Brianna Titone is indeed the first openly transgender lawmaker to serve in Colorado's General Assembly, as the media will remind you. Yet, that alone is unlikely to have won the Arvada Democrat the up-for-grabs House seat she wrested from Republican control in 2018, in a suburban swath of Jefferson County.
While LGBTQ+ politics is often the talk of the Capitol and a staple of news coverage, Titone's Arvada neighbors and House District 27 constituents are more likely to ask where she stands on transportation or schools.
Titone covers those basic policy areas and more, including the state's business climate and its tax policies, in today's Q&A.
Colorado Politics: HD 27 is about as swinging a swing district as you'll find in reputedly purple Colorado. Your predecessor in the seat was a Republican, and you won in 2018 by a very narrow margin. Why in hindsight do you think your district tipped your way — and was it more than just the Trump backlash and its down-ballot effect? What will be your re-election strategy this year in appealing to swing voters, and how will it differ from that of your fellow Democrats in blue zones like Denver and Boulder counties?
Brianna Titone: The reason we won was that I was a well-qualified person who did the work to get to know my constituents. I let them know why I was running — because I have been a volunteer in my community since I was a teenager and have had a strong desire to serve. I won't deny that national trends were helpful, but I set out to connect with the people who live in my district and made them feel like they would be listened to and represented — something I feel they haven't felt in a long time. I worked hard to establish a trust with my constituents.
This is a tough district for any candidate, Republican or Democrat. There are many strongly opinionated folks on both sides of the aisle. I offer availability, accountability and accessibility to all of my constituents. Voters reacted positively to this refreshing attitude of the person who would be elected to represent them. As for appealing to the voters in the upcoming election, my votes and my bills will show my effort to represent the people in my district. I have three accessible, public events every single month. I care, I listen and I want to do the best job I can for them. I am responsive to all concerns from all my constituents.
- Represents District 27 in the Colorado House as a Democrat, since 2018. Serves on the House's Health and Insurance, Rural Affairs and Agriculture committees as well as the Joint Technology Committee.
- Elected secretary-treasurer and captain at large of the Jefferson County Democratic Party's LGBT Caucus in 2016.
- Has worked as a mining consultant, geologist, software developer, substitute teacher and volunteer firefighter.
- Holds bachelor's degrees in geology and physics from the State University of New York at New Palz; a master's degree in geochemistry from Stonybrook University, and a master's in information and communications technology from the University of Denver.
CP: Your suburban metro constituency is arguably attuned to bread-and-butter issues — like transportation. When you ran for your seat, you supported Prop 110, the tax-and-bond issue for transportation that wound up failing on the same ballot that sent you to office. What do you think are the next viable steps in transportation funding for our state? How will Coloradans ever move beyond gridlocked highways — or is that possible?
Titone: I have heard from many people in my district about transportation. The fact of the matter is, we need more funding to properly address our transportation shortfall. We need much more money than is available from our current General Fund, but in general, creating new funding sources will likely require voter approval. All of the proposals presented to voters as of late have been rejected.
We need everyone from both sides of the aisle at the table working to solve this challenge. Our gas tax hasn’t been raised since 1991 all the while transportation infrastructure construction has gotten more expensive and cars are more efficient. We need businesses, Republicans and Democrats all working together to bring new solutions to the table that voters haven’t already rejected.
CP: You said in your campaign that Colorado needs to attract more job-creating businesses. You’ve mentioned a simpler tax system as one prescription for bolstering businesses, especially small ones. What other policies would you advocate to lure more employers of all sizes and better sustain the ones already here? Would you, as often advocated by the business community, seek to roll back Colorado’s much-criticized business personal property tax?
Titone: I have applauded the creation of the Sales and Use Tax Simplification Task Force and their efforts to create a system for businesses to accurately and efficiently report their taxes. I have taken part in the efforts as a member of the Joint Technology Committee who authorized the funding for the initiative.
I would like to see our state become the leader in new technologies, and I see a lot of potential in agriculture. We were leaders in hemp, and I've seen firsthand the progress we've made from seed production, farming and industrial applications. I'm very interested in helping facilitate the growth of this industry through incentivizing companies who want to innovate in all aspects of hemp production, including high-tech ways of using hemp. Agriculture is our biggest industry in Colorado, and we can continue to be leaders in this area by further exploring technologies like blockchain and other innovations.
