BY PETER JONES
Robert Bowen has been drafted again.
Amid both assumption—and pressure—that the former state representative would become this year’s Democratic candidate in state House District 38, Bowen has opted to take another stab at a district he lost two years ago by 22 percentage points.
“Everybody kept saying I was going to be the nominee. I kept telling people I’m not running. My standard line is wherever there’s a hill to die on, I’m the first person who gets called,” the candidate said of his impending run in the Republican-leaning district.
By virtue of once again receiving the nomination on the floor of the recent Arapahoe County Democratic Assembly, Bowen of Centennial has now reluctantly accepted the District 38 draft twice in as many election cycles after no one else was willing to heed the call.
“They said, ‘We’re going to nominate you. It’s going to be your decision whether you sign the paperwork or not,’” the candidate said. “It goes back to my feeling that you can’t have districts where you just simply surrender. It would be a case of the Republicans having a free ride. There is a value to both sides of the issue being told.”
In November, Bowen will face one of two Republicans seeking their party’s nod—former county Commissioner Susan Beckman, a political veteran who has earned topline ballot designation, or student and architectural planner Michael Williams, who has emphasized his millennial credentials and moderate social positions.
Bowen imagines a hypothetical debate with the candidates.
“I’m going to say—you’re for infrastructure, but your party has opposed doing anything to fund infrastructure. Are you going to stand up to your caucus and do something with TABOR to allow for infrastructure,” the Democrat said. “If you talk about the environment and talk about preserving outdoors, you are bucking your own party.”
Bowen, a third-generation Colorado native, 67, was raised in Denver’s working-class Auraria neighborhood that was later leveled to create a campus for Metropolitan State University, at which Bowen was a near-founding student activist.
The eventual real estate
developer was appointed to the House in 1982 as a midterm replacement in northwest Denver. He won the seat three times before being successfully challenged in the Democratic primary after redistricting in 1988.
As a member of the minority party, Bowen says he has a proven record of working with the opposing party on difficult issues while maintaining relative independence.
“There were four of us called the Killer Bees—freshman Democratic representatives that bucked both parties equally,” he said.
The Democrat is perhaps proudest of his sponsorship of the House version of the bill that instigated the Regional Transportation District’s light rail program and a bill to expand the implementation of joint parental custody.
“I passed big laws that freshman Republicans wouldn’t even introduce,” he said during his campaign two years ago. “I had to have State Patrol protection when the used-car dealers threatened to kill me over the used-car lemon law.”
Now retired, Bowen spends his time as a writer and local historian. Last year, he published The Vision, The Struggle: How Metropolitan State University of Denver Began, which placed the school’s rocky history in the context of the turbulent 1960s.
Like many of the western suburban areas of Arapahoe County, Republicans dominate District 38, but a less predictable population of unaffiliated voters constitutes the district’s largest category of registrants. In 2010, Republican Kathleen Conti defeated popular Democrat Joe Rice in what was considered a surprise win against an incumbent and military veteran who had built support across party lines. Conti is now running for Beckman’s former commissioner seat.
Redistricting to the east has furthered the Republican lead in 38, which includes parts of Centennial, Littleton, Greenwood Village and Bow Mar.
“What I often say is you could have a chimpanzee run as a Republican …,” Bowen said. “There are Democratic seats where the same argument could be used about a Democrat.”
Bowen believes Conti received much of the unaffiliated vote in 2014.
None of this is to say Bowen is always in lockstep with his party. While he supports the Democratic-supported gun laws and raising the minimum wage, he is also moderately supportive of oil fracking, at least in transition to phasing out fossil fuels, he said.
It is his own energy that Bowen is most concerned about now, after suffering ongoing injuries in a vehicle collision last fall. He expects less intense door-to-door campaigning.
“I’m still in a lot of pain. I went through months of physical therapy,” he said. “I’ll work as hard as I’m physically able to work.”
With no help expected from the state party, Bowen thinks his best chance would be the Democratic nomination of Sen. Bernie Sanders, given the presidential candidate’s ability mobilize supporters and the likelihood that down-ballot Democrats would benefit.
“It doesn’t mean I’m not going to be aggressively talking about the issues and campaigning on social media and showing up at things all over the place,” Bowen said.
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