That no one will run against incumbent state Sen. Ellen Roberts is a well-deserved compliment to her and the job she has done representing the 6th Senate District. At the same time, it is also a disappointment. Even faced with a popular and accomplished incumbent, the voters deserve a choice.
The deadline to put a candidate’s name on the ballot has come and gone, and with that, the Democrats have effectively ceded the 6th District race to Roberts. There are no minor-party candidates for the job, and while a write-in candidate would have a mathematical chance, those efforts almost never succeed.
Andrew Short, executive director of the Colorado Democratic Senate Campaign Fund, said his party was “unable to find a qualified candidate to run against Ellen Roberts who we can occasionally work across the aisle with.” And while awkwardly phrased, that is politically spot-on.
The Democrats could not find an acceptable candidate for two closely related reasons. One is few people want to spend that kind of time and money only to lose. Roberts is popular and well-known.
The other reason goes a long way toward explaining the first. Roberts is a Republican, and her voting record would never be mistaken for that of a Democrat. But at the same time, she is far from the radical fringe of her party. Like one of her predecessors, Jim Dyer, she largely takes her half out of the middle.
(Dyer was elected as a Democrat, which at least in this district pretty well insulated him against attacks from the left. At the same time, his multiple combat tours as an officer in the Marine Corps made it hard for Republicans to characterize him as a squishy liberal.)
A centrist who “can occasionally work across the aisle” is a good fit for Western Colorado. Throw in the fact Roberts is also smart, conscientious and hard-working, and it is easy to see why no one was interested in challenging her.
The state Democratic Party also deserves credit for recognizing reality and not dredging up some wing nut just to have a name on the ballot. That Short lamented his party’s inability to find “a suitable candidate” speaks well for the effort.
All that said, it is still disappointing Roberts will not face a challenger. No matter how popular she may be, the voters deserve a choice. Perhaps more to the point, they also deserve the debate that accompanies that choice.
She has been a state senator for four years. For four years before that, she served in the state House. In that time, she cast a number of votes and took positions on numerous issues. She has a record. It is an honorable record, but a record nonetheless – one involving decisions and stands on sometimes controversial questions. One does not need to be an extremist or unhinged to disagree with at least some of the votes she cast.
Even without an opponent, she should be encouraged to take part in campaign forums and debates. While the outcome will not be in doubt, voters should nonetheless have the chance to ask her the tough questions all elected officials should face.
We have a two-party system for a reason. Ellen Roberts is a reasonable person with a demonstrated capacity for bipartisan cooperation. She should take the lack of opposition as the compliment it is.
But she is also a Republican who faithfully and consistently represents her party and its thinking. The Democrats should have found someone to run against her on that basis alone.