“I’m from Silverton, the mining town that never quit,” said Swonger in a statement released to The Watch on Thursday, who once worked in the area gold mines and mills. “To live in our mountain communities you have to be resilient and have determination. Those are the some of the attributes I bring to better represent the people of the 59th District.
“I did not make this decision lightly. I was looking forward to participating in our precinct and convention process and remain respectful of those institutions. I’ve been urged by my supporters not to let a technicality with state party rules end my campaign. In the weeks ahead I will gather the signatures needed to participate in the primary.”
As part of his campaign launch in early January, Swonger announced a ‘59 JOBS’ initiative. His goal is to work a half-day or more alongside fellow Coloradoans in 58 different district jobs.
“Ranching, farming, energy, education, tourism, health care: these are some of the key industries for the 21st century,” he said. “Working in these fields is the best way to learn more about what folks need to succeed. The 59th job? As the newly elected 59th representative, of course – then I can craft legislation to help current and future businesses of this district.”
Swonger sees the petition process as another way to engage voters, so they can help a fellow citizen get to the statehouse.
“I need to build a solid foundation for a grassroots campaign organization in all six counties of District 59,” Swonger noted. “By collecting signatures I will meet and recruit new volunteers, build an organization, and continue to bring a message of job growth, improved education and less partisanship in state government.
“This is a more difficult path to win the election but I’m not afraid of hard work. I will address issues directly with the thousands of District 59 voters participating in the Democratic primary, not to mention unaffiliated and Republican voters who are ready for a change in Denver partisan politics.”
For more information contact Swonger at 970/759-8196, or visit the campaign website at www.swongerforcolorado.org.
PUBLISHED FEB. 2, 2012
Swonger Supporters Dispute Disqualification From State House Race
State Dems Say He Failed to Register in Time
SILVERTON - Silverton resident Patrick Swonger’s recent disqualification from the race for House District 59 is an example of party politics interfering with grassroots democracy.
So allege some Swonger supporters, who are upset at the manner in which his candidacy has been derailed.
“This sort of thing turns my stomach,” said Wally White, a La Plata County Commissioner and prominent Durango Democrat. “There’s been a concerted effort by a couple of people in Durango to discredit Pat, and a lot of behind the scenes maneuvering apparently; it’s been quite ugly. I find it to be a reflection of what’s happening at the national level – who controls the money – not about who is best qualified.”
The matter began when Democratic state party leaders convened a controversy committee last week, responding to multiple complaints about Swonger’s eligibility as a candidate. The committee was comprised of Denver attorney Spencer Ross, who is a former staff member of the Colorado Democratic Party; Anne Wilseck of Larimer County, who serves on the Rules Committee of the Party; and the Honorable Michael Callihan, a former Lieutenant Governor, State Representative and State Senator of the State of Colorado.
Together, the three unanimously ruled in a letter dated Jan. 20 that Swonger is not qualified to run because he “failed to affiliate with the Democratic Party prior to the eligibility deadline.”
Colorado law requires candidates to register with their chosen party at least 12 months in advance of the next general election.
“Therefore, as the 2012 general election is on Nov. 6, 2012, Nov. 6, 2011 was the affiliation deadline for any candidate wishing to win a position on the primary ballot through the assembly process,” the ruling states.
Swonger, a former Republican who describes himself as a moderate, said he knew he was cutting it close when he switched his affiliation to the Democratic Party on Monday, Nov. 7, 2011. But he thought state law provided a grace period of one day, since the actual deadline for registration fell on a Sunday.
As the grounds to support this argument, Swonger points to Colorado Revised Statute 1-1-106(4) detailing the method for computing deadlines for elections:
“If the last day for any act to be done or the last day of any period is a Saturday, Sunday, or legal holiday and completion of such act involves a filing or other action during business hours, the period is extended to include the next day which is not a Saturday, Sunday, or legal holiday.”
But after parsing the semantics of its own party rules in relation to relevant pieces of the state statutes, the Democratic controversy committee came to the opposite conclusion, releasing its finding last week that Swonger had indeed missed the deadline to affiliate with the Colorado Democratic Party, which they deemed to be not Monday, Nov. 7 as Swonger had argued, but Friday, Nov. 4, 2011.
Swonger, blindsided by the news, has consulted an election attorney and said he may contest the party’s ruling in court.
“I’m confident I have a really good case, and I’m trying to determine how to proceed from here,” he said. “According to my legal advice, this is really (about) my constitutional rights; it’s a hijacking from the state level. They’ve got me pretty well taken out of the elective process.”
The state party, meanwhile, stands by its ruling. “There was a technical issue here,” said Matt Inzeo, Communications Director for the Colorado Democratic Party. “Colorado Statute is quite clear on what must be done to qualify a candidate, and unfortunately we found ourselves in a position where he wasn’t qualified. That’s not to say he doesn’t have a lot to contribute in future elections.”
