic National Committee) how it’s done,” she said, referencing calls for Democratic presidential hopefuls to debate climate change. “The reason that I decided to get into this race is because of the urgency, my alarm, the catastrophic, existential crisis that we’re in because of climate.”

• Dan Baer, a diplomat in the Obama administration and former executive director of the state Department of Higher Education, talked about reproductive rights, saying a recent spate of anti-abortion laws passed by some states is part of a broader plan to overturn Roe v. Wade.

“If there is a silver lining to the Trump era, it will be this: It will be that people like all of you ... decided to get engaged because of the moment we are living in.”

• Scientist and educator Trish Zornio was in New Hampshire with family since her mother was severely injured in a car accident. Her surrogate, like Zornio, made a case for sending a scientist to the U.S. Senate.

Katie Farnan, with Indivisible Front Range Resistance and one of the forum planners, said the event succeeded by drawing about 200 people and being organized by “working mothers, retirees, absolutely volunteers, all of us doing this just because. That is how fired up we are, because the Senate campaign is the most important in 2020, bigger than the president.”

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