Neguse challenged as Polis heir apparent

Sunday, February 11th, 2018

Repost from The Boulder Reporter
Community Input
By Barry Bortnick

BOULDER — At first glance, Joe Neguse, a young, African-American attorney with funding and endorsements from state and national Democratic leaders, looks like an ideal candidate for Congress.
But Neguse’s path to the Democratic nomination for Colorado’s 2nd Congressional district — a seat that includes left-leaning Boulder — may not be a cakewalk.

Despite an impressive resume, and a backstory that exemplifies the American Dream, many progressives — the same voting block that overwhelmingly backed Bernie Sanders in the 2016 state caucuses — see Neguse’s ascendancy as a blatant example of establishment politics over people power.

They have labeled Neguse: “Status quo Joe.”

“He (Joe) might look like the future of politics, because he is young and a minority, but really, Joe is the past,” said Mark Williams, one of Neguse’s Democratic rivals for the open 2nd Congressional seat. “Joe calls himself a ‘progressive,’ but he is really a faux-gressive, because he takes money from the party leadership and from political action committees. So when the interest of the people conflict with the interest of his backers, where will Joe land?”
Williams has refused PAC money and labels himself an independent Democrat inspired by the style and message of Bernie Sanders.

“Citizen politicians need to stand up,” said Williams, an entrepreneur and former Air Force fighter pilot during The Persian Gulf War. “My ambition is to change how politics is done – not be a career politician.”

Anointed by party insiders?

Critics contend that party insiders anointed Neguse as the heir apparent as soon as departing Congressman Jared Polis announced plans to run for Governor.

Jan Crawford, a longtime political and media consultant, supported the claim. She said entities within the Democratic Party at the state and national level wanted the road cleared for Neguse, and blocked for all others.

“I can’t give any names,” said Crawford, a Colorado native, who has consulted on campaigns for 48 years. “(But) when I heard the first comments about people being told not to work on other campaigns, I was taken aback. Whoever wants to run should … that makes our democracy stronger.”

In an editorial published in the Boulder Daily Camera, former University of Colorado Regent Jim Martin raised a red flag at this apparent inside game.

“Clear the field for Joe”

“A Democratic bigwig showed an advanced state of tone-deafness by dictating that, ‘We have to clear the field for Joe Neguse’ — a full year before the primary,” Martin wrote.

That situation has led many progressives to call foul and claim the primary election was gamed in favor of a candidate blessed by the state and national Democratic power structure.

“I would have liked a strong independent to come forward,” Martin said in a recent phone interview. “My complaint is not with Neguse. He’s a fine man and an accomplished public servant who would make a great Congressman. My complaint is with the process, which smells rigged.”

Neguse’s backers don’t follow the fuss.

“It is difficult to understand how one can describe a young black man and first-generation American running for Congress (in a district that is 90% Caucasian) as ‘just another Establishment candidate,’” Neguse’s campaign manager William Lindstedt stated.

Neguse “proudly progressive”

“Joe is about as far from your typical candidate for the U.S. Congress as one can imagine,” Lindstedt said. “He is proudly progressive … committed to fighting for people like him and so many that are struggling to have their voices heard right now in our political system.”

Neguse supports a liberal platform that includes fighting for a $15-minimum wage, Medicare-for-All, and an assault-weapons ban.

While most progressives favor those same positions, many can’t shake the sense that Neguse is the latest member of a political machine that does little for the middle class or those fed up with politics as usual.

That distrust was highlighted in a recent statewide political survey conducted by the American Politics Research Lab at the University of Colorado in Boulder.

The poll found that Colorado voters “firmly disapprove of President Donald Trump, overwhelmingly dislike Congress, and give a sizable edge to Democrats in a generic Congressional election ballot,” said E. Scott Adler, American Politics Research Lab’s director.

Adler called Neguse the obvious front-runner, but added that there is clearly an undercurrent of disfavor for “anyone who looks like they are part of the existing order in the party.”

Neguse’s PAC money

Neguse’s near-instant approval from establishment insiders does not sit well with progressives who want to rebuild the party from the ground up and eliminate big money from politics.

“Joe is taking money from PACs,” said Ryan Reeves, who backed Bernie Sanders in 2016 and now supports Williams, not Neguse.

“I am a politically disaffected Democrat,” Reeves added. “I feel the Democrat party has become Republican-lite.”

Reeves contends that Neguse is not a true progressive because he has taken money from powerful law firms and high-ranking Democratic leaders like Steny Hoyer, the current House of Representatives Minority Whip.

“He will be a puppet for the Democratic leadership in Washington,” Reeves said, adding, “…Joe is a symptom of an unfair good-old-boy political network who had the CD2 seat picked before the seat was even open.”

Neguse’s team pointed out that only 3.3 percent of the candidate’s contributions come from business-associated PACs.

“He (Neguse) is one of only nine candidates across the entire country that has been endorsed by the Congressional Progressive Caucus, which counts among its members some of the most progressive leaders in Congress,” Lindstedt said.

Despite that endorsement, Neguse failed to attend a recent political Q&A held by the Boulder County Progressive Coalition. The group’s chairman, Alan Rosenfeld, was not surprised by the snub.

“Joe is from the corporate-money wing of the party,” Rosenfeld said. “I am not surprised he did not show up.

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(Author Barry Bortnick’s career includes reporting jobs at major newspapers in Santa Barbara and Colorado Springs, three years stringing for the Denver Post, positions as producer, writer and researcher at CBS and at ABC’s Good Morning America program and, more recently, work in public relations. He is, by his own description, “not part of any campaign.” :: See also this earlier Reporter story which notes that at least two other candidates are in the CD2 race to succeed Polis. –Ed.)