Channel 9 news anchor Kyle Clark moderates the first primary debate, virtually, June 9, 2020.

These are times like no other in Colorado, and the race for Colorado’s seat in the U.S. Senate reflects just that.

Among angst created by the pandemic, protests over racism and police brutality, economic calamity and never ending controversies spinning out of the Trump White House, this is different, pundits, voters and candidates themselves say.

Leading what is normally a sleepy general election primary ballot is the race for Senate.

Former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, sporting national Democratic backing, is running against former Colorado state House Speaker Andrew Romanoff, who touts a top-line spot on the ballot created by strong party faithful support so far.

The winner runs against incumbent Republican Sen. Cory Gardner, hoping for a first term among polling that shows he’s among the most vulnerable Senate Republicans facing re-election this fall.

The wild card is Colorado’s changed election law that allows unaffiliated voters to join either Democrats or Republicans in choosing primary candidates. This will be the first election the new rules apply to a statewide office.

But dominating what was expected to be the show-of-shows here in Colorado is a pandemic that has changed all the rules.

There were awkward introductions accompanied by painfully evident dodged handshakes at campaign events across the state at the beginning of March.

Those encounters have been replaced by Zoom meetings, phone banking and virtual town halls, a complete 180-degree turn in campaign strategy upended by the COVID-19 pandemic in a matter of weeks.

Instead of rubbing elbows, supporters were asking each other “Should we just bump elbows?” at a March 9 campaign event where former Arizona Congresswoman Gabby Giffords endorsed former Gov. John Hickenlooper for U.S. Senate. Hand sanitizer was abundant at the Aurora event, as was anxiety when attendees were asked to lock arms with the person next to them to show unity in the fight for stricter gun policies.

The effort to contain the virus has made lots of aspects of political life difficult, and traditional campaigning has been no exception. Candidates are now embracing the new normal, finding ways to still make meaningful connections with voters and use their platform to host health care experts who can speak to the current pandemic.

In this Aug. 10, 2019 file photo, then Democratic presidential candidate former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper speaks at the Presidential Gun Sense Forum in Des Moines, Iowa. Now a candidate for the U.S. Senate, Hickenlooper defended his record Friday, June 5, 2020 at a state ethics hearing about travel on private jets he took as Colorado governor, one day after the ethics panel found him in contempt for failing to appear. Hickenlooper rejected claims he violated Colorado law by accepting trips and insisted they either involved personal business or happened while he was touting Colorado’s economy to potential investors during his 2011-2019 term. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall, File)

“To be isolated and in your home is the opposite of campaigning,” Hickenlooper said. “It’s meeting people and building connections. Now you have to do that but from a virtual way, telephones or texting.”

The former Colorado governor, Denver mayor and presidential hopeful is no stranger to campaigning, but this time around is not like the others.

“It’s certainly different than anything I’ve ever experienced,” he said in March.

He’s spending a lot of time on the phone. A lot of candidates are.

If Democrats were to have any hope of shaping the next Senate, it will come from upsetting Republicans like Sen. Cory Gardner.

Gardner, a young and upbeat senator who didn’t endorse Trump’s 2016 election, represents Democratic-trending Colorado. He won in 2014 by a slim margin. But he’s walked the party line during Trump’s tenure and was loyal to the president during the impeachment trial.

It’s a political calculation that values loyalty to Trump and his base over any bipartisan appeal. And it’s one measure of the grip Trump has over the party.

“If (Gardner) does anything that turns off the Trump base in Colorado, that’s more dangerous than anything from the other side,” Dick Wadhams, a veteran GOP strategist in the state, said during the Trump impeachment trial.

FILE -This July 21, 2010 file photo shows Andrew Romanoff speaking at a news conference in Denver as a candidate for Aurora’s 6th Congressional District, a race he lost to then incumbent Mike Coffman. SENTINEL FILE PHOTO

Democrats need to net four seats to take back the Senate — or three seats plus win the White House to have a tie-breaking vice president.

By some polls, Gardner is the most endangered Republican on the target list. He won by less than 2% of the vote in 2014, elected largely on the midterm backlash to President Barack Obama. In one ad, Gardner pledged that “when my party is wrong, I’ll say it.”

