Editor’s note: This story was updated on Aug. 4, 2022 at 10:40 a.m. with additional information about who is seeking the vacated seat and the proposed rules for the Aug. 15 meeting.
Colorado state Rep. Edie Hooton, a Democrat from Boulder, announced on July 30 she is withdrawing from the race for House District 10, in part to spend more time with her family. The sudden announcement, which came a month after the Democratic primary election in June 2022, has brought on a wave of questions and implications — especially for the Boulder City Council.
Two elected city officials — Boulder Mayor Aaron Brockett and Councilmember Junie Joseph — swiftly jumped into what could be a crowded race to represent the city at the Colorado Capitol.
Other candidates who have said they’re running are RTD Director Lynn Guissinger, whose district includes the City of Boulder; Celeste Landry, a member of the House District 10 vacancy committee and local elections expert; Jim Martin, a former Boulder County public trustee and regent for the University of Colorado; and Tina Mueh, a science teacher in the Boulder Valley School District. Others may still join the race.
House District 10, stretching from South Boulder to Gunbarrel, mostly east of Broadway inside the city’s limits, includes more than 48,000 active registered voters.
The bid for the vacant seat has major ramifications for the Boulder City Council. It could leave an empty seat at City Hall for much of 2023. According to the City of Boulder’s Charter, the city will hold an election in November of next year to fill any vacancies resulting from the election.
If Brockett wins, Mayor Pro Tem Rachel Friend will assume his position until a new mayor is elected — assuming she’s still in the Pro Tem role at the time of a potential vacancy. (The city is also working to reform its election procedures to elect its mayor by direct vote as soon as 2023.)
The race for higher office has prompted councilmembers to publicly align themselves with one of their two colleagues at a time when the city is reeling from a divisive 2021 election. So far, Councilmembers Friend, Matt Benjamin, Bob Yates and Mark Wallach have endorsed Brockett. Councilmembers Nicole Speer and Lauren Folkerts are supporting Joseph.
The process for filling the vacancy has drawn the ire of some community members who would prefer the seat be filled through a primary election.
The leadership of the Boulder County Democratic Party has told members it plans to hold an election to select a new candidate on Aug. 15. Only those members who attended the county’s 2022 Democratic Assembly for House District 10 — 68 people, according to an estimate from party officials — will be able to vote.
Officials have not publicly released the names of the members. On Aug. 4, it updated draft rules for how it plans to select a candidate. Committee members will vote for candidates online in multiple voting rounds, eliminating those with the least votes until one receives a simple majority. (The party’s bylaws and state election rules spell out much of the process for selecting a new candidate.)
Meanwhile, campaigning has started.
In the coming days, rather than delivering stump speeches and campaign mailers, candidates seeking the vacant House District 10 seat will likely be calling members of the vacancy committee to win their support.
“I’m reaching out to those folks to get to know them and talk to them about the issues that they care about,” Brockett, a software engineer and two-term member appointed mayor by his colleagues last November, said in an interview. “I would prefer that there were a primary to get elected to this seat. I think it would be better for all registered Democrats in the district to have a vote on the next representative. But at the same time, I respect Edie’s decision.”
Hooton, first elected in 2016 and term-limited in 2024, announced her decision to withdraw from the race in her July 30 newsletter. She told Boulder Reporting Lab the bills she wanted to pass next session would require a lot of work. For years, she has been working 100 hours per week during the legislation sessions and about 40 hours per week during the interim. She said she wants time off and to spend time with her husband.
“I so desperately want a break. I just want a break. I want a three-month break. But you can’t do that when you’re an elected [official]. There are no sabbaticals. You don’t get a break,” she said. “It’s a lot of work and it’s all-consuming.”
Plus, Hooton said, she knows many people who would be eager to take her seat.
“There is a lot of interest in representing Boulder at the Capitol,” she said. “Once you get elected, unless you screw up, it’s basically your seat for eight years.” The state constitution allows for four consecutive, two-year terms.
Hooton said she understands the timing of her decision — after the primary — is raising questions.
“I understand why it may raise the specter of a nefarious calculation. But you just have to take my word for it or not. There was no calculation,” she said.
Joseph, a Haitian American who was first elected to the city council in 2019 while earning her law degree at the University of Colorado, serves as a precinct leader and area coordinator for the Boulder County Democratic Party. She said even she is confused by the process.
“The process right now is a little unclear to me and it should not be,” Joseph, a family lawyer, said in an interview. “I’ve been trying to find out who’s who right now so that I can have the same fair shake as everybody else.”
Boulder’s history of filling vacancies
Colorado is one of five states that, under state law, permits vacancies to be filled by a party appointment, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, a nonpartisan research organization. Most other states select candidates through special elections or appointments by elected officials.
Party appointments can be used to quickly fill seats vacated in emergency cases. They can avoid expensive and bitter party infighting in primary elections. Appointments have also been used for political purposes. In 2018, Steve Lebsock switched his party affiliation from Democrat to Republican minutes after his ouster from the state Capitol for allegations of sexual misconduct so that Republicans would select his replacement.
Boulder has a notable history of appointments by political party members.
In 2013, a vacancy committee appointed KC Becker, of Boulder, to the state House. The move came after Claire Levy, now a county commissioner, withdrew from the legislative race to accept a job as executive director of the Colorado Center for Law and Policy. Becker went on to become House majority leader and then House speaker and now works as the regional administrator for the Environmental Protection Agency.
Likewise, in 2012, Jonathan Singer, of Longmont, was appointed to the state House after Deb Gardner, also of Longmont, left to serve on the county commission. Gardner was appointed by Boulder County Democrats to the commission to fill a vacancy left by Ben Pearlman, who resigned after commissioners selected him to be Boulder County Attorney. Singer now works as a policy advisor for the Boulder Chamber.
More recently, in 2019, Mike Foote, of Lafayette, was appointed to the state Senate after the departure of Matt Jones, of Louisville, who left to serve as a county commissioner.
Mark Parsons, a member of the voting methods team with the League of Women Voters in Boulder County, who said he was speaking on behalf of himself, not his organization, said he wished he had had a say.
“If there had been a [primary] race for House District 10, I would have voted in the Democratic primary,” Parsons, an unaffiliated voter who said he cast his ballot in the Republican primary instead. “I feel a little betrayed.”
Whomever is selected by the party will run against Republican William Deoreo, an engineer from Boulder, in the Nov. 8, 2022 general election. He is not expected to win given Democrats’ advantage in terms of registered voters.
The party said it is hosting a candidate forum on Aug. 13.