• July 24th, 2024
  • Wednesday, 10:13:17 PM

Voter Guide 2024: Democratic State House Primary Races Q&A


Colorado State Rep Tim Hernández (District 4), and teacher. (Photo: Tim for Colorado)

 

By Sara Wilson

Posted June 13, 2024

 

Registered voters in Colorado should have received their ballots in the mail for the June 25 primary, which includes races for Congress, the state Legislature, the University of Colorado Board of Regents and other local positions.

 

Voters can contact their county clerk if they have not received their ballot or check the online BallotTrax system. They can also visit the secretary of state’s website to make a plan to vote in person ahead of or on Election Day. Ballots need to be received by the county clerk by 7 p.m. on that day, so voters should make a plan to mail their ballot at least eight days ahead of time or drop it off in person.

 

In a primary election, same-party candidates compete to advance as their party’s candidate in the general election in November. In Colorado, registered Republican voters cast ballots in the Republican primaries, Democratic voters cast ballots in the Democratic primaries, and unaffiliated voters cast Republican or Democratic ballots, but not both.

 

Voters can find their state legislative districts at the General Assembly’s website.

 

There are eight contested Democratic primaries for seats in the state House of Representatives, a mix of incumbents defending their positions against challengers and new candidates vying for seats that are open due to term limits.

 

To read Colorado Newsline’s full series on Democratic State House candidates, click on a link below to jump to a specific race: House District 4; House District 6; House District 10; House District 30; House District 31; House District 36; House District 49; and House District 52.

 

Colorado Newsline sent surveys to every candidate in a contested primary. The questions are identical, except for one extra question for an incumbent or current state lawmaker and one extra question for a candidate challenging an incumbent.

 

Colorado Newsline asked a question about ballot initiatives related to property taxes. This year, lawmakers approved a bill aimed at softening the rise in property taxes for homeowners. That law will not take effect, however, if voters approve a ballot measure to cut them further this November. Initiative 50, a property tax revenue cap, and Initiative 108, an assessment rate cut, will be on the ballot if petitioners gather enough signatures.

 

Candidates’ answers might have been edited for length or clarity and appear in alphabetical order within their race. The candidate’s photo, age, city of residence, and occupation are included when available.

 

 

HOUSE DISTRICT 4

 

House District 4 includes northwest Denver. Democrat Rep. Tim Hernández was appointed to the seat and is now seeking his first elected term. Serena Gonzales Gutiérrez, a Democrat, won the seat in 2022 with 83% of the vote. 

 

Colorado House District 4 candidate Cecelia Espenoza. (Photo: Cecelia for Colorado)

If elected, what would be your top three priorities during the 2025 legislative session?

 

ESPENOZA: First, I will work with the community to address issues and barriers they have encountered in dealing with existing legislation and or legislators. I will reach out to colleagues to develop a strong working relationship and I will provide an open door to encourage input from any group or individual affected by legislation being considered while I serve in office.

 

Second, I will propose legislation and evaluate legislation with my legal background to minimize litigation. My experience is an asset I will share to develop sound workable policy for Colorado. For me that policy will always be evaluated by taking into consideration not only the desired outcome, but the longer-term unintended consequences the policy is advancing.

 

Finally, my first bill is discussed below, and the second bill I hope to bring will address gun safety. I would like to provide an incentive for safe gun storage in the form of a tax credit for those who purchase a gun safe.

 

HERNÁNDEZ: My top priority is ensuring we continue to preserve fully funded public education, like we did this year for the first time in over a decade. As a teacher, I shouldn’t have to rely on GoFundMe’s or out-of-pocket expenses to support my students. Fully funding education is an essential investment in our children— our communities depend on their growth and success. In addition to fully funded education, I seek to address our housing affordability crisis by expanding tenant protections and rights, as well as, addressing gun violence in our state by passing an assault weapons ban.

 

What do residents in your district say is the community’s biggest issue, and how will you work to address it?

