The road to Election Day starts not in a stadium with a speech, but in small rooms and high-school gyms with conversations between neighbors. That's what voters saw at the March 6 caucuses in …
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The road to Election Day starts not in a stadium with a speech, but in small rooms and high-school gyms with conversations between neighbors.
That's what voters saw at the March 6 caucuses in Arapahoe County, the first stop on the long route to the November election, when voters will decide several local, regional and statewide races.
“It really comes down to: Can you take care of your family?” said Rick Rome, captain for an area of precincts, or neighborhood areas, in western Centennial.
Jobs, the economy, faith-based topics, infrastructure and transportation are issues he hears about in his area. Republicans have more common ground with Democrats than people might think, once you get past the arguments, Rome said.
At caucuses, voters gather at community areas such as libraries, churches and schools to select delegates to party assemblies, which help choose who will be candidates on the primary ballot for county, regional, state and national offices — ranging from your local sheriff to your U.S. congressperson. In Arapahoe County, the two major parties have their assemblies on March 24.
Some delegates declare their support for a candidate at caucuses, but they're not required to do so to get elected.
The primary ballot — for the primary election in June — offers voters a choice that will narrow down the field to one candidate per party who will compete in the November general election for the various county, regional, state and national offices.
Turnout in midterm years trails the larger crowds that come to caucuses during presidential election years, but dedicated voters still turned out across Arapahoe County to discuss health care, education, gun policy and additional contentious issues.
“This is the grassroots of the (political) organization,” said Jaylen Mosqueira, a 22-year-old voter who came to the Lutheran Church of the Holy Spirit in Centennial for his neighborhood's Republican caucus. “The grassroots, in my opinion, is the first place to start.”
For Mosqueira, a second-time caucusgoer, education policy is at the top of the list of important issues.
“To support private schools, charter schools, vouchers — to give parents choice when it comes to where their kids go to school,” Mosqueira said.
In one precinct that gathered at the church, four Republican voters, including Marc Scott, the current Arapahoe County assessor running for re-election, picked among themselves who would be delegates to the assemblies and discussed issues.
Phil Stark proposed to the group a resolution in support of eliminating Colorado's health-insurance exchange under the Affordable Care Act. Resolutions are voted on by delegates in the assembly process and, if approved, are put into the state-party platform, a list of political positions on various issues that the party supports.
“There's already a federal exchange — why is the state running an exchange?” Stark said. “I think we can save ourselves some money.”
Nicholas Colglazier expressed his support for U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman, R-Aurora, and said the congressman is a good listener.
“It's unfortunate that someone's challenging Coffman” in the 6th Congressional District Republican primary, Colglazier said. “He's been a very good congressman for our area.”
Stark came to the caucus because of his interest in politics in general and to meet people with like interests. He's read about the governor candidates, but he's waiting until the field narrows down to decide whom he supports.
“Right now, I'm stuck,” Stark said. “I was hoping more would drop out.”
Mosqueira, who was chosen as a delegate to multiple assemblies, had a candidate in mind for that race.
“For governor, Walker Stapleton is who I'm currently supporting,” Mosqueira said. “I do support his experience, and I think that will transition the best for the party.”
Rome likes the positions of George Brauchler, 18th Judicial District Attorney, the only Republican in the race for attorney general.
“I really like his message about law and order and being a law-and-order society,” Rome said.
It's important to come to caucuses because candidates listen to delegates, Rome said.
“They need your vote,” Rome said. Being a delegate “gives you a direct conduit to the candidate.”
“Maybe 75-100 people people came,” Rome said of his caucus at the church. “We have three times that amount for the presidential-election year. We have a good economy, people aren't as fired up.”
The vast majority of people were middle- or senior-aged, but some were young, like Mosqueira.
On the other side
At Ralph Moody Elementary School in Littleton, where several Democratic precincts met, some were too young to vote, like Heritage High School students Delaney Trail and Miles Hersch, both 17. The teens sat in as observers, both hoping to get a jump on civic participation.
“I want to know what's going on, so that when I'm 18 I can be an informed part of the process,” Trail said. She's been passing out fliers and posters for Chris Kolker, a candidate for House District 38 who she says hits the right notes on her primary issues: education and health care funding.
“Teens should try to get involved young, because the earlier you start voting, the more likely you are to keep doing so,” Trail said. “You need to be involved to be heard.”
Hersch founded his school's Progressive Club, and said membership has been lagging, so he's hoping to get more involved to become a more informed leader.
“I want to reach out to people to get to know what Democrats do in the community beyond the presidential elections,” Hersch said. “I want to make our future brighter. If young people don't vote, we lose the chance to influence things.”
Hersch said he's passionate about school safety and gun control, and supports a ban on the sale of assault rifles.
“Who needs an AR-15 to hunt?” Hersch said.
Democratic turnout seemed high this year, said Arne McDaniel, the chairman of precinct 148's table of eight — five of whom were caucusing for the first time.
McDaniel has been involved in Colorado politics since he moved to the state in 1994 from California, and appreciates the chance to be in on the ground floor.
“We got invited to Democratic precinct work not long after we arrived, and within two years we were hosting campaign launch events for Senate candidates. Denver has been incredible for me and my wife — politics here are so well organized, and people are so enthusiastic.”
McDaniel, like many at the tables arranged around the school gym, was concerned about President Trump.
“I'm a business owner, and I care about how business is conducted and how tax policy shapes up. We need to be closely involved if we're going to push back.”
For others, like Liesa Malik, standing up to a Trump presidency felt more dire.
“We've had an extremely disappointing experience since 2016, both with the election itself and the possibility of a foreign country trying to take over our governance,” Malik said. “This president has taken the rights and advantages the Constitution provides, but not exercised the responsibility that goes with those rights.”
Malik said this was her first time participating in a midterm caucus, and preferred it to the “zoo” that the 2016 presidential caucus became.
“We were able to actually talk about the issues instead of just shouting,” she said.
The big issues were closer to home for Helen Beyer, a nurse who said she's growing tired of watching her colleagues priced out of Denver's sky-high housing market.
“It's a cliché, but all politics are local,” Beyer said. “I wish I saw more young people in here, so we could hear more about what matters to them.”
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