Joe Salazar Sanders opening

In this file photo, former state Rep. Joe Salazar, D-Thornton, speaks at the opening of the Bernie Sanders campaign's Colorado office on Jan. 19, 2020, ahead of the state's presidential primary.

Former state Rep. Joe Salazar is seeking an open state Senate seat in next year's election to support aggressive policies and "hold the executive branch's feet to the fire," the Thornton Democrat said Friday.

Salazar, the executive director of anti-fracking organization Colorado Rising, ran for attorney general in 2018 rather than seek a fourth term in the state House. He told Colorado Politics that after spending a few years outside the legislature, he's learned a lot about difficulties trying to put legislation into effect.

"I don't feel Gov. Polis and his executive agencies are living up to the spirit and intent of good legislation passed by the legislature," he said. "I plan on giving a master class on the three branches of government and the checks and balances, and I hope the executive branch is prepared for that."

Salazar filed paperwork Thursday to run in Senate District 24, which is currently represented by state Sen. Faith Winter, D-Westminster, though her residence will be in the neighboring Senate District 25 under a new map approved by the state's independent legislative redistricting commission.

The new district covers Thornton, Federal Heights and points northeast into unincorporated Adams County. Democratic candidates have a 9.1-point advantage among its voters, according to the commission's analysis of candidate performance in eight recent benchmark statewide races.

He's the only candidate so far running in the new district.

Salazar weighed runs for the U.S. Senate and House earlier this year but announced that he didn't plan to challenge Democratic U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet in a primary. He said in September that he wouldn't run in Colorado's new 8th Congressional District, a competitive seat that stretches north of the metro area from suburban Adams County to Greeley.

Salazar said he plans to campaign on expanding environmental legislation championed by Winter and others, as well as advancing policies to support working-class Coloradans and protect civil rights.

"I'm really disappointed in the direction we're going in in the state when it comes to environmental policies, as well as policies that affect working families," he said.

Salazar, a key early backer of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders' presidential bids, said he wants to "start moving Democrats to where we can be taken seriously by working families."

"I plan on ensuring oil and gas will be held to account for messes it makes and be required to fully cover clean-up costs and pay to plug abandoned and orphaned wells," Salazar said.

"I'll be addressing the injury and harm caused by oil and gas to families who are affected by their operations."

Added Salazar, an attorney: "I'll still be there for civil liberties and work on criminal justice reform to continue the good work Colorado has done."

During his six years in the House, Salazar won a reputation as a vocal critic of the oil and gas industry, sponsoring legislation that would have allowed residents to hold fossil fuel companies liable for property damage caused drilling, including earthquakes caused by hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.

Salazar sponsored high-profile bills to establish a homeless bill of rights, ban public schools from using Native American mascots and block state and local officials from cooperating with the Trump administration's immigration enforcement activities.

In 2019, the ACLU of Colorado gave Salazar the Ralph Carr Award, named for the Colorado governor who challenged the federal government's Japanese internment camps in World War II.

Salazar lost the 2018 Democratic primary for attorney general to Phil Weiser in a nail-biter. Weiser went on to win election and is seeking a second term next year.