Neguse challenged as Polis heir apparent

| Feb 11, 2018

By Barry Bortnick

BOULDER — At first glance, Joe Neguse, a young, African-American attorney with funding and endorsements from state and national Democratic leaders, looks like an ideal candidate for Congress.

But Neguse’s path to the Democratic nomination for Colorado’s 2nd Congressional district — a seat that includes left-leaning Boulder — may not be a cakewalk.

Despite an impressive resume, and a backstory that exemplifies the American Dream, many progressives — the same voting block that overwhelmingly backed Bernie Sanders in the 2016 state caucuses — see Neguse’s ascendancy as a blatant example of establishment politics over people power.

They have labeled Neguse: “Status quo Joe.”

Joe Neguse (campaign photo)

“He (Joe) might look like the future of politics, because he is young and a minority, but really, Joe is the past,” said Mark Williams, one of Neguse’s Democratic rivals for the open 2nd Congressional seat. “Joe calls himself a ‘progressive,’ but he is really a faux-gressive, because he takes money from the party leadership and from political action committees. So when the interest of the people conflict with the interest of his backers, where will Joe land?”

Williams has refused PAC money and labels himself an independent Democrat inspired by the style and message of Bernie Sanders.

“Citizen politicians need to stand up,” said Williams, an entrepreneur and former Air Force fighter pilot during The Persian Gulf War. “My ambition is to change how politics is done – not be a career politician.”

Anointed by party insiders?

Critics contend that party insiders anointed Neguse as the heir apparent as soon as departing Congressman Jared Polis announced plans to run for Governor.

Mark Williams (Facebook photo)

Jan Crawford, a longtime political and media consultant, supported the claim. She said entities within the Democratic Party at the state and national level wanted the road cleared for Neguse, and blocked for all others.

“I can’t give any names,” said Crawford, a Colorado native, who has consulted on campaigns for 48 years. “(But) when I heard the first comments about people being told not to work on other campaigns, I was taken aback. Whoever wants to run should … that makes our democracy stronger.”

In an editorial published in the Boulder Daily Camera, former University of Colorado Regent Jim Martin raised a red flag at this apparent inside game.

“Clear the field for Joe”

“A Democratic bigwig showed an advanced state of tone-deafness by dictating that, ‘We have to clear the field for Joe Neguse’ — a full year before the primary,” Martin wrote.

That situation has led many progressives to call foul and claim the primary election was gamed in favor of a candidate blessed by the state and national Democratic power structure.

“I would have liked a strong independent to come forward,” Martin said in a recent phone interview. “My complaint is not with Neguse. He’s a fine man and an accomplished public servant who would make a great Congressman. My complaint is with the process, which smells rigged.”

Neguse’s backers don’t follow the fuss.

“It is difficult to understand how one can describe a young black man and first-generation American running for Congress (in a district that is 90% Caucasian) as ‘just another Establishment candidate,’” Neguse’s campaign manager William Lindstedt stated.

Neguse “proudly progressive”

“Joe is about as far from your typical candidate for the U.S. Congress as one can imagine,” Lindstedt said. “He is proudly progressive … committed to fighting for people like him and so many that are struggling to have their voices heard right now in our political system.”

Neguse supports a liberal platform that includes fighting for a $15-minimum wage, Medicare-for-All, and an assault-weapons ban.

While most progressives favor those same positions, many can’t shake the sense that Neguse is the latest member of a political machine that does little for the middle class or those fed up with politics as usual.

That distrust was highlighted in a recent statewide political survey conducted by the American Politics Research Lab at the University of Colorado in Boulder.

The poll found that Colorado voters “firmly disapprove of President Donald Trump, overwhelmingly dislike Congress, and give a sizable edge to Democrats in a generic Congressional election ballot,” said E. Scott Adler, American Politics Research Lab’s director.

Adler called Neguse the obvious front-runner, but added that there is clearly an undercurrent of disfavor for “anyone who looks like they are part of the existing order in the party.”

Neguse’s PAC money

Neguse’s near-instant approval from establishment insiders does not sit well with progressives who want to rebuild the party from the ground up and eliminate big money from politics.

“Joe is taking money from PACs,” said Ryan Reeves, who backed Bernie Sanders in 2016 and now supports Williams, not Neguse.

“I am a politically disaffected Democrat,” Reeves added. “I feel the Democrat party has become Republican-lite.”

Reeves contends that Neguse is not a true progressive because he has taken money from powerful law firms and high-ranking Democratic leaders like Steny Hoyer, the current House of Representatives Minority Whip.

“He will be a puppet for the Democratic leadership in Washington,” Reeves said, adding, “…Joe is a symptom of an unfair good-old-boy political network who had the CD2 seat picked before the seat was even open.”

Neguse’s team pointed out that only 3.3 percent of the candidate’s contributions come from business-associated PACs.

“He (Neguse) is one of only nine candidates across the entire country that has been endorsed by the Congressional Progressive Caucus, which counts among its members some of the most progressive leaders in Congress,” Lindstedt said.

Despite that endorsement, Neguse failed to attend a recent political Q&A held by the Boulder County Progressive Coalition. The group’s chairman, Alan Rosenfeld, was not surprised by the snub.

“Joe is from the corporate-money wing of the party,” Rosenfeld said. “I am not surprised he did not show up.

* * *

(Author Barry Bortnick’s career includes reporting jobs at major newspapers in Santa Barbara and Colorado Springs, three years stringing for the Denver Post, positions as producer, writer and researcher at CBS and at ABC’s Good Morning America program and, more recently, work in public relations. He is, by his own description, “not part of any campaign.” :: See also this earlier Reporter story which notes that at least two other candidates are in the CD2 race to succeed Polis. –Ed.)


