Former Colorado House Speaker Crisanta Duran has scored an endorsement from former Denver Mayor Federico Peña in her bid to oust 12-term U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette in next year's Democratic primary, Colorado Politics has learned.
Duran is also vowing to reject contributions from corporate political action committees as part of a campaign she says will be run with "the power of people."
Peña, who headed the departments of energy and transportation under President Bill Clinton, was twice elected in the same North Denver house district Duran represented for eight years before she faced term limits last year. He's just the first of numerous endorsements Duran promised will surprise people.
"We're focusing on getting out to every community to talk to voters, to talk about what they care about most in this race and working toward building solutions," she said in a wide-ranging interview.
"I'm planning on running this campaign with the power of people," she said. "I look forward to hopefully raising a good amount of money from small-dollar donors. We are going to be working hard to reach out to voters in every community. I suspect that many of my donations will be small-dollar donations."
Duran declined to point out policy differences with DeGette, who was first elected to the Denver-based 1st Congressional District seat in 1996, but said she wants to let voters in the heavily Democratic district decide if it's time for a different style of leadership.
"I decided to run for the position because, after doing a lot of soul-searching, I believe this is a place where I can be the most effective to be able to create change," said Duran, who had been considering jumping in the crowded primary for U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner's seat.
Duran stunned observers Sunday night when she declared she's running against DeGette, who defeated a primary challenge from a political newcomer last year by a wide margin.
"I have appreciated the work Congresswoman DeGette has done," Duran said. "I do think, though, in these time when we have Donald Trump in the White House, we must evaluate how we move this country forward and make sure we have the right leaders in the right place at the right time."
She added: "These times in particular, we need to make sure we're doing everything in our power to be able to lead. I have a new and different style of leadership that I could bring to Congressional District 1. At the end of the day, it's up to the voters to decide who is the best leader moving forward."
Her leadership style, Duran said, involves listening to constituents.
"Building community is very important to me and is a different leadership style, I think. I also think that during the time that I've served, I've never shied away from tough issues," Duran said. "In this time we need leaders who do things not for political convenience, but for political courage. It's not a time to be shy, it's not a time to play it safe, it's a time to be bold. And I think it should be up to the people of Congressional District 1 to be able to cast their vote (for) who is the best leader to move the district forward."
Duran wouldn't say whether she voted last year for DeGette or her primary challenger, publisher and author Saira Rao, who ran against the incumbent from the left.
"I was not a public endorser of Diana DeGette," she said. "I'll tell you, I was not a public endorser of either candidate."
Duran said she intends to focus her campaign on issues including her support for Medicare for all — legislation DeGette has signed onto for years — and the Green New Deal, sweeping Democratic legislation to combat climate change.
"Climate action has always been a top priority for me," she said, pointing to work on legislation to increase the renewable energy standards for utility companies and promoting the use of electric vehicles.
In a statement, a DeGette campaign spokeswoman said the congresswoman "believes addressing climate change is the most important issue of our time and is very much aligned with the goals of the Green New Deal."
"In fact," DeGette's chief of staff, Lisa B. Cohen said, "right now, she is working on legislation to quickly achieve many of those goals and help prepare our communities for the impending effects of a changing climate."
Duran cited her record as the first Latina to serve as speaker of the Colorado House.
"I do have a different approach and a different set of priorities. For me, when I am looking at a problem and trying to figure out how to build solutions, I start with what is a problem that people face in the district. The issues that have impacted the district vary — promotion of electric cars, environmental issues, access to affordable child care and housing — the issues that people face every single day. It isn't just one issue, it is many issues.
"During the time I was in the Legislature, I worked to listen to the people in the many communities in the district. That's why I've worked on so many different topics — transportation funding, access to reproductive rights, making sure the workplace and housing are free of discrimination and free of harassment, and working on the ASSET bill," which provides in-state tuition to immigrants who meet certain qualifications.
"There was political courage I demonstrated very early on about trying to do the right thing" on immigration issues, Duran said. "I think that there are many issues that if I were chosen to serve as the next congresswoman, I would work to lift up all voices."
Duran touted her ability to steer legislation through a divided General Assembly — Republicans controlled the Colorado Senate before the last election — and said that success burnished her progressive credentials.
"I do identify as a progressive. I have always identified as a progressive," she said. "To me that means we don't take people for granted, and we don't lave people behind. That has been the heart of my life's work. For me, being progressive does not mean you can't work with different stakeholders to accomplish those goals. ... Being progressive doesn't mean you don't work with a variety of different stakeholders to create change."
DeGette's campaign greeted Duran's announcement Sunday with a nod toward the incumbent's high-profile duties chairing a House oversight subcommittee, which include a hearing on the measles outbreak and another focused on the Environmental Protection Agency's "lax enforcement of our nation’s environmental laws."
"So, right now, she’s focused on doing her job — and will let the politics take care of itself," Cohen said in a statement.