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Lawmaker wants to change rule that got him his job

Rep. Jeff Bridges benefited from being appointed but wants to change the method House and Senate vacancies are filled.

DENVER - One week into 2019 and three of Colorado's 100 lawmakers will have their jobs because they were appointed by a committee instead of a general election.

On Monday, the House seat currently occupied by Rep. Jeff Bridges (D-Greenwood Village) is being decided by a vacancy committee of no more than 66 people.

His seat is being vacated because he was just appointed to fill the Senate seat being vacated by Sen. Daniel Kagan (D-Cherry Hills Village). Kagan is resigning his seat on Friday.

There were 137 people who could have participated in the Bridges' vacancy committee, but 119 showed up on Saturday to vote.

He won with 83 of the 119 votes.

"The fact that 119 decided who the State Senator would be for 150,000, to me, just doesn't seem like a very Democratic process," said Bridges. "I got that question a lot, 'well what do you think of this process?' I go, I don't think it's the most fair process."

Last week, Cathy Kipp was appointed to take over the House seat for Sen. Joann Ginal (D-Fort Collins). Ginal gave up her House seat and was appointed to the Senate for Sen. John Kefalas (D-Fort Collins), who resigned when he won his election to become Larimer County Commissioner.

Bridges benefited from being appointed but wants to change the method House and Senate vacancies are filled.

"I wouldn't say that I benefited from it, I'd say that I worked incredibly hard to have one-on-one conversations with everyone in that room, just like I do on every single campaign," said Bridges. "At the end of the day, the legislature is responsible for setting those rules. Right now, we've put it in the hands of the party. I don't think that's necessarily the best way forward."

Last week, Rep. Bob Rankin (R-Carbondale) was appointed to the seat being vacated by resigning Sen. Randy Baumgardner (R-Hot Sulphur Springs). His vacancy committee consisted of 10 people. Rankin won with six votes.

"Some other vacancy committees that we've had in the state, 10 people, 10 people total decided who the Senator would be for 150,000 Coloradans. Now, whatever the quality of those 10 people, that's not Democratic," said Bridges.

Rankin's House seat will be decided by a vacancy committee of six people.

"The legislature can set the rules for elections, including vacancies," said Bridges. "I think it should look just like primaries do in this state, and the people of Colorado said really clearly that unaffiliated voters should be part of that process."

For the Arapahoe County vacancies, the Democrats chose their committees at the county caucus, which is the second stage after you attend the precinct caucus. Don't know what a precinct caucus is? Don't worry, most people only care during presidential election years, if at all.

"Caucus is the least Democratic part of our democracy. If you are sick, if you are taking care of someone who is sick, if God forbid, you have to work, you can't go to caucus," said Bridges.

"Different organizations, different parties, have different ways of defining those vacancy committees. We think ours is one of the most inclusive ways of doing that," said Arapahoe County Democrats Chairwoman Mary Ellen Wolf. "Those people are elected at the caucus, so they are representative of Democrats as a whole."

Wolf was coordinating the election for Bridges' replacement on Monday night.

"I work with what we have," she said when asked if this was the best way to fill a vacancy. "You would have to find another mechanism, and the most obvious mechanism would be a special election."

For that to happen, Bridges or another lawmaker would have to propose a law change.

"You could do a special election, but this time of year that's a little problematic because of the amount of time that it takes," said Sen. Mike Foote (D-Boulder). Foote was appointed to the Senate after Sen. Matt Jones resigned because he won his election to be a Boulder County Commissioner.

The Colorado Sun recently took an extensive look at lawmakers who have been appointed.

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