The Unaffiliated | Challengers take big fundraising leads in Colorado House primaries.

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The Colorado House of Representatives convenes on Jan. 10, the first day of Colorado’s 2024 legislative session. (Olivia Sun, The Colorado Sun via Report for America)]

Democratic state Reps. Elisabeth Epps and Tim Hernández, both of Denver, were dramatically outraised by their primary challengers from October through December, according to campaign finance reports filed Tuesday with the Colorado Secretary of State’s Office.

Denver attorney Sean Camacho reported raising nearly $59,000, compared with the roughly $8,200 raised by Epps in House District 6. Camacho had nearly $62,000 in cash in his campaign account at the end of the year, compared with Epps’ $35,000.

Retired immigration judge Cecelia Espenoza raised more than $50,000 compared with nearly $9,000 raised by Hernández in House District 4. A vacancy committee selected Hernández over Espenoza for the northwest Denver seat last summer.

Espenoza counted numerous lobbyists and some former state lawmakers among her donors. She had $52,000 in cash in her campaign’s account at the end of 2023, compared with the $18,000 Hernández had.

Among those who donated to Camacho:

Katie March, whom Epps defeated in the 2022 Democratic primary in House District 6. March is a former aide to then-House Speaker Alec Garnett. House Majority Leader Monica Duran, D-Wheat Ridge, and state Reps. David Ortiz, D-Littleton, Meg Froelich, D-Englewood. The leadership funds for Senate President Steve Fenberg and Rep. Judy Amabile, both Boulder Democrats, as well as the leadership funds for state Reps. Shannon Bird, D-Westminster; Cathy Kipp, D-Fort Collins; Karen McCormick, D-Longmont; and Lindsey Daugherty, D-Arvada. Camacho also received donations from the leadership. funds for Sens. Chris Hansen, D-Denver, and Jeff Bridges, D-Greenwood Village. Nearly 40 lobbyists and consultants. Lindsay Gilchrist, a Democrat running to represent House District 8 in Denver. She’s the top fundraiser in that race to replace term-limited Rep. Leslie Herod.

State Reps. Elizabeth Valesco, D-Glenwood Springs, and Junie Joseph, D-Boulder, donated to Epps.

Hernández received contributions from Epps and her leadership fund, as well as from Duran and Ortiz. He also received money from Senate Majority Leader Robert Rodriguez, D-Denver, and Sen. Nick Hinrichsen, D-Pueblo, as well as the leadership funds of state Reps. Manny Rutinel, D-Commerce City, and Javier Mabrey, D-Denver.

  MORE:   Camacho also racked up four more Democratic legislative endorsements this week.

Hinrichsen and Reps. Andrew Boesenecker and Meghan Lukens are backing Camacho, as is former Rep. Said Sharbini.

Boesenecker briefly worked with Epps last year on a bill that would have banned the sale of many semi-automatic guns, defined as assault weapons, while Sharbini resigned from the legislature at the end of last month, in part because of vitriol at the Capitol.

  ADDENDUM:   In the Democratic primary in Senate District 19, state Rep. Lindsey Daugherty of Arvada raised $24,000 from October through December and had nearly $100,000 in her campaign’s account at the end of the year.

Westminster City Councilman Obi Ezeadi raised $20,000 during the reporting period and had about $85,000 to spend at the end of the year. He has donated nearly $38,000 to his campaign.

In the crowded Democratic primary in House District 8, Gilchrist, a public policy consultant, raised $15,500 during the reporting period and ended the year with nearly $50,000 in cash on hand. Veteran and gun control activist Victor Bencomo raised about $8,000 and had about $13,000.

Sharron Pettiford, who is a Denver NAACP officer, raised about $1,500 and had less than $650 in her campaign’s account. Kwon Atlas, once an aide to then-Denver Mayor Michael Hancock, raised about $850 and had roughly the same in the bank heading into 2024.

Former Denver Public Schools board member Auon’tai Anderson, who exited the race earlier this month, reported raising no money from October through December. He said his decision to drop out of the race was so that he could ensure a Black candidate would win in the district and to focus on a new nonprofit he is founding.

$1.4 million

The money raised from October through December by Coloradans for Protecting Reproductive Freedom, an issue committee trying to place a measure on the November 2024 ballot that would guarantee abortion access in the Colorado Constitution.

The committee had nearly $800,000 in cash at the end of the year.

Top donors for the group included Oklahoma philanthropist Lynn Schusterman at $500,000; Cobalt Foundation, an abortion rights group, at $345,000; former oil and gas executive and Democratic donor Merle Chambers at $200,000; and the Rose Community Foundation at $150,000.

