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Mayor Mike Coffman has won a lawsuit against his own town over whether he and other officials can recruit other candidates in the upcoming Aurora local elections.
“These extreme rules were specifically designed to deny me the basic right to publicly support candidates or electoral initiatives. I am grateful that the court issued an injunction to suspend these rules while our lawsuit to declare them unconstitutional continues, “Coffman said in a statement commending a judge’s move.
On May 28, Arapahoe County District Court Judge Peter F. Michaelson granted Coffman’s motion for an injunction to block the implementation of certain provisions of a campaign funding ordinance approved by Aurora City Council in late 2020. Co-sponsors Nicole Johnston and Juan Marcano said the measure was designed to improve transparency and equity; in its filing, Coffman argued that it restricted his own freedom of expression.
Through his attorney Dan Burrows of the Public Trust Institute, Coffman sued the city of Aurora and Aurora official Kadee Rodriguez in mid-March.
Michaelson agreed with the arguments of the first amendment in Coffman’s filing that prohibiting a political candidate from promoting other candidates or electoral initiatives is unconstitutional.
“The court concludes that the regulation gives self-financed candidates a clear advantage over others. Rather than making access to elections more equitable, this regulation prohibits candidates from associating with other more experienced candidates and limits any candidate’s ability to amass resources based on those associations, “Michaelson wrote in his decision. In addition, Michaelson ruled that that Prohibition of voting between election campaign committees in the regulation is unconstitutional.
“This regulation seems to have little to do with corruption and a lot to do with speech, behavior and being among like-minded candidates,” Michaelson concluded.
Marcano, who identifies himself as a democratic socialist, does not see the judgment as a total loss. “The language around coordination needs to be tightened as the judge agreed that it could be interpreted broadly to affect the rights of a candidate’s First Amendment, which is not our intention,” he says, adding that he is still had no opportunity to meet with Aurora City lawyers to find out how to “tighten this while ensuring that coordination between candidates and other entities is prohibited in accordance with county, state and federal elections”.
Johnston added, “I am still amazed to see the words ‘Coffman vs. City of Aurora’ making it easier for the mayor to pour dark money into multiple campaigns from candidates supporting his agenda.”
The city of Aurora has not yet decided whether to appeal the ruling. “The city is still reviewing the court order and evaluating its options and next steps,” said spokesman Ryan Luby.
Meanwhile, the judge’s ruling means that the two main aspects of the ordinance are unlikely to apply to ongoing campaigns as the rest of the lawsuit will not go to court before the November 2021 election.
Much is at stake in this choice. Currently five of the ten seats on Aurora City Council are occupied by left-wing politicians. That has resulted in a series of five to five votes over the past eighteen months, with Coffman, a Republican, usually opposing left-wing council members when he breaks a tie – the only time the mayor can vote.
Five of the ten council seats are available. Of these, only one has an incumbent council member again: the Democrat Crystal Murillo in Ward 1.
Johnston, who ran for the Ward II seat as Democrat and won in 2017, is stepping down June 14 to move to Colorado Springs. Marsha Berzins, a Republican representing Ward III, is temporary and cannot be re-elected.
Allison Hiltz, who ran for a full seat as a Democrat in 2017 and won, is not standing for re-election; The first council member, Dave Gruber, a Republican who has the other seat, will not run again either.
Over a dozen candidates, including Dustin Zvonek, who worked with Coffman when he represented Aurora and neighboring areas in Congress, are running for the vacant council seats.
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Conor McCormick-Cavanagh works for Westword where he covers a range of topics including local politics, immigration and homelessness. He previously worked as a journalist in Tunisia and loves talking about New York sports.