Youth civic engagement nonprofit New Era Colorado launched their new small donor and independent expenditure committees and previewed upcoming legislation during last night’s Opening Day Happy Hour event.

“Over the last 18 years, we have propelled Colorado to have the top five youth turnout in the entire country, which is amazing,” said New Era Executive Director Nicole Hensel. “Young people turned out at 71% in the 2020 election, and we are expecting levels just as high for this election. We have shown time and time again that young people will show up, that they’re not apathetic, but they just simply need access.”

Hensel also raised concerns about the failure of progressive legislation during the 2023 session. “We entered the legislative session with historic majorities, a supermajority in the House, and young people turned out at these record levels,” she said. “It was really clear that housing was the top priority, and we thought for sure the 2023 legislative session was where we were going to get it done, but we did not pass rent stabilization. We did not pass the for-cause eviction bill.”

Rep. Javier Mabrey (D-Denver) discussed legislation to address Colorado’s housing crisis. “People are paying $2,600 a month to live in roach-infested apartments in Thornton and Northglenn, right after they got priced out of the North Side,” he said. “We still can’t get policies like rent stabilization through. We’re not doing enough. We are not doing enough to fight for young people and to keep our communities in their homes, so this year, what are we going to do about it? This year, I’m proud to be on two big pieces of legislation.”

Mabrey is co-sponsoring HB24-1007, a bill to prohibit local governments from enacting or enforcing residential occupancy limits. Mabrey also plans to reintroduce legislation to prohibit landlords from evicting their residential tenants or declining to renew their lease without just cause. 

“The next piece of legislation that I’m working on — and everybody knows what I’m going to say — we’re bringing a bill that simply says a landlord should have a reason if they are going to remove you from your home,” said Mabrey. “They should have a reason if they’re going to remove you from your home. We’re not bringing back rent stabilization this year, even though I think we should.”

Last year’s for cause eviction bill, HB23-1171, passed the house but failed in the Senate. New Jersey, California, New Hampshire, Oregon, and Washington have all passed similar eviction legislation.

“We’ve got some dope representation in the house,” said Sen. Julie Gonzales (D-Denver). “We got some work to do in the Senate.”

Gonzales lamented the influence of outside money and lobbying on legislation. “Part of what often comes into play in the dynamics of the legislative session is that corporate moneyed lobbyists — who get paid way more than you and I will make over the course of the entire year — will take on issues in order to stop progressive legislation from being enacted in order to maintain the status quo.”

New Era is hoping to level the legislative playing field with endorsements, and both a small donor and independent expenditure committees in 2024. “The last legislative session, we tried a lot of new accountability tactics to try and get our bills passed,” said Hensel. “We’ve really increased our pressure at the legislature, and while we’ve tried a lot of different tactics to try and build closer to the vision of the world that young people hold, we recognize that we weren’t doing enough. Specifically, we weren’t doing enough to find, recruit, uplift, and support real youth agenda champions. What I mean by that is people who are really willing to throw down for young people, who are willing to use their political power and their political capital to fight hard for the issues that young people care about. That’s why we have decided to bring back our endorsement process for the first time in 12 years.”

New Era will begin to endorse progressive candidates in targeted races for both the primary and general elections in 2024. Rep. Elisabeth Epps (D-Denver) and Rep. Tim Hernández (D-Denver), two of the most progressive members of the Colorado House, are both facing a primary challenge this year.

“We want to do a better job as an organization of finding those candidates and directly supporting them and helping them get elected into office,” said Hensel. “Our small donor committee is going to be fueled by grassroots donations. The small donor committee will be making direct contributions to candidates running for state and local office. This includes primary elections and general elections. Our independent expenditure committee is going to use the power of our grassroots organizing, which we have already flexed that power, to help elect those endorsed candidates to office. This includes our peer-to-peer organizing programs on campus, our mail, our phones, our doors, our digital — all that good stuff about how we actually reach young voters and turn them out and make sure they know who their champions are and why they should vote for them.”