Coloradans for Protecting Reproductive Freedom paid a Washington, D.C., signature-gathering firm $544,000 during the campaign finance reporting period. The firm began collecting signatures for the measure, Initiative 89, last week, according to Laura Chapin, a spokeswoman for Cobalt. Chapin said proponents had been relying on volunteers to gather signatures up until the firm started its work.

Proponents of the measure must collect 125,000 voter signatures, including from 2% of voters in each of the state’s state Senate districts, by April 26 to get the question on the November ballot.

JBC scrambling to spend $1.5B in leftover ARPA money

Colorado state budget writers are in a race against the clock to spend $1.5 billion in leftover federal pandemic aid before the end of 2024 thanks to new guidance from the U.S. Treasury Department.

The deadline is two full years sooner than state lawmakers and Polis administration officials had expected. That has set off a mad scramble to rewrite the budget for the current fiscal year, which ends June 30, to allow the state to spend federal American Rescue Plan Act dollars faster than lawmakers intended.

The time crunch arose from shifting guidance from federal officials on how they define “obligated,” a term that doesn’t exist in state law.

Federal law has long required ARPA recipients to “obligate” all of their funding by the end of 2024, but the final spending deadline is not until the end of 2026. That led state officials to assume they could spend their $3.8 billion allocation through 2025 and 2026, as long as they had passed legislation committing to do so by this year.

“The state had been operating under the understanding that it would have some ability to define that term itself,” Amanda Bickel, a Joint Budget Committee staff analyst, told lawmakers in a hearing this week. “Now that is absolutely not the case. Legislative staff and the executive staff all agree that what we need to do is expend this money as fast as possible.”

Under the new federal guidance, the state is generally prohibited from spending ARPA money beyond the 2024 deadline, with limited exceptions.

That’s left the Polis administration and lawmakers looking to swap out the funding sources for at least 36 programs in order to get the money out the door before the federal government requires Colorado to give it back.

Here’s how the funding swap would work: State agencies would spend the pandemic aid money on qualifying government services, a broad category that includes employee salaries. The general fund money saved would be redirected to the programs the state had planned to use the ARPA money for, such as behavioral health care, teacher stipends and wildfire prevention projects.

But the clock’s ticking. The JBC on Wednesday directed its staff to present the funding swap plan by mid-February. It would then need the full legislature’s approval. Meanwhile, the JBC must submit its 2024-25 budget proposal to the legislature by mid-March.

The stakes are high. Lawmakers don’t want to risk losing federal money — the leftover dollars represent 40% of the state’s entire ARPA allocation. So if the new spending plan doesn’t work as intended, there could be pressure to call a special session later this year.

“The more thoughtful the General Assembly can be in tackling this issue in a bill, the less likely a special session will be required in fall 2024 to fix ARPA-related problems,” Bickel wrote in a briefing document.

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  ELECTION 2024:   Assistant House Minority Leader Rose Pugliese filed Tuesday afternoon with the Federal Election Commission to run in Colorado’s 5th Congressional District, but she’s not actually running. Pugliese, the No. 2 Republican in the state House, was considering a bid to replace U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn, R-Colorado Springs, and as part of that process raised more than $5,000, which is the threshold at which candidates must file with the FEC. Pugliese is refunding her donors — including their transaction fees.

  COLORADO HOUSE:   Former Thornton City Councilwoman Julia Marvin, a Democrat, will fill the state House District 31 vacancy created by the resignation of former state Rep. Said Sharbini last month. Marvin, who ran unsuccessfully to be Thornton’s mayor last year, defeated another former Thornton city councilwoman, Jacque Phillips, in a 9-7 vote.

  ELECTIONS:   The state’s Title Board continues meeting today to consider 18 proposed ballot measures supported by Kent Thiry, the wealthy former CEO of the Denver-based dialysis giant DaVita, that would overhaul the state’s election system. On Wednesday, the board set the title for Initiative 117, which would make Colorado’s primaries open, with candidates from all parties running against each other. The top four vote-getters would advance to a ranked-choice general election. The measure would also require that candidates gather petition signatures to make the ballot, eliminating the caucus and assembly route. Finally, it would do away with legislative vacancy committees and replace them with special elections. The panel earlier rejected three similar proposals after finding that they violated the state’s single subject law. See a chart of the measures and what each would do here.

  COURTS:   The National Association of Gun Rights and Rocky Mountain Gun Owners have asked a federal judge to issue a preliminary injunction blocking enforcement of Colorado’s law aimed at outlawing unserialized, often homemade, firearms, known as ghost guns. The groups sued Gov. Jared Polis seeking to invalidate the law at the start of the month, when the statute went into effect.

  COMMON SENSE INSTITUTE:   The Colorado-based Common Sense Institute is expanding to Iowa and Oregon, the conservative research nonprofit announced Thursday. The group expanded to Arizona in 2022.

