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A Local Race Worth Watching: Senate District 35

March 4, 2008


Good Bye Ken (at least for the moment)

Even before Rima Barakat decided to run on the Republican ticket for Colorado Senate District 35’s seat, it was already an interesting race on the Democratic side. Ken Gordon, liberal state senator was forced into retirement because of term limits. On the whole he was – minus a series of what I can only describe as dumb, self-serving resolutions on the Middle East – a very decent state senator who has made significant contributions to election reform and strengthening the state’s public institutions. Even as he goes out of office he’s doing what he can to help a Colorado convict, convicted of rape. Although they were ordered not to by a judge, the police department threw out the DNA evidence that very likely would have freed him.

Unfortunately the `Middle East stuff’ cannot simply go unmentioned. During the 2006 Israeli invasion of Lebanon, when the legislature was not in session, Gordon helped engineer a typically one-sided resolution supporting the Israeli invasion. Not his finest moment and it perhaps played a role in his failed campaign for secretary of state. Alot of liberal and left supporters took his bumper sticker off their cars – especially on the Western Slope – and he lost by a small margin. More recently – as a kind of parting shot, an op ed was published in his name (along with 3 other legislators) calling for a the state legislature to mandate the state pension fund, PERA, to divest from companied doing business with Iran’s energy sector. AIPAC, the pro-Israeli lobby in the state was actively pushing both.

In any case, he’s stepping down.

Hello Alice, Joyce or Rima…

Two Democrats and one Republicans are now vying to replace Gordon, among them Alice Borodkin, Joyce Foster and as of today, it appears, Rima Barakat. Borodkin and Foster are competing for the Democratic slot, Barakat is the sole Republican in the race. Two pro-Israeli Jews on the Democratic side and a Palestinian Republican on the others. At the very least, it will be interesting to watch.

Here’s my initial take:

The contest for the Democratic nomination pits Borodkin, a relatively independent minded Dem not bought off by developers, oil and gas companies and other low life types against, essentially, the candidate of one of the state’s more effective and powerful political machines.

From the outset, let me say that the editorial board of the Colorado Progressive Jewish News (Cloudy – my dog and I) had a long meeting and decided unanimously to throw our support and considerable lobbying power behind Borodkin, although truth be told, we are delighted that Barakat has thrown her hat into the ring.

I’ve gotten to know Borodkin some over the past few months. She comes off as a genuinely sincere, hardworking, direct sort of person, who tries her best, under adverse circumstances to represent her constituency. Overall I’d call her a mainstream liberal with an eye out to support her constituents, independent minded – but clearly not `owned’ by special interests, and as a result of her independence, somewhat iced out of the Democratic Party’s inner circle at the legislature only enhances her credibility

With little previous knowledge of Borodkin, I was surprised, having talked to more than a dozen of her constituents, how much they like, respect and support her. Her interests include improving Colorado’s trade ties with the rest of the world, fighting the sex trade – which flourishes here in Colorado and is about to get a momentous boost with the Democratic Party Convention.

She has also proven to be a strong supporter of the state pension system, PERA, as it comes under attacks from different forces – Democrat and Republican – wanting to get their claws on its $40 billion in assets – the hard earned insurance for the state’s retirees.

Sorry Joyce, Too Much Baggage.

Our take – Cloudy’s and mine – on Joyce Foster is generally unfavorable.

Undoubtedly Joyce Foster will raise a good deal of money for her state senate run, but overall she was an uninteresting, lack luster city council person who showed little initiative, liberal when necessary, a sell out to special interests more often than not. It was especially touching to watch her when her son, David Foster, a lobbyist for some of the state’s developers, spoke at City Council meetings. She came off very proud as a mother, somewhat less principled as a councilwoman. She should have withdrawn herself from council decisions that involved her son, but didn’t.

I once saw her abstain from a city council vote opposing the war in Iraq invoking – for no relevant reason – the holocaust. In that particular situation an abstention translated into support for the war..which has produced a tragedy of its own – 1.3 million dead according to British medical sources and somewhere around 4 million refugees. It was not her finest moment.

On a more serious note perhaps – there are very few interesting city council people actually – she’s simply part of a cabal centered at Temple Emmanuel that includes her husband, prominent Denver Rabbi Stephen Foster, the likes of local power brokers Norm Brownstein and Steve Farber and the group of developers, oil and gas and other unsavory interests they represent. One almost incidental consequence of this group’s rise in influence has been lopsided support for Israel in the state’s main political parties.

Unfortunately, Gordon as well as Andrew Romanoff is a part of the same circle of friends …and as they would like to keep the Senate seat `in the family’ so to speak – they are all rallying behind Joyce Foster.

Welcome to the Carnival Rima!

I’m not about to support a Republican, not even Rima Barakat, but when I heard the news this morning that she is entering the contest on the Republican side, I had to chuckle. I am glad Rima has decided to enter state electoral politics and although I don’t think she stands much of a chance in this predominantly Democratic State Senate district, from what I know of her, I believe she will be a force with which to be reckoned.

A very capable organizer for the Palestinian Community here in Colorado, I am often amused by her extensive knowledge of Denver’s Jewish Community with whom she has often found herself in conflict these past years over the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict. She knows more rabbis than I do, most of the folks at the Anti-Defamation League and half of the lawyers who support that organization.

And why shouldn’t she run for office?

Actually, she’s setting an example – one the Jews (and Blacks and Chicanos) of Denver learned a half century ago – how to get involved in grassroots local politics to affect the issues that concern her community. At the very least, her campaign will have symbolic importance, breaking the ice so to speak and hopefully other Arabs and Moslems will follow in her footsteps. The anti-Arab, anti-Moslem atmosphere in the country is at such a pitch that in many places Arabs and Moslems are hesitant to get involved in politics. However, from where i am sitting, it is precisely what they need to do at present.

The key to her making a mark in this campaign will not be her positions on the Israeli-Palestinian issue, although now that she is running one can be sure that the issue will surface and regularly. The more pertinent question though will be her ability to first understand and then articulate the issues of her district. It is not at all clear on what basis yet she will build her program but experience suggests she is smart and careful and she will choose wisely. Although one doesn’t hear that much from them, this state does have a repressed tradition of moderate Republicans. I would hope it is here rather than with the more ideological, Christian fundamentalist wing of the party that she finds her spiritual political home.

I guess we’ll see.

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