Gardner was the only Colorado Republican to win a top-of-the-ticket race in the past 15 years, as an influx of white, college-educated transplants has shifted the state’s politics to the left. In 2016, Trump lost Colorado by 5 percentage points, and in 2018, Democrats won every single statewide race.

Gardner is hoping he can squeeze every vote out of Colorado’s diminishing share of Republican voters. He also wants to appeal to the state’s long tradition of pragmatic centrists with Colorado-specific efforts like allowing marijuana businesses to access the banking system, expanding Rocky Mountain National Park and moving Bureau of Land Management headquarters to western Colorado. His strategists think that combination could secure him reelection.

But analysts note it’s a difficult path in a time when Trump dominates all political conversations.

FILE – In this March 13, 2019 file photo, reporters pose questions to Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., on his way to a vote at the Capitol in Washington. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

“There’s a lot of factors that are going to make things very difficult for Cory,” said Floyd Ciruli, a nonpartisan pollster based in Denver. Gardner’s support of Trump during impeachment was just one factor.

Gardner’s alignment with the president has been gradual. The senator rescinded his endorsement of Trump in October 2016 after Trump was caught on tape bragging about sexually assaulting women. But, after Trump’s election, Gardner’s criticism of the president has been muted.

He chastised Trump after the president appeared to blame “both sides” for violence at a white supremacist march in Charlottesville, Virginia. But Gardner has been careful not to be personally critical of the president on any number of issues, from demands that Democratic congresswomen “go back” to their home countries to complaints that immigrants come from Africa rather than Norway.

Just this week, Gardner was silent on Trump’s comments that an elderly man shoved to the ground by police during a New Jersey Black Lives Matter protest was a left-wing conspiracy.

Meanwhile, Gardner has backed many of the president’s priorities, including votes for Trump’s health care proposal, tax plans and conservative judges. He also ran the National Republican Senatorial Committee in 2018 and helped engineer a cling-to-the-president midterm strategy that expanded the GOP majority even as they lost control of the House.

“At this point he’s shown his allegiance is to Trump and not to the voters of Colorado,” Craig Hughes, a Democratic strategist in the state, said of Gardner. “Once you’ve gone this far with Trump, a break probably gets you less than it costs you.”

Gardner’s strategy contrasts with that of another Colorado Republican, former Rep. Mike Coffman. Coffman continued to criticize Trump through his 2018 reelection bid for Aurora’s Congressional seat. Coffman lost by double digits. Coffman is now mayor of Aurora.

Josh Penry, a Republican strategist who advised Coffman and dislikes Trump, said Gardner’s reluctance to criticize the president makes sense. If Gardner ever turned on the president, Democrats would remain critical. “It’d be ‘thoughts and prayers’ and ‘it’s just words,’” he said, citing two criticisms thrown at Coffman during the last election.

“You can never do enough because this isn’t about Trump,” Penry said. “It’s that they want to defeat Cory Gardner.”

— Sentinel and AP staffers

Then Democratic presidential candidate former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper speaks at the Presidential Gun Sense Forum, Saturday, Aug. 10, 2019, in Des Moines, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

Democrats step in

Controversy over Gardner’s future drew a crowd of Democratic contenders last year, which faded away after Hickenlooper dropped his presidential bid and began a race for the Senate.

He’s found himself the center of his own controversy lately.

Hickenlooper violated Colorado ethics law as governor by accepting a private jet flight to an official event and by receiving benefits he didn’t pay for at a meeting of government, business and financial leaders in Italy, the state’s ethics commission ruled last week.

The Colorado Independent Ethics Commission dismissed four other complaints against Hickenlooper that were filed by a conservative group led by a former Republican Colorado House speaker. It scheduled a June 12 hearing to discuss possible fines for the violations as well as for a contempt order it issued when Hickenlooper ignored a subpoena to appear at its hearing on Thursday.

Hickenlooper, who has the backing of national Democrats, has long denied the charges as politically motivated. But his absence Thursday drew fire from his Democratic primary opponent, former House Speaker Andrew Romanoff.

This week, Romanoff said the ethics hearing debacle has given Republicans ammunition to sidetrack Hickenlooper’s campaign, making him a liability.

During a 9News debate Tuesday, he called for Hickenlooper to step down from the race.

