Control of the Colorado Statehouse is up for grabs this November and the balance of power could hinge on just a handful key of races.
Republicans currently have a one-seat advantage in the House of Representatives and are trying to hang on to their majority.
State House District 3 is one of those key races. It used to be a Democratic stronghold until the district’s boundaries were redrawn. It now includes parts of several southern Denver suburbs.
“It’s not just like any other race when you know that possibly the question of who has the majority in the statehouse is on your shoulders. It focuses your attention, it certainly does,” says incumbent Democrat Daniel Kagan.
Kagan was originally appointed to his house seat and has served nearly four legislative sessions. But he’s never had to run in a competitive race until now.
“What I’m trying to do is stop Washington D.C. style politics from taking over Colorado. Because when I watch what they’re up to up there and I see how they bash each other, and get nothing done, and I think if that comes our state, were in trouble.”
Kagan’s challenger is Republican Brian Watson. He too is spending several hours each day going door to door sharing his views on education, the environment and improving the economy.
“And I’ve heard some really heartbreaking stories about people who have lost their jobs or are underemployed or losing their homes.”
Watson says he especially wants to give small business a stronger voice at the statehouse.
“I believe we have the greatest natural and the greatest human capital resources and I want to put those to work. I left the house at 17 years of age, and had to put myself thought school at CU Boulder. I started different companies and was a job creator. Mr. Kagan just comes from a different background. We just have a fundamental difference in terms of what we believe the role of government should be in society.”
Those differences are likely to extend to some of the hot button issues that are almost certain to come up next session.
Kagan supports a bill to allow illegal immigrant students who graduate from Colorado high schools to pay a lower college tuition rate than out of state tuition. Watson opposes the measure saying it sends the wrong message to legal immigrants. Kagan is also a strong backer of civil unions. He says part of his support stems from his family history. His parents met in a Nazi concentration camp.
“I find it troubling when people are denied their rights, really. My parents experience of the ultimate oppression, being put in a concentration camp and being used as slave labor until they decide to kill you has really affected my whole life.”
And it’s why Kagan says he wants to be a public servant. Brian Watson says he doesn’t have a personal issue with civil unions, but says he would vote against a bill to allow them.
“I believe certain issues are state’s rights issues and I believe we should put them up for a vote of the people and let the people decide. So civil unions specifically should be a ballot initiative and let them weigh on that.”
And while the race has had its fair share of attacks, with all the focus on to the presidential race, statehouse contests largely fly under the radar. Colorado State University Political science professor John Straayer says it’s tough for down ticket races to bust through all the election noise. And he thinks both candidates will certainly benefit if their parties mobilize their bases.
“I don’t think it means the partisan flow will automatically will determine the winner. 2:22- I think the voters move around a little bit, not a lot but they do move around some.”
House District 3 is turning out to be one of the most competitive and expensive statehouse races in Colorado. Daniel Kagan has raised nearly $150,000 dollars for his campaign. Brian Watson has raised $250,000 dollars.