 

ESPENOZA: Having spent hundreds of hours talking to voters in House District 4, their greatest concerns center around: 1) the lack of affordable housing and a rapid rise in property taxes; 2) healthcare including reproductive freedom and mental health; and 3) gun safety. Regarding housing, a recurring theme is the property tax impact on fixed income seniors. Many seniors I spoke with no longer have mortgage payments with escrow accounts for their property taxes. For these individuals, taxes must be paid all at once or in two payments. With only a month notice on the actual tax that is levied for the year, payment is very difficult. I believe the burden could be mitigated by giving homeowners additional options. To assist these constituents, I would explore legislation that would spread payments over a longer time than the current options.

 

HERNÁNDEZ: When talking to community members people are always bringing up housing cost, cost of living, and fully funded schools for their children. These issues are the same issues I have as a teacher living in the Northside. I pay 60% of my income in rent just to live in the community I grew up in. I’ve watched my neighbors be forced out of their homes by skyrocketing costs of living. This struggle is real to me, and my community and I am committed to addressing these concerns in collaboration with community stakeholders. To tackle housing, I will advocate for increased affordable housing development to make housing more accessible and strengthen tenant protections. On the issue of cost of living, I will push for policies that alleviate financial pressures on households. This includes advocating for a higher minimum wage, advancing the rights of everyone to be able to collectively bargain in their workplace, and expanding access to affordable healthcare and childcare services.

 

For ensuring our schools are fully funded, I could not be more dedicated to ensuring we have well paid teachers, fully funded schools, and learning conditions students can thrive in. I will advocate for increasing state funding for public education and to completely eliminate the Budget Stabilization factor, allowing schools to reduce class sizes, improve teacher salaries, and enhance educational resources. I will also champion equitable funding models that address disparities in school funding.

 

The Legislature passed a few key land use bills this year aimed at increasing housing development. What is the state’s role, if any, to increase development and density to address the affordable housing stock issue?

 

ESPENOZA: As noted above, housing is the number one concern raised by voters at the doors. To address the root causes, we must change land use laws, expand public/private partnerships, and incentivize the building of safe, affordable housing. We must invest in proven programs that support renters and minimize displacement; repurpose abandoned or misused buildings; and stabilize taxes to keep those on fixed incomes from being pushed into homelessness.

 

HERNÁNDEZ: The state has a role in empowering municipalities to make effective choices about land use and the development of housing. Thus, while we at the state Legislature are working to ensure municipalities have choices like municipal first right of refusal, we should also be working to expand inclusionary zoning, rent-to-own affordable units, eliminating occupancy limits, and allowing property owners to develop ADUs (Additional Dwelling Units) on their property. While increasing the housing stock is important, I also see that in order to keep communities together, we must do it lock-step with anti-gentrification and anti-displacement measures like rent control, for cause eviction, etc. The state should also play a direct role as a statewide social housing developer or empower and fund municipalities seeking to become social housing developers tasked with building high-quality, low-rent, union-labor, publicly-owned housing. If we want to close the racial and economic access gaps we see in our communities, especially in housing, then we must treat housing as a human right.

 

What is the state’s role in mitigating the effects of climate change on citizens and what specific environmental policies would you support in the Legislature?

 

ESPENOZA: The state’s role in addressing this issue begins with recognizing that the consequences of climate change create an equity issue. Our communities of color and lower-income areas are hardest hit. The necessary preventive solutions have not been implemented, and our strategy will need to switch to mitigation. Climate change requires investments to protect the most vulnerable communities and ensure clean air and clean water for all Coloradans.

