It was one of the first states to fully legalize marijuana (along with Washington state) — something both major political parties have resisted for decades.
Independent voters are the largest voting bloc, with nonpartisan registration surpassing the Republican and Democratic Parties.
And while some states are moving to close their primaries, Colorado is opening them to give millions of voters a stronger voice in elections.
Colorado voters have shown a clear willingness to thumb their noses at two-party, establishment politics. And for the first time, voters may be so fed up with the gridlock in the state legislature that they could break two-party control over the legislative process completely.
“Colorado has been a pioneer of new thinking and innovation in many industries, and it is following suite in politics as well,” says Nick Troiano, executive director of Unite America. “Voters here are open-minded to new and better ways of doing things.”
Unite America looks to make history in Colorado by electing the first independents to the state legislature. It would only take a handful of independent candidates to become a powerful force for voter-centric policies, and the timing couldn’t be more perfect.
“We know from the research of the Unite America Institute that 85% of Colorado voters are open to supporting an independent candidate, including large majorities of both Democrats and Republicans,” says Troiano.
The goal: Elect enough independents to deny either major party a majority in the legislature in an effort to bring all sides to the table to pass practical policy solutions.
It’s an ambitious goal, but Troiano says Unite America has been laying the foundation for independent success in Colorado and across the country for a while now:
“We spent much of 2017 building the electoral infrastructure and recruiting candidates. We announced those candidates in early 2018, and now we are focused on doing our best to support and elect them, and our goal going forward is to build on the foundation we laid this year to accelerate our movement by recruiting and electing even more candidates in 2020 and beyond.”
He added that there are three main criteria for endorsements:
- Unite America gets to know the individual, and looks for strong character and integrity;
- The individuals must align with Unite America’s “Declaration of Independents” and their approach to governance; and
- They need to be able to run a competitive campaign.
“We were very proud to have found 5 individuals (in Colorado) who met that criteria, who we believe are great role models for our movement, can be successful candidates, and most importantly, effective legislators,” Troiano remarked.
The 5 legislative candidates are Jay Geyer (House District 33), Eric Montoya (House District 31), Thea Chase (House District 54), Maile Foster (House District 18), and Steve Peterson (Senate District 30).
Steve Peterson in particular is in a unique position because if he wins, he could single-handedly tip the balance of power in the Colorado Senate away from both parties, should the chamber’s political makeup remain the same after the midterms.
“I was fortunate enough to be able to contribute heavily to the drafting of our ‘Declaration of Independents,’ and it was a difficult but important process,” says Peterson. “I was happy to put my signature on that document as the first signer, because I see that there is an opportunity to forge some new ground here, and find that common ground between the two parties.”
One of the biggest hurdles that independents like Peterson and the others face is the two-party narrative that independent candidates are spoilers or a wasted vote.
“What’s different this time around with respect to independents […] is the quality of people we’re getting to raise their hand and say, ‘I am willing to run and serve as an independent,'” says Peterson.
Peterson says one thing he is doing in his own race to telegraph viability, which he acknowledges is what people are afraid of — whether that means a wasted vote or electing “the other side” or stepping outside their “comfortable partisan world” — is to ask voters the Dr. Phil question: “How’s that working out for you?”
“At the end of the day, Republicans have issues that are important to them, and so do Democrats, and yet time after time, despite the promises, despite the rhetoric, the people who care about those issues see nothing or almost nothing getting done, and people are starting to become skeptical that maybe that’s the plan. Maybe that’s what the parties truly want.”
The path to victory, according to Troiano, is to get voters familiar with the independent candidates running for office, and make them feel confident that “a vote for an independent is a real way to effect real change.”
“Colorado, like the country, is pretty narrowly divided between both political parties, and so we are as a state experiencing the same challenges that come with that because for anything to get done in a sustainable way requires bipartisan cooperation,” says Troiano. “If we can find a way to improve the political system in Colorado by electing independent candidates, it will prove to be a great model for the rest of the country to follow.”
It’s a center-out approach, both politically and geographically, that Troiano and the people at Unite America believe is necessary in order to not only create a better political environment, but to bring it in step with America as a whole.
Troiano believes that if they can find success in Colorado, it will be a signal to the rest of the nation that the independent revolution can happen anywhere.