Hickenlooper brushed the comments aside, saying his reputation with Colorado voters is solid.

“We fully expect the special interests who’ve exploited this process to continue to mislead Coloradans with negative attacks because they know John Hickenlooper will be an independent voice in the U.S. Senate,” Hickenlooper campaign spokeswoman Melissa Miller said in a statement Friday.

It’s clear, however, the issue won’t go away quickly, and probably not at all. “He is guilty of shrugging off the state’s ethics rules and violating the trust taxpayers had placed in him as governor,” said Joanna Rodriguez, spokeswoman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee, which plans to spend millions of dollars to defend Gardner’s seat.

Romanoff issued a statement saying Republicans’ “outrage is hard to stomach.”

“But it wasn’t the GOP that found Mr. Hickenlooper in contempt or in violation of the state Constitution,” Romanoff said. “The commission’s message is clear and Coloradans agree: No one is above the law.”

Hickenlooper participated in the remote hearing after seeking an in-person hearing he said would make it easier to confront his accusers. The Public Trust Institute, the conservative group that brought the complaint, didn’t oppose that request. Commissioners ultimately set this week’s remote hearing, noting the format adopted because of the coronavirus pandemic worked for civil cases not requiring juries in Colorado courts.

Hickenlooper repeatedly insisted the trips either involved personal business or happened while he was promoting Colorado’s economy to potential investors during his 2011-2019 term as governor.

Colorado law at the time prohibited gifts worth more than $59 to elected officials with limited exceptions. That figure is now $65.

By a 4-1 vote, the quasi-judicial commission found that Hickenlooper violated ethics law by accepting transport, meals, tours and other perks during a 2018 conference in Turin, Italy, sponsored by Fiat Chrysler. Hickenlooper testified that he believed a $1,500 hotel bill he paid there covered all expenses.

Institute attorney Suzanne Staiert asked Hickenlooper whether he felt that the $1,500 he paid personally covered hotel costs, shuttles, tours of cultural attractions, dinners and cocktail hours at the event. “To my knowledge I felt I paid the full cost,” Hickenlooper replied, adding he was invited to attend not as governor but in a private capacity.

Commissioners voted 5-0 to find Hickenlooper violated the law by accepting a trip to Connecticut on a jet owned by Republican billionaire Larry Mizel’s company, MDC Holdings, to preside at the commissioning of the USS Colorado, a U.S. Navy submarine. MDC Holdings is a large developer in Colorado. They cited several instances in which Hickenlooper attended VIP events hosted by MDC Holdings.

“What was given to the governor in this case was far beyond what was necessary for the governor to represent the state at this event,” Commissioner William Leone said.

Earlier Friday, Staiert asked Hickenlooper how it would look to the public to fly on an MDC Holdings jet to the USS Colorado commissioning and not pay for it.

“What I was really focused on is that we could present a unified front before various high ranking officials in the U.S. military,” he replied, adding later: “Mr. Mizel and I don’t agree politically, but he has been a supporter of our military as long as I’ve known him. … In that instance our interests aligned.”

Hickenlooper said he either was not on state business, had offered to pay personally for the travel or accepted the travel to save time for pressing state business, among other reasons. He said he and his top staff reviewed each trip for possible ethics violations.

The ex-governor acknowledged that on several occasions he didn’t seek an opinion from the ethics commission on individual gifts. He also acknowledged he didn’t get formal training on Colorado ethics law.

That controversy aside, Hickenlooper and Romanoff are vying now for voters who have consistently moved philosophically left on the political spectrum, both pitching hard on popular liberal issues.

— Sentinel and AP staffers

Hickenlooper vs Romanoff

Andrew Romanoff. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski, File)

Andrew Romanoff

At 21 years old, Andrew Romanoff set off to Birmingham, Alabama to work with the Southern Poverty Law Center. That job, where he researched the Ku Klux Klan, set the stage for a life of advocating for social justice causes, progressive policies and seeking elected office.

The former state Capitol’s “Golden Boy” boasts serious college creds, posting undergrad and graduate degrees from Yale, Princeton and eventually a law degree from the University of Denver.

