Dems and DEI

Opinion: Rare challenge to incumbent women of color reeks of racism


By Pete Salas

“We must also realize that privileged groups never give up their privileges voluntarily.”  — Martin Luther King Jr.

The cloud of privileged hypocrisy has once again settled over the bastion of progressive Democratic Boulder County.

I saw with much dismay that two incumbent women of color are being challenged in their respective races. Both House District 10 incumbent Representative Junie Joseph and incumbent County Commissioner Marta Loachamin are being challenged by fellow Democrats. I must ask: Why is it happening now?

Both Joseph and Loachamin are not only incumbents but also accomplished women of color who have served with passion, determination and effectiveness for issues that the Boulder and county communities have long said they favor. These women have worked hard to overcome the obstacles inherent in a Eurocentric county political culture. These hard-working, extremely competent women deserve better than this.

There was a time when Democrats supported their incumbents. There was an unwritten rule that unless there were compelling reasons, party unity was more important. Of course, this was not the case in 2006 when party power brokers worked to remove County Clerk Linda Miyamoto-Salas (my ex-wife) from office. They blamed her for the length of time it took to get the ballots counted in the 2004 election: three days.

During Hillary Hall’s (Linda’s successor) first presidential election in 2008, it took three days to finalize the count, and no one said a word — complete silence from the party and the Dem chair at the time. There was no challenger to Hall in the next election cycle. 

I can’t think of any previous election since I moved here in 1985 that an incumbent Democrat was challenged for a county-level seat. All the incumbents were white.

Editor’s note: In a review of election records from 2010 to 2022, Boulder Weekly identified two instances in which local Democratic incumbents were challenged: Then-coroner Emma Hall in 2014 and District Attorney Michael Dougherty in 2018; Dougherty had been appointed to the post early that same year. 

I’m not saying that people shouldn’t run for office simply because the seat is occupied by an incumbent. People should follow their conscience. 

My assumption is that when someone decides to challenge a same-party incumbent, they have strong evidence that the incumbent has not done a good job or is guilty of some type of malfeasance. I’m not sure what the motivation is here. I have seen no signs of any public outrage over the personal or professional actions of Commissioner Loachamin or Representative Joseph. I can only speculate based on my experiences as a person of color.

I assume the challengers feel that they can do better and simply can’t wait for term limits to kick in. Needing a job, big egos or a thirst for power can act as motivators. Or is the motivation deeper than legislative or policy differences? 

Could it simply be that Loachamin and Joseph are strong, independent women of color? Is this another case of some privileged Boulder County Democrats putting party loyalty, popularity and personal relationships before espoused social equity and real inclusion?

Why is it that Democrats who tout their desire for diversity and inclusiveness continue, in so many instances, to place their friends and personal relationships above their alleged desire to have competent and qualified diverse representation? 

Many of the Eurocentric county Democratic power brokers and their followers, in my opinion, have a history of talking out of both sides of their mouths when it comes to issues of diverse representation. Diversity, equity and inclusion is great except when… you get the picture.

What is the message being sent to young leaders of color? Does anyone really think that what is happening here won’t have repercussions for the party’s future? Let’s be real: Young people of color will see what is happening here and question the notion that diversity and inclusion is a priority for local Democrats.

I can hear my detractors now. I can hear them giving reasons why this is not the case here — not in progressive and enlightened Democratic Boulder County. They will probably point to the couple of current local elected POC lawmakers and argue that this is what democracy is all about and nothing more. 

Good luck convincing communities of color that this is the case. And good luck to the local party’s efforts to recruit volunteers and candidates of color.

For me, Dr. King’s words on privilege still ring true, especially here in Boulder County. For what it’s worth, I and other people of color are taking names and collecting receipts.

Pete Salas served as vice-chair for the Boulder County Democratic party in 2000 and worked for 25+ years on the staff of the Boulder County Commissioners. He is a former BVSD school board member and lifelong Chicano community activist and advocate. Salas has lived in Lafayette since 1985.

This opinion does not necessarily reflect the views of Boulder Weekly. Got a different take? We’ll publish that, too: Send it to