Colorado Democrats elect strategist as party leader
March 5, 2011
DENVER – Colorado Democrats picked party strategist and former Washington legislative aide Rick Palacio to be their new leader on Saturday, hoping he can help them woo back young voters he believes are disenchanted with politics.
Palacio, a sixth-generation Coloradan, told about 450 top party leaders on Saturday that Democrats lost ground during the November elections because of party infighting, after winning a U.S. Senate seat, three congressional seats and control of the governor’s office and Legislature from 2004 to 2008.
In November, Democrats gave back some of those gains, losing two congressional seats and control of the state House. Palacio blamed the losses on the party, telling delegates, “We didn’t bring our ‘A’ game.”
“We need to find the next generation of Democratic activists,” he told the State Central Party on Saturday.
Palacio beat longtime party activist Polly Baca and northern Colorado party official Adam Bowen on the first ballot.
One of the biggest party disputes last year involved former state House Speaker Andrew Romanoff and incumbent U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet.
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Bennet was appointed by Democratic Gov. Bill Ritter to fill the term of Sen. Ken Salazar after he became Interior secretary. Bennet beat Romanoff in the primary and Republican Ken Buck in November.
Despite the losses, Colorado was still considered a bright spot on the national Democratic Party map, after electing Bennet and Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper and Bennet.
Baca, a 67-year-old, longtime party activist, told delegates that a lot of people use the Internet and she was upset by “hurtful references about my age” and implications that older voters do not understand new media.
“Age is just a number,” she said.
Bowen said he wanted to improve communication between the national party and local party officials.
Andrew Bateman, who leads a group of Arapahoe County young Democrats, said younger voters are disengaged because they are not sure of their role in party politics after they turned out in droves to help elect President Barack Obama in 2008. He said young voters are intimidated by party meetings and many turn to the Internet to discuss politics.
“We need to go to colleges and the Internet to find them, and not wait for them to show up,” Palacio said.
Palacio, who served previously as an aide to former U.S. Rep. John Salazar and U.S. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, replaces Pat Waak, who said she is retiring as party chair after six years because the party needs new leadership and new blood. Waak, who is 68, said she may become a teacher or consultant.