Regarding the business personal property tax, this is a very difficult issue to change because it impacts state, local government and school district budgets and is intertwined with constitutional budgetary constraints. Eliminating the business personal property tax would leave budgetary holes for local governments of over $1.6 billion according to a 2014 analysis, between direct lost revenue and a drop in the residential assessment rate under the Gallagher Amendment. School districts would also lose hundreds of millions of dollars of funding, which the state would be unlikely to be able to backfill. In the past we have provided some BPPT relief through state income tax credits so as to avoid these local impacts, but our state budget can’t replace the revenue lost from eliminating it; we can’t even fully fund key priorities like K-12 and transportation. Given the rippling impacts and the budgetary constraints we’re under, I think we need to continue looking for other ways to simplify the tax code for businesses — such as working to streamline the sales and use tax system.
CP: On your campaign website you seek "to stop the downward spiral of our public schools.” In what specific ways are our schools spiraling downward, and what policy changes are needed to reverse that trend?
Titone: The downward spiral I'm referring to is the fact that we are ranked near the bottom in the country for teacher pay and per-pupil spending. We also have a huge problem of funding inequity across the state. I was encouraged that the conversation about the school funding formula has been advanced in a meaningful and constructive way. There are still a lot of things we can do to help retain teachers in Colorado, like revamp the teacher evaluation system and financial incentives for rural teachers.
We can't properly address the issue of education funding without the people's vote to change some of our tax codes. We are also not doing well with the cost of public higher education because we can't provide our institutions with the resources that other states can. We see many technology proposals in JTC from our universities, but we don’t have the budget to fund them all, despite the positive impact it may have on their students. The facts are, we can't fix many of our education issues without funding, and that will need to be ultimately decided by the people.
CP: You pursued higher ed and a career in the applied sciences. Do you find scientific method — its analytical, objective approach — helps you in policy making? And — at the risk of getting you in trouble with some of your peers — do you think public policy would benefit if more lawmakers had your kind of training?
Titone: I would say my scientific education helps me evaluate the bills we vote on. I have been taught to examine data and sources of information from reputable sources and to question those who may offer purely opinion. I always aim to vote the way my analysis of the facts leads me, and then I work to educate people about the analysis. This is important because they may not be told the entire story. A data- and fact-driven approach to lawmaking tends to lead to better public policy, and I know that’s something that I and my Democratic colleagues strive for every day. I have been complimented by several colleagues at my questioning in committee and want to continue to offer that unique perspective that I offer.
CP: Critique Colorado news media and their coverage of politics in our state. What if anything would you like to see them change in the way they approach policy making, political campaigns, etc.?
Titone: I have always admired the media and their role in democracy as a check and balance. I rely on good investigative journalism to help uncover problems that may be out of sight or hidden beneath the surface. As a scientist, I would like to see more reporting take the approach that scientific articles take. Claims should be backed up with references whenever possible. Online resources are well equipped for links to other stories. News stories should present the facts and let readers decide. I would like to see more context to quotes and links to testimony for people to hear for themselves. I often don't see this in political articles. An out-of-context quote can be spun quite differently than the whole context.
CP: You have been a leader on LGBTQ+ issues at the Capitol. You also have a much broader policy agenda as well as a multi-faceted back story, from volunteer firefighter to working with an organization that helps law enforcement identify remains — and much more. Are you frustrated at times by media coverage that reflexively references you as the state’s “first transgender lawmaker” — perhaps capturing only one aspect of you as an officeholder or as an individual? Do you envision a time when you will simply be known as Brianna Titone — public servant?
Titone: Thanks for asking. Being the state's "first transgender lawmaker" is a double-edged sword. On one side, that title lets me reach those in the LGBTQ community who need me as a role model. My presence in the legislature helps LGBTQ people to see that they can have a future in any field they can dream of. And many say my presence literally saves lives. Representation matters for these individuals in my district, in the state and across the country.
But I don't just advocate for the LGBTQ community — I advocate for my constituents and their needs. This is why I try to focus on constituent services, bills that would impact the district, and being available in the district for people to talk to me about their needs. Sometimes solving individual issues can have more impact than a new law. For an analogy, as a volunteer firefighter I learned the value of helping people. Sometimes you help one person, maybe in a car accident, saving a life. Sometimes you help a lot of people by stopping the spread of a wild land fire that may impact a community, maybe only property.
I try to balance that service as a state representative. I would like to be known as a public servant, but I also want to be known as a trailblazer for the transgender community. I can be both as long as I am representing the people who elected me to do the public service work first and foremost.