Starting with a declaration that “we have a choice: a once or perhaps last in a lifetime chance to rescue the world we know,” Andrew Romanoff has framed his bid for Colorado’s Democratic US Senate nomination around a climate justice message that rejects the failed vision of “tired politicians [who] tell us to lower our sights, to curb our ambitions, to settle for the status quo.”
Romanoff has been blunt, calling out cautious Democrats like his primary rival, former Colorado governor John Hickenlooper, for their lack of moral clarity and their failure to recognize the political potency of climate activism. Speaking of political insiders who pull their punches on the issue, the former speaker of the Colorado House of Representatives said last December, “They badly underestimate the urgency of this moment and the power of our persistence.”
With little money, little support from D.C. insiders, and little media attention, Romanoff persisted in his primary run. Now, as the primary approaches, it appears that the power of his progressive message may have been underestimated by an over-confident rival.
Hickenlooper, who entered the Senate race only after crashing and burning as a corporate-friendly centrist presidential contender who attacked progressives like Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, is still identified as the front-runner in the contest to pick an opponent for vulnerable Republican Senator Cory Gardner. But the margins are narrowing, as headlines announce: “Hickenlooper stumbles in must-win Senate race for Democrats,” “‘A hot mess’: Hickenlooper stumbles into Democratic primary,” and “Andrew Romanoff is closing the gap after John Hickenlooper’s stumbles.”
Like Kentucky insurgent Charles Booker, who gained traction in the final weeks before the June 23 Kentucky Democratic primary—votes are still being counted—Romanoff is rising in the final days before the June 30 Colorado primary. The former legislator is doing so as a candidate who speaks with a sense of urgency about the need to go big for structural change, telling voters, “We’re running out of time to rescue our planet, repair our democracy, and restore the American Dream.”
In Colorado, where environmental issues are an especially big deal, Romanoff has run the sort of campaign that Democrats everywhere should be studying for ideas about how to approach climate issues. As part of a broad progressive agenda that focuses on economic, social, and racial justice, the former legislator begins his list of priorities with a pledge to “combat the climate crisis” framed around support for “a Green New Deal to replace fossil fuel with renewable energy.”
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Romanoff embraces the vision advanced by Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Massachusetts Senator Ed Markey—championing what he describes as “an ambitious set of national goals: cut in half the total greenhouse gas emissions from all sectors, including transportation, industry, and buildings by 2030; replace fracked gas, coal, and other fossil fuels with enough clean energy to meet all of our electricity needs by 2035; and reach net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2040.”
But the Coloradan goes further, explaining that “to get from here to there, we need to:
- Place a comprehensive and effective price on carbon to account for the immense costs to our environment and public health.
- End tax giveaways to fossil fuel companies.
- Strengthen energy efficiency and emissions standards in order to make all new homes, buildings, and vehicles carbon-free.
- Accelerate the research, development, and implementation of clean-energy infrastructure and energy efficiency improvements.
- Prioritize our clean-energy transition in the frontline communities that suffer most from toxic pollutants.
- Complete land and water reclamation projects.
- Invest in workforce development and training, aiding workers displaced by the transition to a clean-energy economy.
- Prohibit new fossil fuel extraction on public lands and offshore.
- Ban all fracking and end the construction of new fossil fuel infrastructure.
- Upgrade the power grid to deliver energy more efficiently; to facilitate the use of more wind, solar, and other renewable energy sources; and to withstand the damage inflicted by the climate crisis.
- Strengthen public health protections and the enforcement of air, land, and water safeguards, including the monitoring and reporting of emissions and waste storage and disposal.
- Phase out fossil fuel use in federal operations.
- Expand our public transportation network to reduce congestion and pollution and improve safety and access.
This bet on a comprehensive approach has earned Romanoff strong support from the Sunrise Movement, which late last year made the Coloradan their first endorsement of a Senate challenger in the 2020 cycle. At the time, Sunrise’s Stephen O’Hanlon said:
Hickenlooper and Gardner are both in cahoots with the billionaires who got us into this mess.… Nearly all the Democratic presidential candidates signed the No Fossil Fuel Money pledge, but Hickenlooper—who used to work for Buckhorn Petroleum—was one of three who refused. Young people refuse to settle for a dangerous candidate who is more concerned with fossil fuel profits than our health and safety. Romanoff is the right candidate to defeat Cory Gardner, and that’s why we’re launching an ambitious field program to elect him.
As the race has progressed, the argument that Romanoff is the right candidate has gained steam.
Noting a series of stumbles by the failed presidential contender in the closing weeks of the Senate race, Politico explained this week:
After being cited for contempt this month for initially failing to appear before Colorado’s Independent Ethics Commission, Hickenlooper was fined $2,750 for two violations dating back to his second term as governor. He’s also apologized for comments about race, including responding to a question about the Black Lives Matter protests in a recent forum by saying the phrase means “every life matters,” echoing a common refrain among conservatives.
The Sunrise Movement activists, who have played a critical role in boosting the campaigns of Booker in Kentucky and congressional candidates such as New York’s Jamaal Bowman, have seized on that last stumble. Now they are ramping up a final push for Romanoff:
While Andrew is joining the Movement for Black Lives in the streets, John Hickenlooper is nowhere to be found. One of his only public appearances was at a debate where he said “Black Lives Matter means that every life matters.” For his whole career, he’s been out of touch with Colorado: he was one of the only Presidential candidates who didn’t sign the No Fossil Fuel Money Pledge. As Denver Mayor he promoted a racist ‘broken windows’ policing policy. We deserve better.
For his part, Romanoff says he is closing the gap because of both Hickenlooper’s fumbles and the appeal of his “bold progressive call for climate action.” He’s also playing up the fact that while his opponent has the backing of DC Democrats—including, to the surprise of many, Elizabeth Warren—he has in-state support from grassroots activists and local elected officials.
“It’s true we don’t have endorsements from D.C., but we do have about 400 county commissioners, mayors and school board members and city council members and legislators who have endorsed my campaign,” Romanoff explained this week on the Hill.TV program Rising. “So it’s turning into a contest between Colorado and Washington.”
It’s also a contest between Democrats who are still in compromise mode and those who recognize that “America can and should lead the way by enacting a Green New Deal.”