Romanoff was elected to the Colorado State House in 2000, eventually becoming the youngest House speaker in state history. Prior to his election, Romanoff, now 53, worked as a senior policy advisor to former Gov. Roy Romer.

Romanoff’s three elections in state politics led many to believe he’d throw his name into the ring for governor in 2006, but he opted out of that race. In 2010, Romanoff challenged Sen. Michael Bennet in a primary for U.S. Senate, but lost. Four years later Romanoff tried his hand at federal-level politics again, this time against former Rep. Mike Coffman in Colorado’s Sixth Congressional District, which includes Aurora. Despite a redrawn district that came with more Democratic support, Romanoff, seen as the ideal candidate to take on conservative Coffman, was defeated by eight points.

Most recently, Romanoff advocated for mental health resources and policy as the director of Mental Health Colorado. He landed in that position after his cousin killed herself, an experience Romanoff has been open about, in 2014.

WEBSITE: Andrew Romanoff For Senate

Gabby Giffords and John Hickenlooper held a joint town hall, March 9, 2020, at the Heritage Christian Center. Giffords took this opportunity to endorse John Hickenlooper for US Senate.
Photo by Philip B. Poston/Sentinel Colorado

John Hickenlooper

John Wright Hickenlooper Jr., the 68-year-old former governor of Colorado and mayor of Denver, has been a pervasive face in Colorado politics for nearly two decades. Often presented as a banjo-playing, beer-swilling eccentric, the moderate democrat has for years pinned his political reputation to purple policies.

As governor, Hickenlooper’s biggest and most controversial moments were often tied to Aurora-based tragedies. The year after the Aurora theater shooting in 2012, he signed bellwether legislation that curbed gun sales in the state with the family members of massacre victims at his side. Later in his tenure, he halted the execution of Nathan Dunlap, who was convicted of murdering four people at an Aurora Chuck-E-Cheese in 1993. Hickenlooper punted the decision to commute the sentences of Dunlap and a pair of other Aurora murders, Robert Ray and Sir Mario Owens, to current Gov. Jared Polis, who granted the former Overland High School students life sentences in lieu of death earlier this year.

Following a failed presidential bid last year, national democratic leaders eventually goaded Hickenlooper into challenging incumbent Republican Sen. Cory Gardner for his seat. He announced his bid to become Colorado’s next U.S. senator one week after ceasing his campaign for president in August 2019.

WEBSITE: John Hickenlooper For Senate

6 defining issues

This July 2012 evidence photo, which the Arapahoe County District Attorney’s Office released in response to open-records requests, shows the Colorado movie theater with bullet holes following the July 20, attack by James Holmes in Aurora, Colo. In August 2015, Holmes was sentenced to life in prison because jurors could not agree that he deserved the death penalty. (Arapahoe County District Attorney’s Office via AP)

Gun Control

On gun control, the center of the Hickenlooper-Romanoff Venn diagram is large.

Both candidates condemn the persistent stagnation in Washington related to firearm control efforts and both vow to be reliable, strong-arm votes against the National Rifle Association. Both candidates have received “F” grades from the NRA Political Victory Fund at various points in their political careers.

The two candidates have both celebrated Colorado’s new extreme risk protection order law, which allows law enforcement officials to strip weapons from people who a judge deems to be a threat to themselves or others. Multiple versions of federal legislation calling for similar proposals have been introduced in both chambers of congress in recent years, but all efforts have stalled.

In an interview with Sentinel Colorado, Romanoff fought back tears while talking about the efficacy of the state version of extreme risk protection laws, citing his own experience with gun violence in 2015. That’s when his cousin died by suicide using a gun at a family holiday gathering.

“This issue is pretty near and dear to me and I want somebody in this job, whether it’s me or somebody else, who is going to fight the NRA, not surrender,” he said.

After a failed bid to replace then U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman in the 6th Congressional District in 2014, Romanoff headed Mental Health Colorado and actively lobbied for local versions of so-called red flag laws.

Hickenlooper’s monumental gun policies were also largely spurred by tragedy. Less than a year after the Aurora theater shooting that left 12 people dead and some 70 injured, he signed a novel and heavily contested gun control package that limited the sale of high-capacity magazines and made background checks mandatory for the private and online sale of firearms. Multiple family members of theater shooting victims stood by his side as he signed the measures seven years ago. However, it took several months for Hickenlooper to warm to the idea of signing the legislation, and he later told a group of county sheriff’s that he only added his signature to the measures because a staffer had preemptively promised he would.

