Jun 5, 2024 - Politics

Colorado progressive lawmakers targeted by party, big money

Illustration of a donkey holding a big hundred dollar bill in its mouth

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Two progressive state lawmakers from Denver with pro-Palestinian stances are being targeted for defeat by Democratic Party leaders and big-moneyed interests.

Why it matters: It's unusual to see incumbent lawmakers being opposed by leaders in their own party and demonstrates how the Democratic establishment is seeking to quash outliers at the statehouse.

State of play: The opposition to the re-election campaigns of Denver state Reps. Elisabeth Epps and Tim Hernández is evident in endorsements and new campaign finance reports filed this week.

  • Epps is most at risk for losing her central Denver seat, which spans Capitol Hill to Lowry, while Hernandez is drawing support from some of his fellow progressives in his north city district.

The back story: Epps angered her colleagues — and drew a public reprimand — for outbursts against Israel's attack on Gaza and social media posts blasting the party's leaders this session.

  • Hernandez won his seat in a special election but quickly heard calls for his expulsion after attending a pro-Palestinian rally on the day Hamas attacked Israel. He later drew more condemnation for replacing the U.S. flag on his desk with a Palestinian one.

Follow the money: Both incumbents are trailing their challengers in key fundraising benchmarks entering the final weeks before the June 25 primary election, according to an Axios analysis.

Epps has raised a mere $36,000 compared to more than $140,000 by her rival Sean Camacho, a former military intelligence officer and contracts attorney.

  • Camacho's top financial supporters include political committees of powerful statehouse interests, such as the Apartment Association of Metro Denver and Colorado Professional Fire, as well as House Speaker Julie McCluskie and Senate President Steve Fenberg.

Epps is supported by the state employees union, which cut her a $6,000 check, but few if any of her legislative colleagues. She did not return a message seeking comment.

Hernández is raising more money than his rival, Cecelia Espenoza, an attorney and former federal immigration judge, but he's spent half as much on the campaign, records show.

  • Espenoza is endorsed by Fenberg and two prominent state senators. She's receiving money from big players at the Capitol, including the Colorado Chamber of Commerce, Colorado Medical Society and the apartment association.
  • Hernández is receiving big checks from public employee, teacher and service worker unions and has support from more than two dozen current lawmakers.

What they're saying: "We're 100% people-powered campaign. Like a lot of people in my neighborhood, I don't have $20,000 to give to my own campaign," Hernández said in an interview, criticizing his rival for a campaign loan.

The other side: Espenoza told us she's on track to raise the money she needs for the campaign. Her donors reflect "the diversity of interests that I'm running to represent," she said.

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