 

Here are three areas I would support:

 

  • Expand Colorado’s renewable energy production and manufacturing to speed up a full transition to renewables
  • Enforce our air quality standards to protect the communities impacted by pollution, especially around our interstates and industrial areas
  • Fully fund our forest fire and flood prevention programs to protect communities, as well as our statewide air quality

HERNÁNDEZ: Holding Suncor and other polluters responsible for their harm, and requiring financial penalties, including a loss of license in the state of Colorado, to support remediation. The state also has a deep role in developing data matrixes that allow us to evaluate which communities are most deeply impacted by environmental injustice. We have mere years to reverse the climate emergency — Colorado can and must be a leader in making this reversal possible. In order to advert more severe consequences from climate change and curtail global warming to below 1.5 degrees Celsius we must act to fully funding the just transition plan, ensuring that all nonrenewable energy workers get high-paying, union jobs on renewable energy projects, and pass legislation that requires that the state and municipalities build publicly-owned, union-labor renewable energy projects to make up for the inaction of private energy corporations.

 

How can the Legislature most effectively address cost-of-living concerns for Coloradans across all backgrounds, including income levels and homeowner/renter status?

 

ESPENOZA: A 2023 survey by The Colorado Health Foundation found the following as possible solutions to the cost of living problems people face: “… respondents suggested increasing tax credits for low-income Coloradans to address the cost of living, government investments to stimulate the economy and create better-paying jobs, and raising taxes on high-income earners — those making $500,000 or more annually — and putting those taxes toward housing, health care and education.” I agree with these suggestions.

 

HERNÁNDEZ: We must address cost-of-living concerns first by raising the minimum wage and expanding the right of all workers to unionize, and collectively bargain. Replacing the Colorado Labor Peace Act with an unapologetically pro-worker labor policy will allow more workers across the state to have the protections to collectively bargain for higher wages and better working conditions. But increasing wages solves only a portion of our community’s concerns regarding cost of living — even with increased wages many tenants and homeowners face increasing costs, whether is the lack of controlling rent increases or managing a mortgage with high interest rates. Repealing the statewide ban on rent control and capping rents will allow tenants to remain in their communities longer and not have to worry about rents so quickly outpacing their income.

 

In the short term, for homeowners we should pursue policies that protect consumers from predatory and discriminatory lending practices, while ensuring fair lending practices which can affect the terms and availability of mortgage, as well as providing more support to CHFA to provide more Coloradans with low interest mortgages. However, to truly deliver affordable housing we must treat housing as a human right, and prioritize providing quality affordable housing by developing publicly owned housing. Lastly, we must end the 30-plus year reign of TABOR that has severely limited our ability to support public services, and exacerbated income inequality in our state, by adopting a progressive tax code where people in Colorado who make or own a home over $2,000,000 pay their fair share.

 

Do you support deeper property tax cuts through ballot initiatives this year that would override the Legislature’s property tax work from the most recent session?

ESPENOZA: I do not.

 

HERNÁNDEZ: No, I do not. These cuts would destabilize the work we did to ensure that we balance manageable property taxes for homeowners and ensure we have fully funded schools across Colorado. While relief for property owners is a priority of mine, I disagree with an approach that puts our already underfunded schools on the chopping block to make it happen.

 

Many Coloradans are listing their top issue this election year as democracy and good governance through the statewide Voter Voices project. Do you find any common ground with members of the opposite party, and how important is bipartisanship in your political philosophy?

 

ESPENOZA: I am running for this seat because I agree that democracy is on the ballot. This is the first time since 2018 that voters will vote in a contested primary to determine who they want to represent HD4. My opponent was appointed to this position by a small vacancy committee. I believe that democracy requires a determination by the electorate who should hold this seat.

 

In answering the importance of bipartisanship and my ability to navigate working with people who may have a different political philosophy, I would note that I have spent my entire life in rooms where no one else looked like me. I had to figure out how to navigate spaces that weren’t created with women or minorities in mind, and how to be in places where others thought I didn’t belong. With this experience I learned how to listen and work with others to accomplish shared goals. My goal in the legislature will be to work for the common good. With that as a framework, I am sure I can work across the aisle and with members in my own caucus who have different points of view.

