Rep. Diana DeGette (D)
Colorado 1st District
Denver is serious about being the mile-high city: There are three markers on the granite steps of the gold-domed Capitol that proclaim the elevation of 5,280 feet. Denver is situated a few miles from where the High Plains yield to the sharp peaks of the Front Range of the Rockies, with a freshwater supply adequate for a town one-tenth of its size. With 567,000 people, the city for a century has been the economic and cultural capital of the Rocky Mountain region. On top of its Old West heritage and early-20th-century elegance, Denver has developed an exuberant postmodern style. The National Western Stock Show held here every year and the LoDo entertainment district along the South Platte River evoke the Old West. The Capitol, the spacious parks, the aspens that line the streets, give the city a lush, burnished air, in contrast to the dry high plains and the stark Rocky peaks. Amid its downtown grid, slanted on a 45-degree angle to align with the South Platte and the railroads, are the skyscrapers of the 1970s energy boom and the 1990s high-tech boom, plus the new-old Coors Stadium, the Elitch Gardens amusement park and the expanded Museum of Nature and Science. Rather than losing population as many central cities have, Denver has gained people since 1990. Most of its neighborhoods have vitality, including the African-American neighborhoods of northeastern Denver, filled with neat 1950s bungalows, and the Hispanic quarter northwest of downtown. But more than three-quarters of the metro area’s people now live in the suburbs, and Denver has disproportionate numbers of singles and cultural liberals who value an urban and physically active lifestyle in the gentrified areas south of the Capitol.
2008 Presidential Vote
|Cook Partisan Voting Index|
Denver is the liberal heart of Colorado, heavily Democratic, while the rest of the state has voted mostly Republican over the years. But statewide politics has moved closer to Denver in recent elections. The city remains majority Anglo, but has elected Hispanic and black mayors. In the early 1970s, Denver liberals were hostile to growth and boosterism. Today’s Denver, from the wealthy enclave of Cherry Creek to the night life of LoDo, has shown that growth can produce more of the distinctiveness that people here appreciate. Civic pride was rampant during the 2008 Democratic convention in Denver, with an emphasis on its green projects. There was good reason: Denver has been ranked among the nation’s top 10 cities in business climate, livability, libraries, and bikeways. In the lower downtown near Coors Field, dilapidated bars have been replaced by art galleries in the past decade. In 2004, voters easily approved a sales-tax increase to pay for the “FasTracks” expansion of commuter rail and bus service across the metro area.
The 1st Congressional District of Colorado includes all of Denver and extends northeast to take in Denver International Airport, encompassing places with warehouses and trucking terminals as well as curved-street subdivisions. The district extends to affluent suburbs, long-settled Englewood and newly settled Cherry Hills Village in Arapahoe County. It counts most of metro Denver’s African-Americans and Hispanics, singles and gays; the Hispanic share has grown to 33%. The percentage of households with married couples and children has been among the lowest in America, and was lower in 2000 than in 1990. In an era when cultural attitudes are a better clue to voting behavior than economic status, this district, which last elected a Republican in 1970, is solidly Democratic.
Rep. Diana DeGette (D)
Elected: 1996, 7th term.
Born: July 29, 1957, Tachikawa, Japan .
Education: CO Col., B.A. 1979, N.Y.U., J.D. 1982.
Family: Married (Lino Lipinsky); 2 children.
Elected office: CO House of Reps., 1992–96, asst. min. ldr., 1994–95.
Professional Career: Practicing atty., 1982–96.
The congresswoman from the 1st District is Diana DeGette, a Democrat elected in 1996. She is a fourth-generation Denverite, though she was born on a military base in Japan. DeGette (de GET) went away for law school, returned to practice employment law and became involved in politics. In 1992, at age 35, she was elected to the Colorado House. In 1995, when U.S. Rep. Patricia Schroeder, a pioneer of the feminist left, announced she was retiring after 24 years in the House, DeGette decided to run for the seat. Organizationally adept, legislatively creative and liberal, she has proved a worthy successor.
|Diana DeGette (D)||203,755||(72%)||($925,776)|
|George Lilly (R)||67,345||(24%)||($14,060)|
|Martin Buchanan (Lib)||12,135||(4%)|
|Diana DeGette (D)||Unopposed|
Prior Winning Percentages: 2006 (80%), 2004 (73%), 2002 (66%), 2000 (69%), 1998 (67%), 1996 (57%)
Until 2007, DeGette had never served in the majority party—either in Denver or Washington. Yet in both the minority and the majority, she has managed to achieve some legislative successes, in the Democratic leadership and on the Energy and Commerce Committee. She has focused especially on health care issues. Teaming with Republican Mike Castle of Delaware, she established a broad, bipartisan coalition to expand federal funds for stem-cell research, which uses excess embryos from in vitro fertilization. President Bush opposed more money for such research, but in 2005, DeGette and Castle won majority support in the House; the Senate passed the bill a year later. “It took four years, hundreds of one-on-one meetings, and a heck of a lot of shoe leather to win,” said DeGette. Bush vetoed the bill, his first veto as president, and the House fell 51 votes short of an override. Their efforts achieved a similar result in 2007 when House Speaker Nancy Pelosi included the bill in the new Democratic majority’s “first 100 hours” agenda. The House passed the bill again, 253-174, but still 32 votes short of the two-thirds necessary to override. In early 2009, President Barack Obama removed most federal restrictions. DeGette wrote a book on the topic in 2008 called Sex, Science, and Stem Cells. She says she was inspired to take on the cause after one of her daughters was diagnosed with diabetes at age 4.
On other health issues, DeGette has been a leading advocate for expanding the State Children’s Health Insurance Program. She won enactment in 2008 of a bill to increase funding for organ transplants, and she has worked to give the Food and Drug Administration more authority over food safety.
DeGette has ambitions to be in the House leadership, though she’s been on the losing side of some important internal party contests. She backed Maryland’s Steny Hoyer in his unsuccessful bid for Democratic whip against Pelosi in 2001. When Hoyer eventually got the job as party whip, in 2002, Hoyer added DeGette to his whip team, and she moved into a role as a party strategist. Once the Democrats gained control of the House in 2007, Hoyer decided to run for majority leader, and DeGette seriously considered running to succeed Hoyer as whip against South Carolina’s James Clyburn. She said that she could have won, but decided that it would have been disruptive to have another internal party brawl at a time when Pennsylvania’s John Murtha was challenging Hoyer for the leader’s job. Clyburn retained DeGette as a chief deputy whip.
In the 110th Congress (2007-08), DeGette was vice chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee and a key lieutenant to Chairman John Dingell of Michigan, brokering some of the frequent clashes among the panel’s Democrats. She had to rebuild some of those relationships after the bitter fight between Dingell and California Rep. Henry Waxman for the chairmanship in late 2008. DeGette backed Dingell, but Waxman won. She also was on the wrong side as an early backer of Hillary Rodham Clinton in the presidential primary fight in 2008.
In 2002, DeGette fared impressively against credible primary and general election opponents. Ramona Martinez, a 15-year member of the Denver City Council and a Democratic National Committeewoman, criticized DeGette for having lost touch with the district. DeGette returned her family to Denver from the Maryland suburbs in 2001 and won by an unexpectedly large 73%-27% split. In November, she faced Republican Ken Chlouber, a rural state senator known for folksy humor and a flame-painted pickup truck. He also had the Teamsters union endorsement; DeGette won 66%-30%. Since then, she has not been seriously challenged.