Rep. Rose Pugliese is the most powerful freshman lawmaker in a near powerless party.
Pugliese, R-Colorado Springs, is assistant minority leader for the GOP caucus in the state House of Representatives — making her the only first-year legislator to hold party leadership in both the state House and Senate. She was elected to represent House District 14 in November, replacing former Rep. Shane Sandridge, who didn't run for reelection.
Though Pugliese is a freshman, she is no stranger to politics. An attorney, Pugliese served as Mesa County commissioner for eight years, led a massive but unsuccessful statewide ballot effort to keep Colorado out of the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact, and was widely rumored to be the GOP challenger for Secretary of State Jena Griswold in 2021, though she didn’t end up running.
While Pugliese is beginning her first year as a lawmaker with unusual status and experience, she entered office with her party at a near unprecedented disadvantage — suffering a 69-31 Democrat-Republican split after the November election, including a 46-19 Democratic supermajority in the House.
Less than one month into her first legislative session, Pugliese sat down with Colorado Politics to discuss her road to the Capitol and her goal of using dialogue to make an impact from the minority.
Colorado Politics: You’re from New York, what brought you to Colorado?
Rose Pugliese: I lived in New Jersey for a little bit and then went back to New York, then went to Florida, then went to Colorado. I've been all over the place. I always say I followed a boy to Colorado, and I thought we'd be here a year but now I've been here for over 15. Falling in love with Colorado and being able to serve it has been an incredible experience.
CP: You’ve called yourself an "accidental politician," getting involved in politics in 2008 when you picked up a yard sign at your local party’s headquarters. But what inspired you to pursue politics initially?
RP: I was tired of being frustrated with the way politics was going. It was mostly on a federal level, which is what drove me to go down that day to get a yard sign. I wanted to have more of a voice in the process because you can't complain about what's going on if you're not doing anything to make a change. I wanted to be that change agent. I never expected to run for office, but then I was asked to run for the school board. I lost that race, and I was like, “Well, clearly, this isn't for me.” But I had a good friend who picked me up off the floor and was like, “We're going to run you for county commissioner.” That started my political journey.
CP: One of your biggest political moves was co-leading the ballot initiative seeking to repeal the National Popular Vote Act, passed by the Colorado legislature in 2019. Tell me about that effort and how you feel about it now, looking back four years later.
RP: That was such an interesting campaign to me, I had never run a statewide ballot initiative before. That legislative session was a rough one. You had the red flag law that was coming into place, you had sex education in schools, and then you had this basically taking away our votes — that's how we felt — in Colorado, and we really wanted to protect the electoral college. The National Popular Vote wasn't really on my radar, but one day I was going to lunch and literally five people stopped me to ask me what I was going to do to help protect the electoral college. I read the bill, realized there needed to be some action, talked with Mayor Don Wilson of Monument and we decided to engage the people and bring this issue to them. I never expected what happened next: 2,500 grassroots volunteers from across the state in one of the largest bipartisan movements for a ballot question in Colorado's history. Never did I think that's how it would turn out, but it was a great movement and it was so unifying for everybody around this common goal. They felt like they had a voice, and we gave them that voice. I'm so proud of the effort and now I get to serve again with Don Wilson as a representative. It's come full circle.
CP: How do you think your experience with this, as well as your time as an attorney and county commissioner, will lend to your new position as a state lawmaker?
RP: I'm hoping to continue to engage the grassroots movement, especially as there are some bills that will come forward that we can't find common ground on. When we are discussing those bills and keeping with the conservative principles a lot of our grassroots volunteers are founded on, I think there will be a lot of opportunity for us to engage with them. To get them involved in the legislative process and understand more about how the process works and how their voices can be heard. There's potential for more gun control legislation, which a lot of my constituents have reached out about to make sure we have a strong voice in protecting law-abiding citizens who have an interest in firearms. There are a couple of other issues like land use authority, recognizing that some of the laws that are in place are what's hindering housing. We may not be able to find common ground around what those solutions are, but I hope we have some good dialogue around it.
CP: Why did you run for the House? What do you want to accomplish as a state representative?
RP: I felt like I'd been called for public service. I wasn't expecting my state Rep. Shane Sandridge to step down, but when he did, I thought it was important to make sure the people in my district have a voice and that I could bring forward my local government experience to the legislature. People talk about putting laws in place, but don't think about the implementation. What does it look like to implement and how does it affect the lives of people? Bringing that local government experience to the state legislature is really important as we have those conversations about what the best policy is for Colorado families. Nobody's asking those questions. I'll ask the question, “What does implementation look like?” and I get a lot of blank stares back. But we’re seeing a lot more local government officials in the legislature, so I think that will help elevate those conversations.
CP: How does your party’s position as the extreme minority this session impact your plan? How do you feel about being in the minority?
RP: The issues we're going to be talking about on the minority side are issues that Coloradans care about. I'm very confident about that. You're going to see a very united caucus talking about the issues that matter the most to a large range of Coloradans. What I'm really hoping to accomplish is to have some good conversations around the areas where we can't find common ground. I think we've lost the art of true civil discourse. If we put politics to the side and sit down at the table and talk about what's right for all Coloradans throughout the state, I think we'll have some better legislation coming from those discussions. Thus far, I have seen opportunities to sit down with Democrats and have conversations, and I think the bills that I'm running really are good for Colorado families. It seems like the Democrats are willing to have these conversations, even though we disagree.
CP: How do you feel about being chosen as assistant minority leader, especially considering you’re the only freshman lawmaker to be selected for party leadership in both the House and Senate?
RP: I was so honored to have the confidence of my fellow Republicans, both freshmen and returning members. I think I can bring a lot of good political experience to the table because, while I am a freshman, I'm not new to the legislative process and I've been highly engaged in legislation that affects all of Colorado throughout the years. So, I feel like I can bring forward some great perspectives that will really benefit the constituents in my district.
CP: You were assigned to the House Education Committee this session. Tell me about what work you want to do there.
Pugliese: I'm very dedicated to making sure that parents have a strong role in the education of their children. I'm a huge advocate for choice because not all schools are right for every child. I have a daughter who has some special learning needs and being able to find the resources for her to be successful has been quite a process, but also a good learning experience as to what parents have to go through to make sure that their child's voice is being heard and that the parent's voice is being heard. I have nothing negative to say about the process, but if you don't live in the education space, it can be really challenging for parents. So, making sure that we have more access to options and resources is really important. I also want to make sure we're not just throwing money at issues, but really addressing issues. For example, the governor has a placeholder in his budget for some additional funding for after school math programs. But my biggest concern is when they changed the math program, it included a lot of reading. If you have a child like mine who struggles with reading, then they're going to struggle with math, as well. Recognizing that there could be other underlying issues that money is not going to fix and having dialogue around those issues is going to be really important.
CP: What other legislation are you running that you'd like to highlight?
RP: I'm really excited about my kinship bill which helps to expand kinship placement options for children. I've always been a huge proponent for, and the research supports, keeping children with families. It is important for their success and there are so many children that do not have any family system that they can rely on. We have a shortage of foster homes in both urban and rural areas, so if we are able to place children with families that have families, then it opens up foster homes for children who do not have families they can stay with. I'm really excited about this bill, it's a huge win for Colorado children and families, assuming it gets passed. And it has great bipartisan support. My second bill is continuing the child care contribution tax credit. Child care is a huge issue as it affects businesses and children, and ensuring the availability of these tax credits to businesses and to families is really important to me. That has great bipartisan support, as well. It's not a new appropriation, it's continuing what has already been put in place.
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