Colorado’s school board and municipal races are nominally non-partisan. Parties do not nominate candidates, and candidates on the ballot are not identified by party or party registration. While Democrats have been able to launder their involvement through third-party organizations, the Republican Party has generally stayed out of them altogether, leading to a shrinking bench and a loss of clout at the municipal level.
Until this year.
In the recent elections, for the first time in memory, the state party made recommendations in a large number of municipal races. While some didn’t work out, others served notice that the party will be in this game for the long haul, and in other races the party endorsement may well have made the difference in how some cities will be run for the next couple of years.
Perhaps the best-known elections were for the Aurora City Council, a body that Republicans had led for a long time, but where they had slipped in recent years. The GOP endorsed in three district races, winning one, and both of their choices for the at-large seats were elected. As a result, the city council switched from Democratic to Republican control.
Similarly in Centennial, the party split the two contested city council races it played in, with Robyn Carnes taking Ward 1, but Neal Davidson losing by a mere 170 votes out of 6,900 cast. Both their selection for mayor, Stephanie Piko, and Ward 3, Mike Sutherland, were running unopposed.
In 2012, Unaffiliated voters surpassed Republicans in Larimer County. Democrats did the same this year. And in 2020, Joe Biden beat Donald Trump there by 35,000 votes, where Republican Cory Gardner had won the county as recently as 2014.
This year, the party endorsed candidates in three of the Loveland city council races and the mayor’s race, and it showed. Patrick McFall unseated incumbent Rob Molloy in Ward 1, Steve Olson was re-elected in Ward two, and Jon “Landslide” Mallo took the Ward 4 seat by 5 votes out of 6,650 cast. When Dana Foley, a Republican endorsed by the county party, unseated Kathi Wright by 200 votes in Ward 2, the balance of power shifted on the council. Additionally, Mayor Pro Tem Don Overcash came within 300 votes of defeating incumbent mayor Jacki Marsh.
Broomfield and Greenwood Village proved to be mirror-images of each other. In Broomfield, the Republican-endorsed slate was swept clean. In Greenwood Village, Democrat State Representative Meg Froelich contributed $13,500 and her brother Derek Kruizenga of Holland, Michigan gave $8,000 to Future Forward Colorado, accounting for $21,500 of the $24,375 the committee raised. Despite the literature drop by the organization, all eight of the Republican-endorsed candidates won re-election to the city council.
The party also saw wins in Douglas, Adams, Jefferson, and Pueblo counties. While Castle Pines City Councilman Roger Hudson was easily re-elected, sitting city council member Tracy Engerman appears to have unseated incumber mayor Tera Radloff by 26 votes in a three-way race, where 105 votes separated first and third place. In Pueblo, two of the five endorsed city council candidates won their races.
This wasn’t the first time Radloff was involved in a non-partisan race with partisan overtones. In 2009, she and her husband, Jon Radloff, protested Jeffrey Huff’s use of the Republican elephant on his campaign materials, although the party hadn’t endorsed Huff’s candidacy. The county clerk & recorder held that there was nothing illegal about Huff’s tactics. Huff would go on to serve two terms, losing his 2017 bid for a third term to Mrs. Radloff.
In Jefferson County, John Marriott won an Arvada City Council seat, two of the three endorsed Westminster City Council candidates won, as well. And both Westminster Mayor-Elect Nancy McNally and Lakewood City Councilman-Elect Mary Janssen can probably thank party support for their wins. McNally unseated incumbent Mayor Anita Seitz by under 200 votes of 11,400 cast, and Janssen appears to have picked up the second Ward 5 Council seat by 7 votes, pending a likely recount. Janssen came out just ahead of a candidate endorsed by the socialist Working Families Party, no less.
Some of these wins across the state no doubt came because the party stole the march on complacent Democrats. That’s almost certainly what happened in the Loveland City Council races. In some extremely close races, the party’s endorsement gave crucial information to voters and helped push its candidates across the line. In yet other races, the party’s endorsement did no good whatsoever – candidates, including slates, in Broomfield, Longmont, and Littleton fared poorly or were swept outright.
Nevertheless, with Meg Froelich trying to buy the Greenwood City Council, and with the Republicans’ success in these off-year elections, expect party participation only to increase in these races over time.
Joshua Sharf is a Denver resident and a former vice chair of the Denver County GOP. He is a regular contributor to Complete Colorado.
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