 

HERNÁNDEZ: We have the strongest Democratic majority in Colorado that we have had in the last 80 years. Good governance is contextual, and in our current context, it means that rather than asking if we should work with a super-minority on the other side of the aisle, we should be asking why we are not passing bills that supermajorities of our Democratic constituents are asking us to. The other side of the aisle doesn’t have enough votes to govern, and they are often dedicated to ensuring that our Democratic majority struggles to govern effectively more than they are on passing good legislation that helps working people in Colorado. Bipartisanship should not be the only measure to gauge good governance. Good governance would be a super majority of Democrats being unafraid to take hard, progressive votes to enact legislation that the majority of Coloradans want.

 

Are there any votes the incumbent has taken in the Legislature you disagree with? What are they and why would you have voted differently?

 

ESPENOZA: I have not studied the votes of my opponent. However, I intend to introduce bills that are legally sound and substantive, which address the concerns of my constituents.

 

What is one bill, vote or other legislative action you’ve taken that you feel best demonstrates your qualification for reelection?

 

HERNÁNDEZ: As the first legislator in history to pass the assault weapons ban through the Colorado house, I look forward to returning to the statehouse to find common ground solutions to pass an assault weapons ban and advocate for data-driven approaches to prevent gun violence by investing in solutions in our community needs like housing, education, and high-paying union jobs.

 

 

HOUSE DISTRICT 6

House District 6 comprises parts of Capitol Hill, Congress Park, Montclair and Lowry. Rep. Elisabeth Epps, a Democrat, won the seat in 2022 with about 86% of the vote. 

 

If elected, what would be your top three priorities during the 2025 legislative session?

 

Colorado House District 6 candidate Sean Camacho, attorney. (Photo: Sean Camacho for House District 6)

CAMACHO: My number one focus is increasing the supply of housing at all price points. My other top priorities are lowering our cost of living and protecting our land, air, and water. These three issues are the most pressing, consequential, and long-term issues facing Colorado.

 

EPPS: Three of my highest priorities for 2025 include:

 

  1. Good Governance — including transparency, Open Meetings compliance, making the Capitol a recovery safe workplace free from workplace harassment.
  2. (See 3, below.)
  3. Community Safety — continuing to advance the work to ban assault weapons in Colorado; stopping investments in demonstrably failed carceral policies, instead investing in solutions proven to actually increase safety; continuing the work to end wealth based detention.

 

What do residents in your district say is the community’s biggest issue, and how will you work to address it?

 

CAMACHO: While engaging with community members on the campaign trail and in my personal life, I have learned that there are many issues considered top priority depending on the voter, family, and neighborhood. I can confidently say housing is the top priority for many HD6 residents; however, I frequently hear strong concerns about our education system, the climate crisis, Denver’s cost of living, and protecting reproductive freedoms. So, it is difficult to narrow it down to a single issue. I plan to consult with constituents, subject matter experts, interested groups, and colleagues when creating legislation for each critical issue.

 

EPPS: Denver HD6, which runs from Capitol Hill at the west to East Colfax and Lowry at the east/south, has vibrant neighborhoods rich in culture and resiliency, but HD6 is not a monolith. When I ask neighbors what they see as the biggest issue facing our community, the most common answers had long been housing, gun violence prevention (specifically assault weapons), and abortion. (Review detailed information on my stance/work on those and other policy issues.) But the feedback has shifted starkly in recent months. Because HD6 is so overwhelmingly blue, it’s not surprising that constituents are also reflective on the Democratic party when I ask what are the most important issues are on their minds. In recent months housing remains a top response, but now when asked their key issue, more and more of my constituents are naming fears about the outcome of the upcoming Presidential election, fear of the rising threat of white supremacy and Christian nationalism, and America’s involvement in Gaza. I validate that I share their concerns, and over ways that we can engage locally and ensure Dems win to keep the presidency in November.

 

The Legislature passed a few key land use bills this year aimed at increasing housing development. What is the state’s role, if any, to increase development and density to address the affordable housing stock issue?

 

CAMACHO: We are not going to solve this issue without state involvement. The housing shortage is too vast for the private sector and municipalities to solve alone. While I recognize that a community’s needs vary by municipality and region, the state needs to take an active role in ensuring that steps are being taken across the state, especially in Denver, to increase the availability of affordable housing options.

