Colorado’s new Democratic leader, Shad Murib, wants to open the party’s ‘next frontier’

Andrew Kenney/CPR News
Shad Murib poses for a picture after winning a leadership election to become the new chair of Colorado’s Democratic Party on April 1, 2023 in downtown Denver. (Andrew Kenney/ CPR News)

Shad Murib became the chair of the Colorado Democratic Party on Saturday, after winning the party’s leadership election at the Sheraton hotel in downtown Denver. 

A longtime political professional, the 35-year-old is a native of Littleton and a first-generation American of Lebanese descent.

Murib said his job will be to protect and expand the state’s Democratic majorities in the statehouse and Congress, including defeating Republican Rep. Lauren Boebert. But he also promised a focus on rural and local politics, saying the “next frontier” was to win more elections for sheriff and county commissioner offices. 

“Sheriffs across the state refuse to enforce our gun safety laws. We have Republican county commissioners who won't build affordable housing. They won't enforce the oil and gas laws meant to keep our neighborhoods and schools safe. And Republican county clerks are straight up inviting corruption into their election offices, right?” he said, an apparent reference to the criminal charges against former Mesa County clerk Tina Peters.

Murib continued: “Republicans have majorities in these seats across the state, and I believe the next frontier of Democratic politics must be local.”

Murib has worked on numerous Democratic campaigns, including John Hickenlooper’s successful run for U.S. Senate and Gov. Jared Polis’ 2018 election. He also was chief of staff for the Colorado Senate Democrats and worked in Secretary of State Jena Griswold’s office.

On Saturday, Murib defeated Howard Chou, the current vice chair of the party, and Tim Kubik, a party volunteer and education training consultant. 

Murib took 43 percent of the first round of ballots, with Kubik getting 30 percent and Chou 29 percent. Murib then defeated Kubik more narrowly in the second round, with the two final candidates splitting the vote 52-48. 

Ballots were cast by more than 500 party members — a mix of elected officials, representatives of local party organizations and those designated by party leadership. Those who couldn’t make the meeting (including House members who were at the capitol debating a package of abortion bills) had proxies cast their vote.

‘You have a home here’

It was a low-key contest on Saturday morning, with no attacks between the candidates. It was not an explicit referendum on policy either. Each candidate focused largely on how they would recruit candidates and build the party machine — two of the biggest jobs of the chair. 

Still, Chou wondered afterward whether his progressive politics had hurt his campaign. He previously helped start the state Working Families Party. And he observed that left-leaning leaders were recently booted from positions in the Nevada party.

“You wonder if that does play a part in it,” he said. His message to other progressives for the years ahead: “Be courageous. Be courageous.”

Murib also describes himself as a progressive. 

Saturday marked the end of a successful run for former chair Morgan Carroll, who oversaw the party’s dramatic political gains in recent years.

Many in the room seemed relieved by the sedate transfer of power. A similar leadership election in Nevada turned into a Democratic power struggle. Meanwhile, Colorado Republicans dove deeper into debunked election conspiracy theories in their own recent leadership election

“It looks like three really good candidates, and so I’ll be happy with either one,” said Ernestine Garcia, a Chou supporter from Adams County.

Shad Murib speaks after being nominated to become the new chair of Colorado's Democratic Party on April 1, 2023 in downtown Denver. (Andrew Kenney/ CPR News)

Tracy Kraft-Tharp, a Jefferson County commissioner and a Democrat, said that Saturday’s proceedings showed the party’s wings are still getting along.

“We really have a strong progressive left. It hasn’t crowded out people like me, the moderates,” she said. Kraft-Tharp declined to say who she supported in the chair race.

The new chair will set the party’s path as the 2024 presidential election year approaches. The full-time job is responsible for recruiting candidates, fundraising, hiring staff and setting overall campaign strategy for the party. Murib’s salary will be set by the executive committee, he said.

The leadership election was sure to bring one major change. The previous chair, Carroll, lives in the blue city of Aurora. But all three of this year’s candidates were from more politically divided areas, including Douglas and Larimer counties.

“It says that the Colorado Democratic Party knows that we need to take our message outside of just Denver, and represent all of Colorado, and all of our chair candidates are going to do that,” said Barrett Rothe, a party member from Douglas County. 

Murib lives in Vail, a strongly Democratic city, but runs a ranch in nearby Edwards and said he’s focused on building the party on the Western Slope. He is married to former state Sen. Kerry Donovan.

“Simply, we must protect and grow our majorities. Whether you're a moderate Democrat from Douglas County or a progressive Democrat from Boulder, you have a home here. Whether you're somewhere in between, we must unify and invest in electing Democrats from red and blue areas alike,” the new chair said.