  1. Marie Adams says:

    After the CD2 forum hosted by Our Revolution, I had the opportunity to question Joe Neguse about his campaign accepting donations from PACs and special interests . I asked if would he consider returning the money and running a people funded campaign. He answered, “NO, but I can tell you I will not accept any money from anyone or any organization that conflicts with my values.”

    As someone very concerned about fracking and community rights, I think it’s important to note, that one of Joe’s largest donors, Brownstein Hyatt Farber,Schrek is the law firm that proudly states on its website “Successfully represented the Colorado Oil and Gas Association in litigation against Lafayette, Fort Collins, and Longmont regarding bans or moratoria on hydraulic fracturing activities, prevailing on summary judgment in each matter.”

  2. H. Stith Bennett says:

    As one of the previous commenters has shown — based on the
    invaluable tools for citizens provided by
    Joe Neguse is simply a get-along, go-along corporate Democrat.

    As things have gone in his campaign so far, he (“… people like me”)
    and his campaign (“… people like him”) are the only voices insinuating
    that his African origins are a factor in this congressional race — as if
    21st century Colorado voters can’t follow the money!

    Joe’s problem in not skin color. It is, rather, figuring out who is talking when Joe speaks. Listen carefully to how this slick talker avoids clearly stating his position about environmental issues — like fracking or climate change. Listen to how he “fights for” quality health care, clean air and water, sensible gun-control, raising the minimum wage, and “our sacred right to vote”. It’s the expect-able list of progressive-sounding issues… phrased vaguely. Then ask why his wealth-driven contributors from private equity, hedge fund, power, coal, communications and pro-corporate law firms have set him up with such large sums of “early money”. To work against their interests? Not likely!

    It’s 2018 and it’s change time in Colorado politics. One could hope that Joe
    will change his smooth emptiness and instead take a big rough bite out of the
    wealth-class hands that feed him. One could hope. Or, one could vote for
    someone else.

  3. Arthur Hacker says:

    Establishment Democrats have gone back and forth on whether to embrace the label ‘progressive’, or bury it. Nowadays they have committed to embracing it. But now there is a counter label to that: ‘establishment’. Which describes the majority of Democrats who covertly support fracking, the TPP, and the deregulation of corporate interests in most large industries. Voters are paying less attention to great speeches and more attention to where a candidate’s campaign money comes from. Joe Neguse gets a lot of his money from law firms that support big oil and other industries. His opponent, Mark Williams, the progressive in the race for Congress, does not. It’s the corporate PAC money that tells the real story and earns Joe Neguse the label of ‘establishment’.

  4. Cerah Hedrick says:

    This is the exact reason that there is still a split within the party, it’s as if the establishment democrats didn’t learn a darn thing from the 2016 election.

    The state of the democratic party is disgusting and clearly in shambles. Haven’t they lost enough seats across the nation? (>1000) And now the republicans control every branch of our federal government — what will it take for them to see that what they are doing IS NOT WORKING!

    I for one, am sick and tired of having a cherry picked (anointed) candidate shoved down my throats a if my needs as a citizen mean nothing, as if I can’t make a decision to determine who is best for my community and will actually represent the people and not the big money donors.

    The research is in, we know that when a politician takes money from big money donors, they are expecting something in return — this is how almost all of Washington operates now, both democrats and republicans are GUILTY.

    And thank goodness for Bernie Sanders for showing us all that it does not have to be that way — he helped open our eye and move us to action. And thank goodness for Mark Williams for stepping up to run for Congressional District 2. Mark is ready and willing to fight FOR the people, he is not taking PAC money, he is against fracking and says so proudly. Not only does Mark Williams have my respect, he has my VOTE.

  5. Daniel A Doyle says:

    Good article, balanced and fair. I did some research on Neguse’s PAC donors.

    Holland & Hart Very large California based nation wide law firm focused on “High Wealth” individuals and companies

    Brownstein, Hyatt et al Law Firm energy and natural resource projects

    Da Davidson Co Investment banking firm

    Sawaya Law Firm Law firm sues in liability cases

    AmeriPAC: The Fund for a Greater America


    Congressional Black Caucus PAC

    Credit Union National Assn REVOLVING DOOR 49 out of 68 Credit Union National Assn lobbyists in 2015-2016 have previously held government jobs

    Snell & Wilmer Law Firm where Joe works – represents BIG corporations to get through Regulations and defending big corporations of crimes brought by the DOJ.

    Hogan Lovells REVOLVING DOOR 7 out of 7 Hogan Lovells lobbyists in 2015-2016 have previously held government jobs Multinational Corp: We advise energy and power companies, utilities, independent power producers, and coal producers.

    Q Development a “double-bottom line” real estate developer based in Pittsburg opening an office in Boulder

    DISH Network REVOLVING DOOR 26 out of 29 DISH Network lobbyists in 2015-2016 previously held government jobs

    Wolf Interests , an investment company.

    Sherman & Howard Law Firm Antitrust Counseling and Litigation

    Spotzer digital marketing solutions for large enterprise businesses

    Friends of Bennie Thompson Mississipi congressman

    Bow River Capital Private asset management company Denver, focused on investing in private equity, real estate, and energy

    City & County of Denver REVOLVING DOOR 13 out of 16 City & County of Denver lobbyists in 2015-2016 have previously held government jobs

    Hoyer for Congress

    Husch Blackwell LLP Energy & Natural Resources Energy & Natural Resources team has the expertise you need.

    Lazarus Management Co Ibex Investors (formerly Lazarus Management Company) is a US-based investment firm targeting outsized returns through niche hedge funds

    Monroe Group housing property management

    Tgs Management TGS Management is a premier employee services management and leasing firm

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.