Auon’tai Anderson announces run for Colorado state House

Denver school board Vice President Auon’tai Anderson will run to represent northeast Denver in the Colorado House of Representatives in 2024, dropping his school board re-election bid and pivoting into a crowded race to replace departing Rep. Leslie Herod.

Anderson, a Democrat who’s served on the Denver school board since 2019, announced his bid for House District 8 in a Monday morning press release. He joins four other Democrats who’ve filed to fill the seat that will be left vacant when Herod’s fourth and final term ends next year.

He said he decided to run after speaking with friends, family, and a parent and student from Denver East High School. He said he was also frustrated with how the most recent legislative session — which featured sweeping Democratic majorities pass key agenda items while stuttering on more progressive policies — unfolded.

“I got very frustrated with Democrats killing good bills, like rent control and the assault weapons ban,” he said. (Democrat-controlled committees defeated bills to allow local governments to enact rent control and to ban the sale or purchase of assault weapons.) “We need Democrats who are going to be Democrats and not only being a Democrat when it’s convenient for them.”

He pledged to take on reproductive health, a topic upon which Democratic lawmakers have had near-uniform agreement in recent years; gun reform; and raising the minimum wage statewide.

Anderson, 24, was one of the youngest elected officials in state history when he won an at-large school board race at age 21. His leadership during the 2020 George Floyd protests earned him further recognition, and he helped shepherd Denver Public Schools through the COVID-19 pandemic alongside other changes that included removing school resource officers from campuses.

But he’s also weathered controversies during his time on the board. The decision to remove police from schools has sparked criticism in recent months after shootings at Denver East. A months-long 2021 investigation into anonymous sexual assault allegations against Anderson determined the claims to be unfounded. But Anderson was censured by the school board for flirting with a 16-year-old before knowing her age and for making coercive and intimidating social media posts.

Anderson, a former legislative aide, told the Denver Post on Monday that he wasn’t running for the state House because he was worried about losing his at-large school board seat to the two challengers who have filed to run against him.

“The Anderson era on the Denver school board has been consequential,” he said, but he said he wanted to expand his influence beyond the school district.

House District 8 in northeast Denver is comfortably Democrat, and whoever wins next summer’s primary election will be well-positioned to cruise into the seat that Herod, who is term-limited, will vacate after 2024. Beyond Anderson, four other Democrats have already filed to replace her: Victor Bencomo, Christi Devoe, Lindsay Gilchrist and Sharron Pettiford.

Herod has not issued an endorsement. On his campaign website, Anderson touts support from a number of elected officials and community leaders, including Rep. Regina English and CU Regent Wanda James.

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