AURORA | When Aurora voters fill out ballots this year — just like all previous municipal elections —they’ll see a list of candidates, each without a political party affiliation.
“Not having party affiliation on the ballot is actually an information barrier for some people, and that is a big contributor to why we see lower voter turnout,” Aurora City Council Member Juan Marcano said this week while pitching a question for the 2022 ballot that’d ask Aurorans whether political parties should accompany a candidate’s name on the ballot.
“And if any of y’all have been knocking doors this cycle — I’ve already knocked close to 400 doors, and north of 3,000 for myself in 2019 — it’s one of the most common questions I get on doors and I’m sure the same is true for y’all,” he said.
Marcano, a Democrat himself, proposed the ballot question that, if passed, would also enable vacancy committees to appoint a member to a vacated city council seat, much like how the state does. Instead of the remaining members voting to fill the seat, political parties would take on the responsibility, potentially avoiding a situation that has left the Aurora City Council one member short.
Earlier this year, after former council member Nicole Johnston resigned, Marcano implored his colleagues to appoint a person that would carry the same values as Johnston. Instead, the remaining 10 members were deadlocked along mostly-partisan lines between two candidates. Without a majority vote, the councilors ultimately decided to violate the city charter and leave the seat open for the remainder of Johnston’s term.
The Aurora City Council is no stranger to partisan politics, despite the non-partisan nature of the election. Some council members and candidates have held or run for high-profile political seats in the past, like Mayor Mike Coffman, who was elected in 2019 after serving a decade as a Republican in Congress and held several other partisan state seats, and former mayoral candidate Ryan Frazier, who dropped his party affiliation to run for mayor but previously run as a Republican candidate for governor.
Groups like Emerge, which trains women Democrats to run for office, have also made a splash in municipal, non-partisan elections. In 2017, three of its graduates — Crystal Murillo, Allison Hiltz and Nicole Johnston — won their election bids, indicating the so-called blue wave had trickled down to local government.
This election cycle, Colorado Rising State Action, a conservative advocacy group, has dropped over half a million dollars into the municipal election, funding a political action committee called “Aurorans for a Safe and Prosperous Future.”
Marcano so far doesn’t have the support of his colleagues to put the question of partisan local elections to voters.
Council member Angela Lawson, who is employed by the Colorado Secretary of State’s office, said she was against the measure because it would preclude people like her from being able to serve on the dais. Lawson, who is not affiliated with a political party, said her employer would not allow her to run for a partisan seat, and that might be the case for others too, especially as Aurora’s city council is only considered part-time.
Council member Francoise Bergan, a registered Republican, said during the Monday study session discussion that she also wasn’t in support of the ballot question.
“I don’t really even understand the need to have party affiliation in a local race. I was elected in 2015. I was elected again in 2019, and I’ve knocked on a lot of doors. Actually, very few people have asked my party affiliation and when they did, I told them it was a nonpartisan election that focused on local issues,” she said. “And I think that’s what it’s about. It’s about being able to talk about what issues affect them and what services the city is supposed to provide, so water and roads and public safety and those types of things that are the core of what we provide to our citizens.”
She continued that she believes the council has become partisan because some issues brought forward are politically-charged issues, such as raising the minimum wage. She said she doesn’t support it, not because of her political party but because of how she believes it would affect the economy.
“So respectfully, the exact rationale that you gave here for the minimum wage is a Republican position, like when people talk about minimum wage…generally speaking, Democrats support raising the minimum wage, the exact amount may vary, but they know that we know that what is currently happening is unsustainable, unfair to workers, and is frankly, contributing to economic calamity in our city,” Marcano responded. “So we have a different viewpoint there. But again, it’s a very traditional Democratic versus Republican viewpoint. So I think you kind of made my point for me.”
Editor’s note: This story has been corrected to reflect the three Emerge candidates won in 2017.