 

EPPS: Housing is a human right. Inadequate housing supply and lack of access to affordable attainable housing are systemic failures created in large part by past policy choices; thus, it is incumbent upon the state to right those wrongs. I voted Yes in support of all six primary Land Use bills in 2024 (HB24-1313, HB24-1152, HB24-1304, HB24-1175, HB24-1007, SB24-174), and cosponsored five of the six. Because land use and housing are matters of statewide concern, they are eligible for preemption, and the state is obligated to take decisive action to increase housing supply. As state legislators we are obligated to end exclusionary zoning that limits multifamily residences, and to prohibit predatory practices by corporate landlords. We must create conditions conducive to social housing, facilitate transit oriented communities. By centering our design on the most vulnerable and ensuring they become/remain housed, we help ensure that all community members have access to safe, affordable, and stable housing.

 

What is the state’s role in mitigating the effects of climate change on citizens and what specific environmental policies would you support in the Legislature?

 

CAMACHO: We are in a race against time to do our part to mitigate the damage from climate change. The state is essential to ensuring Colorado completes its transition to complete sustainability. The cost of moving to green energy and sustainability will require state resources and partnerships to adopt sustainable practices and infrastructure that will protect Colorado’s land, air, and water. My ideas to address climate change include increasing state investment in renewable energy; providing tax incentives to both businesses and individuals who modernize their vehicles and utilities; incentivizing private-sector investment in large-scale renewable energy infrastructure and technologies; expanding our public transit system so fewer people need to drive personal vehicles every day; and working with conservation scientists to regrow lost forests and promote biodiversity to keep Colorado’s natural splendor.

 

EPPS: Mitigating the deleterious impacts of climate change is as important as any work we as state legislators do. When I ran in 2022 I said I would work to “Improve air quality, hold polluters accountable. Invest in robust, accessible, electric public transit. Increase funding for sustainable infrastructure.”

 

I remain committed to each of those goals, and I see the state’s role as being critical. I support environmental efforts that are based in environmental justice, data-driven, centering the most directly impacted people, and that prioritize organized labor as a meaningful partner in the work, not a tokenized after thought.

 

While climate change is a matter of statewide (worldwide) concern, HD6 has to be even more concerned. Because climate change can impact air quality and Denver has the 6th in the nation worst air quality based on most ozone pollution, I co-sponsored HB23-1294 Pollution Protection Measures. For my district, it was an especially hard blow when corporate Dems forced the more progressive 1294 as introduced to be reduced to an interim committee on ozone air quality.

 

My commitment is also reflected in my support for SB24-214 State Climate Goals and HB24-1338 Cumulative Impacts & Environmental Justice.

 

While I supported SB24-229 and SB24-230 Oil & Gas Production Fees (the compromise legislation that saves us from a fight of competing ballot initiatives between oil and gas industry vs. environmental advocates, a fight), we need more Democrats who value people and planet over profit and politics.

 

How can the Legislature most effectively address cost-of-living concerns for Coloradans across all backgrounds, including income levels and homeowner/renter status?

 

CAMACHO: We need strong action to modernize our land use laws, build affordable housing, and stabilize taxes for those on fixed incomes so that rising property values do not create further housing insecurity. Colorado must also pursue long-term solutions to help prepare our workforce for a changing world. Educational, apprenticeship, and training opportunities that set Coloradans up for high-quality jobs that present opportunities for growth and development will be key to alleviating the high cost of living. Additionally, I am a strong proponent of metro transportation. Gas, insurance, routine maintenance, and loan repayments are expensive and take a financial toll on Coloradans. I see well-functioning public transportation systems as one tool to save Coloradans time and money.