  STORY:   Top Republican in Colorado House, who is also running for Congress, was arrested in 2022 on DUI charge

  STORY:   Colorado pledges to play nice as Nebraska plows ahead on $628M canal at the state line

  STORY:   Colorado doubles penalties for leaking pipelines, but regulators left open a reporting loophole

  STORY:   Rural Colorado awarded $113.5 million to build better broadband, but most applicants left empty-handed

  STORY:   Colorado school enrollment this year is at its lowest level in a decade. What does that mean for K-12 education?

  STORY:   Douglas County sues to overturn state board’s decision to block property tax relief plan

  STORY:   Colorado offered $1.45 billion in incentives to attract new business. About 5% was claimed.

  STORY:   “We don’t want to be activists”: The farmers pushing for stronger pipeline safety rules

  THE DENVER POST:   Denver reinstates limit on shelter stays for migrant families as mayor seeks federal help

  9NEWS:   More access to veterinary care could be on November ballot

  CBS4:   Colorado father urges lawmakers to limit sale of sodium nitrite, food preservative being used in suicides

The Colorado GOP’s Trump endorsements nearly went a big step further

President Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally on Feb. 20, 2020, in Colorado Springs. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

The Colorado GOP central committee’s decision over the weekend to endorse Donald Trump in the Republican presidential primary raised a lot of eyebrows, but the party nearly went a step further.

The resolution to endorse Trump initially included a call for other Republican presidential candidates running this year to drop out of the race. The provision was part of the resolution when members of the central committee were asked to approve a special meeting to consider the endorsement (which required 25% support to pass) but was taken out before the Sunday gathering on Zoom during which the vote was electronically taken.

Why it matters: The Trump endorsement is controversial because of how it appears to conflict with the party’s rules barring it from taking sides in primaries, but also because of the Colorado GOP’s requirement that Republican presidential primary candidates pay up to $40,000 to be on the state’s March 5 ballot.

Trump’s campaign paid that amount, as did the campaigns of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy, who has since dropped out of the race and endorsed Trump.

We know that U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson and Dallas pastor Ryan Binkley paid the Colorado GOP for ballot access, too, because they will be on Colorado’s Republican presidential primary ballot. It’s unclear if they paid the full $40,000, though, or paid $20,000 and agreed to visit the state or hold a fundraiser for the party, because their fees haven’t yet been reported in campaign finance filings. (Hutchinson dropped out of the race after securing a spot on Colorado’s ballot.)

If the central committee had asked Republican presidential primary candidates to exit the race after they paid those big fees, it would have been a much bigger controversy — which may be why the provision was dropped before the vote was taken.

We reached out to the Haley and DeSantis campaigns for comment on the Trump endorsement and haven’t heard back.

  COLORADO POLITICS:   Colorado Republican Party endorses Donald Trump ahead of state’s 2024 presidential primary

  MORE:   Ramaswamy and Hutchinson haven’t formally withdrawn from the presidential primary in Colorado. Until they do, any votes cast for them will be counted as if they were still in the race.

If and when they formally withdraw, any votes cast for them would be invalidated.

  ADDENDUM:   Several Republican congressional candidates have filed to gather petition signatures to get on the June 25 primary ballot:

State Reps. Richard Holtorf and Mike Lynch, along with Trent Leisy and Peter Yu in the 4th Congressional District Curtis McCrackin and Kimberly Swearingen in the 3rd Congressional District Jeff Crank and state Sen. Bob Gardner in the 5th Congressional District State Rep. Gabe Evans in the 8th Congressional District

Candidates must turn in petitions with 1,500 signatures from voters in their party, or a number of signatures amounting to 10% of votes cast in the 2022 primary in their respective districts, whichever is less, by March 19 to make the June ballot. Candidates may also simultaneously try to make the ballot through the caucus and assembly process, but they must get the support of 10% of delegates — in addition to their signatures — to make the ballot. If candidates collect enough signatures but get the support of less than 10% of delegates, then they are disqualified.

Evans and Holtorf, for instance, said they will also go the caucus and assembly route.

Candidates can also try to make the ballot without collecting voter signatures by getting 30% of delegate support in the caucus and assembly process, though that route can be highly unpredictable and risky.

  STORY:   A lot of people want to run for office in Colorado this year. Here’s what it takes to actually get on the ballot.

  ADDENDUM NO. 2:   The Colorado GOP’s lawsuit seeking to block unaffiliated voters from participating in Republicans’ 2024 primaries will go before a federal judge Tuesday and Wednesday for a preliminary injunction hearing.

The party, represented by indicted Trump attorney John Eastman, is attempting to invalidate Proposition 108, the 2016 ballot measure approved by voters letting unaffiliated voters cast ballots in partisan primaries.

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