Denver Democrat Johnnie Nguyen announced Monday that he’s running for the open 1st Congressional District seat on the University of Colorado Board of Regents.
“The University of Colorado deserves the best,” said Nguyen, the son of Vietnamese refugees and the first member of his family to graduate high school, college and law school.
“With skyrocketing tuition rates, issues with affordable housing, and rise of xenophobia and racism, we need a strong leader who has a first-hand understanding of these struggles. The University of Colorado deserves someone who is representative of their students, faculty, and staff. That’s why I’m running for CU regent.”
The seat's incumbent, Democrat Jack Kroll, isn't seeking re-election to a second, six-year term on the board. Nguyen is the first candidate to launch a campaign for the seat that represents the heavily Democratic 1st CD.
Before he was born, Nguyen's grandfather and parents fled Vietnam by boat, eventually settling in Denver. If elected, he will be the first Vietnamese American to hold state-level office in Colorado and the first openly gay members of the Board of Regents.
Nguyen is a "double Buff," having earned a bachelor's degree from CU Denver and a law degree from CU Boulder. At CU, he was named student advocate of the year and received the president's diversity award.
He boasts endorsements from dozens of current and former Colorado officials, including CU regents, state board of education members, state lawmakers and local officials.
Said state House Speaker Alec Garnett, a Denver Democrat: "Knowing Johnnie for years, it is without question that he is the young and energetic leader we need as our next CU regent. We share a commitment to building a state where every Coloradan can receive a quality education that is affordable and accessible. I’m proud to endorse and watch Johnnie accomplish great things in this important position."
Other Nguyen endorsers out of the gate include State Treasurer Dave Young, former U.S. Attorney for Colorado John Walsh and former Boulder District Attorney Stan Garnett.
Regents oversee the CU system’s roughly $5.2 billion annual budget and make key hiring and policy decisions for the university’s four campuses — CU Boulder, CU Colorado Springs, CU Denver and the CU Anschutz Medical Campus.
The board has begun what could be a year-long process of hiring a CU system president following former President Mark Kennedy's resignation earlier this year.
Nguyen's political experience includes founding the Colorado Democratic Party's Asian American Pacific Islander Initiative and working as a legislative intern and aide at the state Capitol during the 2016 and 2017 sessions. Earlier this year, he worked for U.S. Sen. John Hickenlooper as a constituent advocate.
“Johnnie is a living example of what CU can do for our state: provide education and opportunity to our best and brightest,” said former 1st District CU Regent Michael Carrigan. “As a recent graduate of two different CU campuses, he will bring a vital and diverse voice to the CU Board of Regents. I am excited to support him.”
Pending admission to the bar, Nguyen is working at the Denver office of Lewis Brisbois Bisgaard & Smith, LLP, the sixth-largest law firm in the country, where he specializes in commercial litigation. He served a term as the only law student on the American Bar Association's Board of Governors and was national chair of the bar association's law student division.
Nguyen worked as a law clerk in the U.S. attorney's office and the Colorado Attorney General's Office and interned for Colorado Supreme Court Justice William W. Hood III.
The Board of Regents includes nine members — seven elected from each of the state's congressional districts, and two at-large members — but since Colorado is gaining an eighth congressional district after next year's election, officials say they anticipate the number of at-large seats will drop to one. The other seat up for election next year represented the 4th Congressional District.
The regents are preparing to conduct a national search to find a permanent president, a process that could take until next spring. Todd Saliman, a longtime CU executive and former state official, won't be applying for the permanent position, a CU spokesman said.