 

State Representative Elisabeth Epps (District 6), JD, an abolitionist legislator, and Founder/ Executive Director of Colorado Freedom Fund. (Photo: ElisabethEpps.com)

EPPS: With income disparity and wealth inequality at unprecedented levels, Colorado nonetheless could become a state where people are prioritized over profits, work championed over wealth. To effectively address cost-of-living concerns for all Coloradans I support repealing TABOR (not a pure legislative issue, to be sure), pursuing progressive tax policy, ending corporate welfare, strong consumer protection laws, housing related policies referenced in the question above, and other economic justice measures. But ultimately, meaningfully addressing Colorado’s challenges with cost of living is not a matter of policy, it’s a matter of political will.

 

The poet Shawn Carter infamously opined “What’s better than one billionaire?” “Two.” But no, the answer isn’t two, it’s zero. The existence of billionaires in a nation with childhood food insecurity is a sign of failed policy. As is the fact that in 2024 the Colorado legislature passed important property tax measures for homeowners, but comparably supportive legislation for renters did not get a floor vote.

 

I’m a renter. I’ve always been a renter. If we are ever to make Colorado affordable for all, we have to elect legislators for whom Colorado’s working families are an actual priority, not a rhetorical device deployed to tout faux progressive credentials.

 

Do you support deeper property tax cuts through ballot initiatives this year that would override the Legislature’s property tax work from the most recent session?

 

CAMACHO: I have serious concerns that deeper property tax cuts through ballot measures will devastate K-12, higher education, and the vital services Coloradans depend upon. The legislature can continue to work to find a solution to rising property taxes that provides relief for Coloradans and maintains the funding we need to fund our future.

 

EPPS: No.

 

Many Coloradans are listing their top issue this election year as democracy and good governance through the statewide Voter Voices project. Do you find any common ground with members of the opposite party, and how important is bipartisanship in your political philosophy?

 

CAMACHO: There are always opportunities for bipartisan cooperation. Citizens elect candidates to public office, regardless of party, with the hope that they will fight for issues and policies that can create lasting positive change for the most significant issues facing our state. That type of change cannot happen without bipartisan cooperation, and I intend to work with anyone willing to help deliver bold and positive change for HD6 and Colorado.

 

EPPS: Good governance requires eliminating corruption, minimizing waste, increasing access and accountability, and maximizing transparency. None of these needs be partisan issue; they are all areas where bipartisanship should be the norm.

 

I’ve passed important bipartisan bills (not just administrative or statutory revision bills). In 2023 two of my deeply stakeholded priority bills had R co-prime sponsors: HB23-1182, HB23-1024.

 

But bipartisanship for bipartisanship’s sake, is not necessarily a win for Colorado; it’s often quite the opposite. Examples abound where bipartisanship blocks progressive policy in Colorado.

 

Bipartisan objection coincided with vetoes of key labor protections. Forty-plus years of bipartisan violations of Open Meetings Laws helped steadily erode public access to meetings that constitutionally and statutorily should have been open. Bipartisan doubling down on failed carceral policies decreases community safety while misdirecting crucial resources away from investments proven to enhance and increase safety, and instead. Bipartisan alignment with oil and gas industry over the health of Coloradans harms us all.

 

Yes, I find common grounds with Republicans, just as I find common ground with corporate Dems who are too often indistinguishable from corporate Republicans on certain issues. Far more important than bipartisanship for its own sake is the substance of the issue. We may compromise on strategy, but never on values.

 

Are there any votes the incumbent has taken in the Legislature you disagree with? What are they and why would you have voted differently?

 

CAMACHO: There are several instances where I would have voted differently from the incumbent. One instance that stands out is voting for the Democratic budget at every opportunity. This year’s budget made significant investments in education, affordable housing, reducing healthcare costs, workforce development, and many other issues that showcase democratic values. I would never have passed up an opportunity to vote to fund these important priorities for our state.

 

 

State Voting Info (provided by Colorado Newsline)

Find general voting and election information here.

Find Republican state House candidate responses here.

Find state Senate candidate responses here.

 

Sara Wilson is a Reporter with Colorado Newsline. This

article is republished from Colorado Newsline under a Creative Commons license. Colorado Newsline is part of States Newsroom, the nation’s largest state-focused nonprofit news organization.