A Democratic primary fight has gotten underway in Colorado Senate District 33. Incumbent Angela Williams is facing a challenge from Representative James Coleman (House District 7). Coleman said he decided to throw his hat in the ring after community members asked him to run. At the time, Williams had not announced her intention to run for re-election because she was seeking the Democratic nomination for the U.S. Senate seat. Just before Thanksgiving she ended that bid and announced she would try to retain her current seat. The primary will be held June 30.
Williams and Coleman have worked together as members of the eight-person Black Caucus at the state legislature. Williams has said she was surprised by Coleman’s primary challenge, but in interviews with the Front Porch, neither Williams nor Coleman wanted to criticize the other or even offer reasons why they were more qualified for the senate job.
“I’m not going to go down this road or pit myself against my colleague,” says Williams. Instead she said she would focus her campaign on her strong record of serving the most diverse district in the state of Colorado. “I have always been accessible to my constituents, being responsive and listening. I have an ability to understand the issues and how they affect different constituents.”
“It’s not what do I offer that she doesn’t offer,” says Coleman. “What I bring to the table is making sure I’m ground up versus top down. That’s not something that necessarily separates me from her, but people know me as someone who is representative of the community.”
Coleman has already received a number of high-profile endorsements from fellow lawmakers, including Representatives Leslie Herod, Chris Hansen and KC Becker. Herod, who serves House District 6, which is part of the Senate 33 District, says she admires Coleman for his leadership style. “He really brings people to the table and builds consensus. James is also the Whip in the House. Just watching him count member votes and explaining what the bills are, where they may have deficits and how folks could make them better, that has been very impressive.”
Williams wouldn’t criticize lawmakers who endorsed Coleman, but says she thinks they made their endorsements too hastily. She also says she didn’t think her run for the U.S. Senate had set her back in her statehouse campaign.
“I won my last primary by 82%. The people of Senate District 33 elected me once and I feel pretty strongly that they’ll elect me again. But I’m not taking anything for granted.”
Frank Sullivan is one of Williams’ longtime supporters. A former Democratic party official, he says he admires how she has worked to elevate diverse voices in the legislature. “She worked hard for that and continues to work hard for that. I see that as a big help for the state, to have diverse groups speaking up and passing legislation.” He says he doesn’t know Coleman but wouldn’t even think of voting for anyone besides Williams.
Senate District 33 is a majority minority district and encompasses Curtis Park, Whittier, Five Points, Cole, Park Hill, Stapleton, East Colfax, Green Valley Ranch, Montbello, and Denver International Airport.
Williams won her senate seat in 2016 after serving three terms in the Colorado House, representing the district that Coleman now serves. She says the biggest issues facing the senate district are high medical and prescription drug costs and family medical leave.
“Eighty-eight percent of workers in Colorado don’t have any access to paid family leave. That is one of the most pressing issues, not only in my district but in the state right now,” says Williams.
Williams, who chairs the Business, Labor and Technology Committee, was one of the prime sponsors of a bill last session to create a task force to study the best ways to implement a family and medical leave plan. She cites as her other major accomplishments: a climate action plan to reduce greenhouse gasses, a study to ensure small businesses are treated fairly in the state procurement process and the so-called “lemonade stand bill,” which allows minors to operate businesses on a limited basis without a license.
“I ran this bill not just for lemonade stands but for all minors’ businesses. We should be inspiring our kids, not discouraging them,” says Williams.
Coleman, who is serving his second term in the House, says he thinks the biggest issues facing the district are reforming the justice system, promoting more diversity among business owners and improving public education.
“Education is the most important thing. Equity in schools. Making sure we have adequate funding, making sure we have individualized learning and meeting kids where they are,” says Coleman.
He lists his biggest accomplishments in the House as sponsoring bills to foster economic development, public safety and education. He’s particularly proud of a bill that helps small business owners sell their companies to their employees. “If you sell your business to an outsider, then it goes away as a resource for the community. Those folks who worked in that business no longer have a job there. So we passed a bill that provided a lower cost loan to get the funding you need in order to convert your business to employee ownership.”