Still, the pair of candidates both support expanding those efforts at the national level, as well as ending so-called legal immunity for gun purveyors. That refers to the 2005 federal legislation that largely protects gun sellers from lawsuits.

Each candidate has received endorsements from various gun control groups, including a nod from Moms Demand Action for Romanoff and Hickenlooper’s public support from activist and former Arizona Rep. Gabby Giffords’ national advocacy organization.

— QUINCY SNOWDON, Staff Writer

A temporarily closed sign hangs to the entrance of a storefront in Aurora, March 24, 2020. Photo by Philip B. Poston/Sentinel Colorado

Recovering from COVID-19 pandemic

For many policy makers and politicians alike the COVID-19 pandemic in the U.S. has exacerbated the need for fixes or reform on issues like healthcare, technology infrastructure and the economic disparity.

The new coronavirus has been front and center during the primary campaign, and Hickenlooper and Romanoff have taken their town halls, meet and greets and messaging nearly all online because of social distancing protocols that have prevented more than 10 people from gathering at a time.

Both agree it has presented challenges that will require change.

“Going back to normal isn’t good enough. Business wasn’t working, especially when we saw a wider gap between rich and poor than at any point since the Great Depression…we need bold, structural reform,” Romanoff said during a virtual town hall in May. “I describe this as a New Deal moment for America. I’d rather make it a green New Deal so we can combat the climate crisis and put millions of Americans back to work.”

Romanoff said his preferred method for health insurance, Medicare for All, has surged in support amid the pandemic. About 55% of voters favor the model right now, according to an early April poll from Morning Consult and Politico.

“Though Democrats drove the movement in the most recent poll, they didn’t do so alone: For the first time since June 2019, a majority of independents are in favor of Medicare for All (52 percent), sparking an 8-point increase in net support among this demographic since February,” the poll said, adding that “millions of Americans are bracing for potentially untenable health care costs and lapses in coverage, reviving questions about the viability of a health system that relies on binding insurance to employment.”

Meanwhile Hickenlooper has been amplifying support for the Affordable Care Act, which Republicans are now challenging at the Supreme Court, highlighting that without it thousands of American would be worse off during the pandemic.

Hickenlooper has also made telehealth a priority, particularly for rural areas of the state.

“Tele-health is one of the best tools that can help us meet this challenge, although we realize we need to do much more in addressing the funding issues and the critical shortage of health care providers in our rural communities as well,” he said.

— QUINCY SNOWDON, Staff Writer

Patients and a provider at a local STRIDE clinic. Sentinel File Photo

Health Care is a right, both candidates agree

Some of the widest policy gaps between the former governor and former state lawmaker can be found in the health care arena.

For years, Hickenlooper has cautiously encouraged policymakers to broaden health care offerings, including a public option he claims will breed lower costs and better care. He has repeatedly lauded the Affordable Care Act as a solid building block for health care expansion, while Romanoff has instead advocated for larger, more dramatic overhauls.

“A public option would be a version of something like Medicare or Medicare Advantage,” Hickenlooper said at a virtual candidate forum last month. “And if it’s done well and it’s successful, it’ll grow, it’ll attract more people, it’ll get larger, the costs will come down, the quality will increase, it’ll attract more people. You’ll end up with an evolution that allows people ultimately to get to a single-payer system.”

But in the same May forum, Romanoff scolded Hickenlooper’s more tempered approach.

“I support Medicare for all,” the former speaker for the Colorado House said. “I don’t believe this is a time for timidity, and telling folks they have to wait for a slow evolution is heartless.”

Hickenlooper received similar pushback during his presidential run for shirking away from overtly supporting Medicare for all.

“Most Democrats share this notion of universal coverage …” he told the Washington Post last year. “But I think we’ll get to better solutions faster by recognizing that big, massive government expansions are not going to be as successful.”

Both candidates have made statements suggesting they would support reducing the age at which Americans are eligible to receive Medicare, which currently sits at 65.

