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Politics and Government

Colorado Senate President Leroy Garcia is spending $20,000 on ads touting his work — even though he’s term limited

The Pueblo Democrat’s 30-second spot touts legislation passed during the 2019 lawmaking term and his past as a Marine. He says it’s focused on reminding constituents of his accomplishments.

Senate President Leroy Garcia, a Pueblo Democrat, stands at the Senate podium on the first day in his new position. Colorado state legislators, along with their family members and friends, gather for the 72nd General Assembly's first regular session on January 4, 2019, in Denver. (Kathryn Scott, Special to The Colorado Sun)
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Colorado Senate President Leroy Garcia is spending roughly $20,000 on television and digital ads touting his work during the 2019 legislative session, an unusual step in a non-election year — especially for a term-limited lawmaker.

But the Pueblo Democrat, who was reelected to his seat in 2018 for a final four-year term, is facing the threat of recall — albeit one that appears negligible.

His critics took an early step toward a potential recall election in the middle of the lawmaking term by forming a political committee to spearhead the effort. But the committee fizzled, reporting just $147 in its bank account through May 5.

There has also been talk about Garcia as a potential candidate to challenge Republican U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton of Cortez in Colorado’s 3rd Congressional District.

In an interview Monday with The Colorado Sun, Garcia didn’t completely rule out a congressional bid but suggested he’s not looking at the race. He said the ads are about making sure he is still connected to the community.

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“I’m perfectly happy where I am,” he said. “I think (the ad is) more about, for me, reminding constituents and sharing with constituents the great work that we accomplished this year, and I’ll continue to see what life throws at me in any event.”

The TV ad is notably not appearing on the Western Slope, where the bulk of the congressional district reaches. It’s also unusual for state lawmakers to run ads of their own on television; instead they usually rely on interest groups to support them in that medium.

As for any potential recall effort, Garcia says Democrats “overwhelmingly feel very comfortable with the work that we’ve done” and that his talks with voters back home have been positive, reminding him that the Capitol can be an echo chamber.

“When you get outside of that bubble, people remind you how the policies that we are passing are affecting them in a positive way,” he said. “I have been focused on results. I work across the aisle. I work with my party. I work with their party. I work with the governor. … If people didn’t feel that way in my district they wouldn’t send me back to Denver.”

Federal Communications Commission records show the Pueblo Democrat is running just under $17,000 in ads in the southern Colorado television market from May 20 to June 9. And Facebook’s advertising database shows that Garcia has spent between $1,000 and $5,000 more on a digital ad that began running May 20 and has reached as many as 500,000 people.

The 30-second ad being run on Facebook and TV touts Garcia’s past as a Marine and work as a paramedic, highlighting the passage this year of legislation aiming to ensure that men and women are paid equally for equal work. The spot also markets bills that benefited firefighters, are meant to lower health care costs and provide funding for education.

“From the Marines to the Senate, no matter which uniform I’ve worn, I’ve always put country, Pueblo and getting results first,” he says in the ad.

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Garcia was elected Senate president at the beginning of the 2019 legislative session. While his Democratic caucus was able to accomplish much during the five-month lawmaking term, there were moments of turmoil.

The Senate Democratic caucus, for instance, came up short on a few big-ticket issues, including failing to pass a bill creating a family and medical leave program and repeal the death penalty.

Garcia also notably voted against Democrats’ so-called red flag gun bill, which Gov. Jared Polis signed into law and allows judges to order the seizure of firearms from people deemed a significant risk to themselves or others. That decision frustrated some liberals and left critics saying he didn’t do enough to block the legislation.

“For him to spend money in the summer of his first year of his second term, I think that’s significant,” said Dick Wadhams, a former chair of the Colorado Republican Party whose roots are in Pueblo.

Wadhams speculated that Garcia “must be feeling some heat.”

Andrew Short, a political strategist and the former executive director for the Democratic Senate Campaign Fund, said TV ads after the legislative session are unusual for state lawmakers. But in this case it makes sense — it’s a tough district for Democrats, and the same one represented by Democratic state Sen. Angela Giron, who was recalled in 2013 over her support for gun-control legislation.

“His district is a little unique, and I can understand why he’s doing it,” Short said. “We have seen that Rocky Mountain Gun Owners is scouting districts across the state to target folks and pick off House and Senate seats. To me, personally, it would make sense that Leroy is letting folks know — whether you agree or disagree with what he did — they got a lot accomplished this past legislative session.”

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