DENVER—If Democrats were trying to put the calamitous Evie Hudak era behind them on Tuesday night, they didn’t quite succeed.
A Democratic Party vacancy committee selected Arvada city councilwoman and Hudak associate Rachel Zenzinger to fill the vacancy left by Hudak’s eleventh-hour resignation last month in the face of a recall threat.
Zenzinger’s position on hot-button issues like gun control remains to be seen, but in the short run she’s not going to make anyone forget about Hudak. Zenzinger served as Hudak’s campaign manager in the 2012 election and was reportedly Hudak’s choice for the vacancy.
While ProgressNow Colorado praised the pick, calling Zenzinger “a superb choice,” conservatives criticized her selection as a case of Hudak déjà vu.
“Sen. Hudak’s constituents were hungry for change and liberal activists served up more of the same,” said Kelly Maher, executive director of Compass Colorado, in a statement. “Zenzinger may have a different name, but she’s been behind Hudak’s policies. Anyone who thinks Zenzinger is going to stand up to her own Democrat majority is fooling themselves.”
Hudak resigned Nov. 27 as volunteers with Recall Hudak Too were less than a week away from submitting recall petitions to the Secretary of State’s office. By stepping down before a recall vote, Hudak allowed Democrats to choose her successor and keep their 18-17 majority in the state Senate.
The move confirmed that Democrats were worried about whether Hudak could survive a recall. During the petition drive, Hudak’s image took a beating as recallers dredged up some of her most controversial moments in the legislature, such as when she told a rape victim at a hearing that having a gun wouldn’t have saved her from the assault.
By selecting Zenzinger, who must run in November to hold the seat, Democrats could be indicating that they don’t believe voters will link her to Hudak, or if they do, that the party has enough muscle in the district to overcome the Republicans’ inevitable “Evie Jr.” campaign narrative.
A longshot scenario is that Zenzinger may be acting as a placeholder for Hudak, who may be eligible to run again for the Senate District 19 seat in November.
Colorado Democrats seemed to be spinning the Zenzinger selection as a move to the political center. In a statement, Colorado Democratic Party chair Rick Palacio said Zenzinger has a “history of being a pragmatic leader who works across party lines.”
Senate President-elect Morgan Carroll released a statement congratulating Zenzinger and saying, “I have the utmost confidence that she will be fair, collaborative, and deliberate when representing the people of her community.”
Zenzinger, 38, issued a statement thanking the vacancy committee following the vote, which saw her beat former state Rep. Sara Gagliardi by 39-27.
“Thank you to all my supporters who gave me so much encouragement during the last two weeks, and thanks especially to Sara Gagliardi for giving the vacancy committee such a strong option,” said Zenzinger. “Now we have to move forward, and I am eager to get to work on the tough issues facing our state, including economic development, job creation, education, transportation and healthcare.”