Swonger is a Silverton-based a telecommunications professional, Vietnam-era U.S. Air Force veteran, and married father of three school-aged boys. He has served on the Silverton Town Council for the past six years, and has become increasingly well-known regionally as the founder of Operation Link Up, a grassroots coalition working to improve fiber optic infrastructure in southwestern Colorado.
Although a lifelong Republican, Swonger ran for his position on the Silverton Town Council six years ago as an independent, but never made this change of affiliation official. When he registered with the Democratic Party last November, he said, “It was more of a formality than a conversion. I’ve always worked from a nonpartisan mindset. I think my values align more with the Democrats. The (Republican) ship moved out from underneath me a long time ago.”
In his candidacy thus far, Swonger has been open about the fact that he switched his party affiliation, and candid about his reasons for doing so. “Everywhere I went I addressed the issue head on,” he said.
Swonger’s campaign appeared to be off to a strong start prior to his disqualification. He declared his candidacy on Tuesday, Jan. 10 in a day-long stump through District 59, which due to recent redistricting efforts at the state level, now includes Ouray County (formerly in District 58) in addition to San Juan, La Plata, Archuleta and Hinsdale Counties, and a portion of Gunnison County.
The seat he is seeking is currently held by Republican J. Paul Brown, a rancher from Ignacio who falls on the conservative end of the political spectrum. “This is a seat that is going to be a very critical one,” Inzeo stressed. “We certainly feel the current representative is badly out of touch with the needs of our constituents and it has been a matter of interest for the party in general to unseat him.”
Brown announced his own bid for re-election just days before Swonger declared his candidacy.
“I knew I would get a tough tumble from the Republicans, but not a hit from friendly fire,” Swonger said of the state Dems’ decision to DQ him. “People like me fall in a chasm between extremes. If moderates can’t participate, then the system is broke. Really broke.”
Some Swonger supporters, including White, suspect the influence of the House Majority Project, an activist entity of the Colorado Democratic Party, in last week’s ruling against Swonger.
According to its website, the House Majority Project “works toward building a Democratic majority in the State House of Representatives. It takes a statewide view of Colorado politics: supporting our caucus members, recruiting candidates, and then funneling financial and strategic resources to key candidates and districts around Colorado. Using data analysis, candidate training and recruitment, and then by vigorously supporting Democratic candidates in targeted races, the House Majority Project plays a critical role in protecting Democratic seats and turning Republican seats blue.”
Swonger guesses he was a little too maroon to win the blessing of such party players, who are purported to have another candidate in mind to challenge Congressman Brown for District 59. That would be former Durango District Attorney Michael McLachlan, according to White and other sources. (McLachlan has not yet indicated whether he will run.)
“He’s highly qualified, with excellent qualifications and background,” White noted of McLachlan, whom he referred to wryly as “the annointed one.”
“But the House Majority Project in my opinion is playing a nasty game,” White said. “Nobody likes to be told who their candidate will be. I do think Pat has made some mistakes along the way, like waiting ‘til the last minute to register. But unfortunately, I think the controversy committee may have misinterpreted how the state law applies to the party law.”
In response to the suggestion that the state party is playing favorites in a local race, Inzeo said, “The party will not take formal positions or endorsements in a potential primary. We are strictly required to remain neutral. That being said, we would love to see compelling people step forward and offer a better alternative than the current extremist representation.”
Ouray County Democratic Chairman John Hollrah, meanwhile, remains philosophical about Swonger’s disqualification.
“It seems a technicality, but the technicalities turn out to matter,” Hollrah said. “You don’t want a group of Republicans or even Democrats that disagree (with Swonger’s eligibility) waiting until October to come out and show how the candidate has to be disqualified. If you don’t play by the rules real closely, you expose yourself later down the line, at which point you’ve got no candidate at all.”
Or, as Inzeo more succinctly put it: “A walk in the park for J. Paul Brown was an unacceptible possibility.”
Still, Hollrah isn’t ready to write Swonger off altogether. “I think he should be encouraged to throw his hat in the ring in another race,” he said.
Contact Samantha Wright at email@example.com
The print version of this story, appearing in the Feb. 2 issue of the Watch, states that the night before Swonger’s six-county tour announcing his candidacy, La Plata County Commissioner Wally White received a phone call from the head of the Colorado Democratic Party’s House Majority Project, casting doubt on Swonger’s eligibility as a candidate. This statement is in error. White clarified that he did receive a phone message from the House Majority Project but spoke with no one, adding that the phone message was only a request to call them. White clarified that he did speak with Rick Palacio, Chair of the State Democratic Party, who alerted White that there may be an issue with Swonger’s candidacy, and that the matter had been referred to the party’s controversy committee for analysis.