Democratic establishment cheers Joe Neguse’s political launch

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Surrounded by Democratic supporters, CU Regent Joe Neguse announces his campaign for Secretary of State at the Blair Caldwell Library in Five Points Tuesday afternoon.

DENVER — A notably large crowd of prominent Democratic lawmakers and activists turned out Tuesday afternoon to help a young politician launch his campaign for statewide office.

Former Denver Mayor Wellington Webb, congressional candidate Andrew Romanoff, state Rep. Crisanta Duran, Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia and current Denver Mayor Michael Hancock all sang the praises of Joe Neguse, 28, a University of Colorado regent launching his campaign for Secretary of State.

“Joe’s confidence is contagious, his talent is tremendous and his passion for public service is unmatched,” said Romanoff.

Clearly, Democrats are excited about the race to replace controversial Republican Secretary of State Scott Gessler, who’s been dubbed “the honey badger” for his brazenness in the face of ethics charges and allegations that his attempts to tackle voter fraud are really aimed at disenfranchising minority voters and the poor.

“Throughout the last year, I know you were just like me bewildered at some of the things coming out of the Secretary of State’s office,” said Hancock. “At a time when we should be trying to do everything we can to open the doors to political participation in this great democracy of ours, there were efforts to shut those doors.”

But, make no mistake, they’re also excited about Neguse, the son of immigrants from the small, east African nation of Eritrea and a former student body president at CU-Boulder who was bestowed with the Colorado Democratic Party’s “Rising Star Award” in 2010.

When he finally took to the microphone Tuesday, Neguse thanked his parents and said that his family’s journey has driven him to a career in public service.

“I learned early on from my parents how important it is not to take for granted the sacred freedoms we have in our country,” Neguse said. “As Colorado’s Secretary of State, I will work to ensure that all eligible voters can cast their vote and claim their stake in Colorado’s future.”

Neguse also criticized the decision earlier Tuesday by the Supreme Court striking down part of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, a decision he called “disappointing” and one that “deeply undermines the protections we have been fighting for.

“And it crystallizes and reinforces why it’s so important for us to fight to protect our right to vote.”

Republicans have yet to put forth any candidates to follow Gessler; many of the GOP county clerks that have been considered likely statewide candidates for the office could have a tough time in a Republican primary because of their support for a Democratic election law overhaul signed into law earlier this year.

But whoever Neguse’s opponent, Tuesday’s turnout is a sign that the state’s formidable Democratic power base is fully behind him.

Close to a dozen Democratic state lawmakers turned out for Neguse’s announcement.

And Craig Hughes, the political strategist who led Sen. Michael Bennet’s winning 2010 campaign and oversaw President Obama’s successful 2012 operation in Colorado, is managing Neguse’s campaign with his new firm, Hilltop Public Solutions.

In 2014, Neguse may be the party’s only fresh face on a statewide ballot that will likely read: Hickenlooper, Udall and Markey.

When they look at Neguse, Democrats clearly see beyond next year’s election.

“You’re looking at our possible U.S. Senate candidate in 2022,” quipped one prominent Democrat in the crowd.