There are voters who were not yet born when Colorado Congresswoman Diana DeGette won her first House election. DeGette, Colorado’s senior Congressional member, first won her seat in 1996 succeeding state political icon, Pat Schroeder. DeGette sits in one of the safest seats in the country. But she now has a challenger---one from her own party.
But it’s not just another Democrat. Crisanta Duran, former Colorado Speaker of the House took even seasoned politicos by surprise in announcing her challenge to DeGette late last month. “It’s time for change,” said Duran. “The district has changed significantly since the incumbent was elected over twenty years ago.”
CD 1, which encompasses Denver, has long been as close to a Democratic sure thing as it can be. For nearly fifty years the seat has been swathed in the deepest shade of blue. It was 1972 when former Congresswoman Pat Schroeder won the first of her twelve elections, it has been held by a Democrat ever since. So blue is the district that the best Republican showing in recent years was a humiliating and bone-crunching thirty-point loss to DeGette. Her last win was by an eye-popping 74 percent.
“I have experienced taking on tough issues and bringing people together,” said Duran touting her eight years in the Colorado legislature, including two years on the powerful Joint Budget Committee. First elected in 2011 and serving until this past January, Duran’s name has been a fixture on a potpourri of legislation, including child care, civil rights, strengthening laws governing sexual misconduct on college campuses, criminal justice reform and the state’s current challenge of opioids.
Duran, a sixth-generation Coloradan, comes from a strong union family. Her father, Ernie Duran, was a well-known fixture in union politics, serving as a long-time president of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 7. She also touts her family’s Mexican and Native American lineage, referring to them as ‘trailblazers who always worked to lift up the next generation.’
For someone forged in this collective, Duran eschews a specific political label. “Some people think I’m really progressive; some think I’m very moderate. I just like to get done as much as I can,” she said. But the progressive label is not something she thinks is bad. “For me progressive means not leaving anybody behind or taken for granted.”
Duran believes her upbringing nurtured in her a strong desire to work for others. Her first election in 2011---one that made her the youngest Latina ever elected to the legislature---found her representing one of the most diverse districts in Denver. It encompasses Elyria, Globeville, Swansea, Lower Highlands and parts of Sunnyside. While the district remains predominately Latino---about 52 percent---gentrification has found root in many of its neighborhoods.
Being the first Latina elected by her peers to be Speaker of the House has also afforded Duran the opportunity to forge a degree of national recognition. She was a featured speaker at the 2016 Democratic National Convention. Her political skills have also earned her high praise from both sides of the aisle. When she took over the House leadership, former Democratic Senate Minority Leader Mike Feeley said of Duran, “she has mastered the art of being able to disagree without being disagreeable.”
Duran believes her effectiveness follows the political axiom of ‘going along to get along.’ “I’ve worked with everybody,” she said before listing labor, pro-choice, environmentalists among those with whom she has found common ground.
Duran’s decision to challenge a popular incumbent caught a lot of people off guard. It had been thought that she would join a list of other well-known names, including Andrew Romanoff and Mike Johnston, among others, in challenging Senator Cory Gardner.
To beat DeGette in the primary and move on to the general election in November 2020 Duran knows will take an extraordinary effort and more than a modicum of good fortune. But a slice of that good fortune may have come early. Duran picked up an endorsement from former Denver Mayor and Cabinet Secretary Federico Peña, a Denver and Colorado Democratic and Latino North Star.
“I’m honored and humbled to have the support,” said Duran. In getting Peña’s blessings, Duran also got the nod from his wife, Cindy, a former television executive. “Both have been trailblazers and have done so much to really make sure that we have the best leaders at both the right place and right time.”
When it was thought Duran was considering a Senate run to unseat incumbent Gardner, she had the tacit support of Gail Schoettler, a long-time and well-known name in Colorado political circles. Schoettler was narrowly defeated in her run for Governor against Bill Owens who went on to three terms as the state’s chief executive. Duran also names Schoettler as one of her political heroes. “I’m so thankful to her for all the work she has done to lift up other women.”
Duran knows it will take every ounce of strength and every stroke of good luck to win against an opponent like DeGette. Her plan is both simple and focused. “We’re going to work hard getting the power of the people.” Her labor background of organizing disparate groups aligned to a single idea or person will no doubt come into play. “We’re going to focus on every single community in the district and talk to them why I’m running.”