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Winner of state House primary race could sway policy decisions at the Capitol

Even though the primary is between two Democrats, it feels like a general election between two candidates with opposing views.

DENVER — The June 28 primary election will be relatively boring for Colorado Democrats.

There are a few contested Congressional races for the Democrats to sort out, but the big statewide races have just one candidate moving forward to November's general election.

The most interesting Democratic primary might be for a state House seat in Denver.

Voters will decide between a progressive, Elisabeth Epps, and a centrist, Katie March. And the winner could sway policy decisions at the state Capitol.

That is likely why big money is interested in House District 6 (HD 6), which includes Capitol Hill, Congress Park and Lowry.

"I represent the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party," said Epps, a community organizer and former public defender. "My opponent and I in this HD 6 race are two people, who in many other political systems, would not even be in the same political party, period."

"I believe that we need to have, in House District 6, a person who is elected as a representative who has progressive values, but can also get to real results," said March, a former historian and senior advisor to Democratic House Speaker State Rep. Alec Garnett.

The race between two Democrats has caught the attention of the Colorado Chamber of Commerce and a couple of apartment associations.

The Chamber, which generally supports Republican candidates, recently put out a slate of endorsements with nine Republicans and four Democrats. One of those four Democrats was March.

She also received maximum contributions of $5,350 from two apartment associations.

"I think organizations like the Apartment Association and I don't agree on every subject, but they do really appreciate my stance on wanting to increase affordable housing," said March. "I have been very honest about my positions with anyone who asks, right? That I support renter protections. I support working with people to make sure that our costs of rents go down."

An Epps supporter pointed out on social media that she accepted three contributions totaling $600 from someone who, in 2018, was paid to lobby for the National Rifle Association (NRA).

"I worked with him on a bill to protect union firefighter pensions, and he apparently had taken a small contract with the NRA many years ago, which has since ceased. After finding out this information, I returned the contribution," said March. "It is absolutely laughable that I would take money from the NRA or that they would want to give me money. I have spent my career at the (state) Capitol fighting for gun violence prevention laws."

But if the contribution was not from the NRA, why give it back?

"I think it's an acknowledgement that I don't work with the NRA," said March. "I believe that we need to pass things like implementing waiting periods and an assault weapons ban, gun store licensure, and those are completely antithetical to what the NRA stands for."

The connection between the contributor and the NRA was based on searching the contributor's name in a separate lobbyist database.

"No candidate has the ability to check the employment history of every single person who contributes to them," said March.

"I feel pretty confident about the makeup of who's supporting me. I very much welcome and invite someone to point out anything that they would find concerning," said Epps.

Epps, the farther left of the two left candidates, would add to a growing roster of progressives at the state Capitol.

Which might explain why contributions are coming from places that might not normally be interested in Democratic politics.

"It's sort of just donating to the lesser of two evils if you're not loving either candidate," said DU Assistant Political Science Professor Sara Chatfield.

"I'm going to push back on the suggestion that the groups don't support either of us. What those groups don't support is progress," said Epps. "They don't just not want me, the status quo is working for them."

Even though the primary is between two Democrats, it feels like a general election between two candidates with opposing views.

The far left wing of Democrats currently at the state Capitol have, at times, fought their own party, as well as Republicans.

"I care a lot about gun violence prevention, affordable housing, worker protections, climate legislation," said March.

"I don't need corporate money and I don't need problematic money to run and to win this race," said Epps. "They don't support regulating greenhouse gas emissions. They don't support smart and sensible drug policy. They don't support protections for tenants, for renters. They don't support full collective bargaining rights. They don't support a full statewide ban on assault weapons."

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