AURORA | Democratic state Sen. Morgan Carroll filed federal election forms Tuesday, making official her race for Colorado’s 6th Congressional District seat, currently held by Republican Mike Coffman.
“The theme of the campaign is going to be about real results,” she told The Aurora Sentinel in an interview Monday. “Congress has been paralyzed. It’s a crisis of confidence to get anything done.”
Carroll, 43, said she would best describe herself as a populist, with a focus on how leaders in Washington, D.C., have not fixed middle-class issues such as soaring student loan debt, affordable healthcare, immigration reform and affordable higher-education opportunities. She said her campaign contrasts against Coffman’s tenure because given the choice to take the side of the average person or a big government or corporate interest, she has and always will side with the everyday residents in the district.
The campaign sounds similar to the one Andrew Romanoff mounted against Coffman in 2014 in a race that was predicted to be one of the country’s most-competitive races. Coffman won re-election over the former Colorado House Speaker last November after one of the most contentious and expensive House races in the country. Carroll said she expects this campaign to cost as much or more as both parties work to gain seats in Congress. So far, neither Carroll nor Coffman face primary opponents.
Carroll, however, said she has an advantage with voters in the district because she can call herself a longtime resident, whereas Romanoff was viewed as a Denver transplant.
“I feel like it matters to have roots in the district,” she said. “From the time I graduated high school, I’ve been in Aurora. Long before I was in any elected office, this is where home was for me.”
She pointed to her parents as inspiration for her campaign. Her father, John Carroll, served in the Colorado Legislature between 1964 and 1974, and championed bills to improve the lives of business employees and consumers. Her parents were lawyers focusing on disabled and civil rights cases, and she’s followed in their footsteps.
Working her way up to leadership positions in the both the state House and Senate, she became Senate president as Democratic Majority Leader in 2013. Her career has focused on many measures protecting the rights of individual homeowners or residents at the expense of developers, homeowner associations, employers and government agencies. She said that mission has been her life’s work.
During an interview with The Aurora Sentinel, Carroll spoke extensively about caring for her father after he developed Parkinson’s when she was young — and later Alzheimer’s — and seeing firsthand how expensive medical care was and how a cumbersome U.S. system threw her family into financial straits.
“I was seeing people I cared about struggle with things I know people in this district are facing, too,” she said.
She described growing up and having to pay her way through community college all the way to the University of Colorado Law School, working minimum-wage jobs — including time as a gas station attendant in Aurora — to get by.
“It involved a lot of student debt and student loans,” she said of the experience, and for why she can relate to students today that have overwhelming amounts of debt to contend with after graduation.
She said her time in Aurora spent working as a labor and disability lawyer with her mother, Rebecca Bradley, taught her how to get things done and how to thrive in the legislative weeds. Carroll said seeking a seat in the state House was a natural extension of her fighting for the rights of those stepped on by their employers and government bureaucracy.
In her first year as an Aurora member of the state House, she refused the tradition of taking lobbyist cards during debate on the House floor, a cue for an impromptu, immediate meeting. That angered many long timers and legislative veterans, who insisted she wouldn’t last more than one term for taking on big-money sacred cows like developers and insurance, and bucking the system, she recalled.
Since then Carroll has seen a host of fierce legislative battles. She has worked on legislation that has regulated the way state homeowner’s associations operate in the state and played a critical role in passing gun control laws that mandated criminal background checks and limit on the size of ammunition magazines. Carroll has led a state fight to corral health insurance, developer and worker’s comp insurance industries. She said those battles would serve her well in a Congress defined by stalemate and controlling big interests.
“I’m really proud of my record in a time when no one was sure anything could get done,” she said.
Carroll already has the support of high-profile D.C.-based organizations such as Emily’s List. She said that unlike Romanoff, who refused political action committee money in his race against Coffman, she would accept PAC money, like Coffman.
“I know who I’m fighting for. The people who give to me know what I am what I’m fighting for,” she said.
Carroll said she plans to launch a districtwide listening tour July 18 as a way to hone in on and better-understand residents concerns.
“It will remain a tough (race), but I think it’s a good year to run. I’m hoping to be able to do a really strong grassroots campaign,” she said.
Coffman was first elected to CD6 in 2008 after the retirement of former Rep. Tom Tancredo, and he has so far been able to hold onto the district after it was redrawn in 2011 to include most of Aurora, and many more Democrats. In addition to defeating Romanoff in 2014 by 9 percentage points, Coffman won over Democratic nominee Joe Miklosi by 2 percentage points in 2012.
Earlier this year, Coffman was heavily courted by state and national Republicans to challenge Democratic Sen. Michael Bennett for his Senate seat next year. Last month, Coffman, an Army and Marine veteran, declined, saying he wanted to continue his work in the 6th Congressional District, focusing on issues affecting veterans and the military. A former state legislator, state treasurer and secretary of state, Coffman has worked to soften his reputation for being a staunch conservative, which appealed to the majority of conservative constituents in his former district. During and after the last election, Coffman shunned party-line objections to some illegal immigrant reform concessions and sought to distance himself from hot-button federal issues such as gay rights and abortion rights. Coffman’s wife, Cynthia Coffman, was just last year elected Colorado attorney general. She was recently drawn into a state Republican Party quagmire over allegations that she and former 6th CD Congressman Tom Tancredo sought to blackmail state party chief Steve House to force him out. Cynthia Coffman has denied the claims, saying she discussed rumors of an alleged affair with House as a way to get his attention. All sides seek to scuttle the issue now.
Carroll, who is term-limited and plans to serve through the end of her term ending in 2016, said she is not worried about a tough battle with Coffman, and the inevitable barrage of attack ads likely to come with it.
“If (voters) like status quo, they are likely to back Mike Coffman,” she said of her opponent. “You’re not going to change anything if you’re afraid of taking on big fights. I’ve never shied away from big fights.”
Coffman’s political team has so far pegged Carroll as just another candidate in the Democratic Party’s machine.
“We know that Nancy Pelosi is dialing up prospective candidates, and we know that her political minions at the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee are in full ramp-up as well,” Coffman’s spokesman Tyler Sandberg told The Colorado Statesman in March. “Whether or not this is the No. 1 race in America again, rest assured, we will be ready. Whomever it is that finds themselves on the ballot against Mike Coffman, they better lace their shoes real tight and be ready for the fight of a lifetime.”
National Republican Congressional Committee spokesman Zach Hunter echoed Sandberg’s response to Carroll entering the race.
“With ultra-liberal Morgan Carroll officially in the race, it’s clear Democrats learned nothing from their 9 point loss there in 2014. Morgan Carroll is just another out of touch liberal that simply doesn’t match the district and voters will send her packing just like they did with Andrew Romanoff,” he said in a statement.
Carroll also practices law for the law firm of Bachus & Schanker. She and her mother, Rebecca Bradley, owned their private practice for a decade, specializing in disability advocacy. Carroll’s longtime boyfriend, Mike Weissman, is running as a Democratic candidate for House District 36 in Aurora.
Early Tuesday morning, the Carroll campaign released their first video announcing her run for Congress.
Morgan Carroll for the 6th Congressional District