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Democratic women call for more party diversity

Portrayal of GOP ‘war on women’ falls short

DENVER – Frustration is building within the Colorado Democratic Party among some women who feel they should have more of a leadership voice.

The party lost one woman in a leadership role after chairman Rick Palacio fired executive director Jennifer Koch shortly after the election last Tuesday. Koch had been with the party for only a little over a year.

At least four well-known Colorado Democratic women have been asked by their supporters to challenge Palacio following a lackluster election that saw several key losses for Democrats.

The list includes Nancy Cronk, who recently lost her race for House District 37; Carolyn Boller, the current secretary of the Colorado Democratic Party; Anne Murdaugh, a Denver Democratic volunteer; and Patricia Barela Rivera, president and owner of PBR Solutions and former Colorado District director for the U.S. Small Business Administration.

Only Boller said she is leaning toward competing, while Cronk, Murdaugh and Rivera appeared unlikely to run against Palacio.

All the Democratic women, however, said they would like to see more listening within the state and national party to women’s voices.

“I went to Rick and told him, ‘I support you, but I’d like to see some changes,’” Cronk said. “I’m pushing the agenda that we become more diverse, and that women take a larger role in leadership, but I also think that our party chair is capable of accomplishing that with our help, and I hope that he does.”

Boller stopped short of accusing Palacio of not listening but said she would like to see changes.

“Women should be having more of a voice as to what’s going on and what effects them,” Boller said. “But I don’t want to get into a pissing match on this whole thing.”

“You have to look at who is the person that believes in equity and fairness, and that both genders are at the table,” Rivera added. “That’s my concern. At times it is fair, and at times it’s dismissed.”

Vic Meyers, who just lost his race to represent the 4th Congressional District, also has announced that he will seek to oust Palacio.

For his part, Palacio said the decision to fire Koch had nothing to do with the dismal election or anything connected to women’s issues.

“Jennifer is a very hard worker, she believes strongly in the Democratic Party and our Democratic cause; so she left, but it had nothing whatsoever to do with the election,” Palacio said.

Koch added, “I feel very privileged to have served as the executive director of the party, and I am very proud of the work that we were able to do in this election.”

Palacio said he plans to run for another term come Democratic leadership elections in March or April. The gay Latino party chairman said diversity has always been a focus for him.

“I’m disappointed that that’s the way that they feel because I feel like the Democratic Party has done a good job – and made a concerted effort – to ensure that all people have been represented,” Palacio said, pointing out that Colorado has one of the highest percentages of women elected to a state legislature.

Lisa Kaufmann, chief of staff for U.S. Rep. Jared Polis, D-Boulder, said Palacio has always been concerned with women’s voices.

“We are just so lucky to have him. It’s kind of a thankless job,” Kaufmann said. “To have such an inclusive leader, we’re so lucky to have him do the job.”

The effort to replace Palacio comes following an election in which Democrats lost many key races. One of the only bright spots for Democrats was the re-election of Gov. John Hickenlooper.

Much of the election season focused on familiar messaging, in which Democrats portrayed Republicans as waging a “war on women.” That strategy was successful in 2010 and 2012, but many argue that it fell flat this year.

Democrats are now looking internally, worried about Sen. Michael Bennet, a Democrat who faces a tough re-election in two years.

“We need to pull it back down to the grass-roots,” Cronk said. “We need to make it more diverse again. The strength of the Democratic Party is our diversity, and if we aren’t focused on that, then we lose.”

pmarcus@durangoherald.com

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