“We need health care for all and that means strengthening and improving Medicare and lowering the age of eligibility for that program to zero,” Romanoff said last month.

The former governor told the Washington Post during his presidential run that, “Everyone should be able to be able to buy into a public option regardless of age.”

— KARA MASON, Staff Writer

FILE – In this July 22, 2017 file photo, a polar bear climbs out of the water to walk on the ice in the Franklin Strait in the Canadian Arctic Archipelago. Climate scientists point to the Arctic as the place where climate change is most noticeable with dramatic sea ice loss, a melting Greenland ice sheet, receding glaciers and thawing permafrost. The Arctic has warmed twice as fast as the rest of the world since 1988. (AP Photo/David Goldman, File)

Climate changing and different approaches on handling it

Both Romanoff and Hickenlooper call climate change the defining issue of our time.

Temperatures have already risen in Colorado and other Western states at a faster clip than the rest of the U.S., according to the federal government’s most recent National Climate Assessment.

The cause? Human-induced climate change.

Less snowpack and dry forests fuel drought and calamitous fires regularly devastating Colorado forests and communities. The national assessment also expected billions of dollars stripped from the U.S. economy in the upheaval.

Scientists agree totally slashing greenhouse gas emissions – and doing so quickly – will be necessary to stave off the worst effects of climate change, although they say irreversible damage has already been done.

Colorado’s two Senate candidates have different ideas to get there.

Hickenlooper criticized the Green New Deal in a now-famous Washington Post editorial last year, but he has embraced parts of the sweeping plan. Romanoff supports all of the ambitious climate-recovery and jobs initiative, which has become a litmus test for environmentalists judging the gumption of political candidates.

The mobilization would have the U.S. leading a global movement to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. In the next ten years, government would lead an effort to create high-paying jobs in clean energy, begin culling fossil fuel consumption and revitalize electrical grids.

As such, local environmental groups have largely thrown their support behind Romanoff.

On his campaign website, Hickenlooper called for a 100 percent transition to a net-zero carbon economy by 2050. That’s 10 years after Romanoff’s target.

Hickenlooper also supports parts of the Green New Deal, including revamping the national transportation system and grid, while creating a new workforce centered on “green jobs.” He also supports a carbon dividend plan that would put a price on carbon and kick dollar rebates back to taxpayers.

But environmentalists have condemned Hickenlooper’s climate plans as piecemeal and said he can’t be trusted to bring in a new, green era.

Before Hickenlooper launched Wynkoop Brewing, he was a petroleum geologist. As Governor, he oversaw a dramatic uptick in oil and gas production. His administration repeatedly sued local communities over efforts to limit or ban fossil fuel extraction, siding with oil and gas trade groups. After Hickenlooper left office, lawmakers overhauled oil and gas rules and agencies to better protect health, safety and environmental interests from extraction.

In an interview with the Sentinel, Romanoff said the pandemic has made the Green New Deal even more timely.

He noted that Colorado’s fossil fuel industry is hemorrhaging high-paying energy jobs often touted by the state. Romanoff supports banning new oil and gas development. But he said his priority is facilitating a just transition to a new, clean energy job for workers in industries like this.

In particular, rural ranchers dealing in methane-heavy beef – a top export for Colorado – would also have government options to decarbonize without reaching financial ruin.

“There’s an alliance to be made there,” he said. But he acknowledged a transition would be “rocky.”

Romanoff won endorsements from environmental groups 350 Colorado and the Sunrise Movement. Hickenlooper does not list endorsements on his website.

— GRANT STRINGER, Staff Writer


The McClain family’s attorney, Mari Newman, speaks to the media during a press conference, Nov. 23, at the Aurora Municipal Center, after the APD released the body camera footage of Elijah McClain the previous evening. City officials are beginning a policy task force that could lead to independent review of such cases.
Photo by Philip B. Poston/Sentinel Colorado

Racial Justice and Policing

Protests following the death of George Floyd at the knee of Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin have rocked downtown Denver for days and revitalized a police accountability movement already animating Aurora politics.

Floyd’s death brought widespread attention to local victims of police violence – notably, Elijah McClain – that garnered little attention outside of a core group of protesters.

The tragedy also ignited calls for change that have whipped lawmakers at the local, state and federal level into embracing some police reforms.

Still, many protesters feel abandoned by lawmakers and are instead demanding change.

Both Hickenlooper and Romanoff say protesters have their ear. Both are promising change at the federal level— if the current Congress doesn’t beat them to their proposals.

In an interview, Romanoff embraced more radical solutions to ensure violent police officers are held accountable and taken off the job. He said reforms will have to be imposed on police departments rather than originating from within.

He supports the creation of independent oversight boards with teeth to punish and remove violent cops. Romanoff also calls for banning chokeholds; requiring that police use and wear body cameras; establishing more aggressive federal oversight of local law enforcement agencies; removing military equipment from police forces; and ending qualified immunity doctrine that protects violent cops from legal repercussions.

On his website, Hickenlooper says he will “increase accountability and oversight” of police departments as Senator. He’s also in favor of requiring cops to wear and use body cameras, banning chokeholds and ensuring equal access to quality education, jobs and housing for black Americans. 

Hickenlooper says he stands with black and brown residents who live in fear of police officers.

On the website, he also says his record as a mayor and governor support his commitment to reforming policing. Specifically, Hickenlooper notes that helped created a Civilian Oversight Commission in Denver giving “communities direct input on how their neighborhoods are policed” long before the modern police reform movement.

“What we did wasn’t perfect and there is so much more work to be done, locally and nationally, but we listened to communities of color,” Hickenlooper says on the website of his efforts.

Hickenlooper also drew national attention for his response to a question in a recent racial justice forum. The Colorado Sun reported that, when asked what “Black Lives Matter” means to him, Hickenlooper replied: “Black Lives Matter means that every life matters.”

The phrase bore a resemblance to “All Lives Matter,” a slogan developed in opposition to the black-led racial justice movement. Hickenlooper later said he “tripped” when answering the question.

“So let me be very clear: Black Lives Matter,” Hickenlooper later said in a statement to the Sun. 

— GRANT STRINGER, Staff Writer


Hundreds of protestors assembled for a march at the GEO facility, July 12, in Aurora, Colorado. Photo by Philip B. Poston/Sentinel Colorado

Immigration alignment

Immigration has long been an issue that most politicians, regardless of where they fall on the spectrum, agree requires reform. But the vision almost always looks different from candidate to candidate.

This primary race is no different.

Romanoff pictures a future where the U.S Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency doesn’t even exist. He told the Sentinel in an interview that ICE, which was established in 2003 with a combination of civil and criminal authorities, should be dismantled altogether. Its duties could be taken over by other departments, he said, and “nobody should be incarcerated for civil violations.”

“I’m not suggesting if you’re engaging in human trafficking or terrorism, we shouldn’t be going after those, I’m just suggesting we separate those crimes that present threats to public safety and those that should be considered civil,” he said.

Those found in violation of immigration laws, like illegal border crossings, typically face a civil penalty, but often end up in detention centers like the one in north Aurora, which is privately owned and operated by the GEO Group Inc. That center, and many like it across the country, has come under scrutiny in recent years for government reports of mistreatment, infectious disease outbreaks and sometimes even deaths. 

Hickenlooper said he would press for accountability.

“I am incredibly disturbed by reports of COVID and mistreatment in detention centers,” he said this week. “The federal government must immediately step up to make sure all people have the medical resources they need and address the humanitarian issues in these facilities.”

Romanoff said federal agencies should also be disallowed from contracting with private companies to house immigrants.

Hickenlooper, if elected, would seek to “enact common-sense immigration reform that achieves the dual objective of creating a pathway to citizenship while ensuring border security and protecting American workers,” he says on his campaign website.

The former governor highlights two measures that were adopted while he was at the helm of the legislature: in-state tuition for DREAM-ers and getting driver’s licenses for people illegally in the country, a move he said made Colorado roads safer.

Hickenlooper would like to see more money channeled in the immigration system.

“We need to adequately fund our current immigration system so that lawyers, interpreters, and judges can provide timely and fair adjudication for the nearly one million pending cases,” he says on his website. “We need to immediately establish processing centers for families at our southern border and fully restore humanitarian and security aid to Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador. Finally, we must provide overdue refugee assistance and access to medical services for immigrant families.”

— KARA MASON, Staff Writer