Rep. Betsy Markey (D)
Colorado 4th District
The High Plains of eastern Colorado are dusty brown, gently rolling grasslands that seem flat but actually slope imperceptibly up toward the Rocky Mountains. The land is fertile, but dry. Rainfall is rare, the rivers are just a trickle most of the year, and in many places, groundwater is scarce. It is fine wheat country when irrigated, and one of the foremost beef-cattle regions. But it has been squeezed in recent decades by declining prices for wheat plus declining demand for beef and increased prices for water because of high demand in Denver and along the Front Range. Bitter confrontations have erupted over who gets access to the South Platte River, leading to limitations on pumping from the basin. Local farmers are now finding that the value of their water rights to metro Denver far exceeds what they could hope to gain by farming. Their neighbors condemn them for selling out and betraying a way of life that seems destined to decline. The prairie lands and small towns of the High Plains have small reminders of their past: the Pawnee National Grasslands, where antelope, coyotes, and prairie dogs still roam, and Burlington’s 1905 carousel, one of the few with the original paint. But the free market that once peopled the High Plains with farmers and ranchers and made it the scene of farm protests and revolts is now causing it to empty out and revert to untamed land, ready again for increasingly numerous buffalo, elk, deer and bighorn sheep.
2008 Presidential Vote
|Cook Partisan Voting Index|
The 4th Congressional District of Colorado contains almost all of the High Plains plus the medium-sized and fast-growing developments around Greeley, Fort Collins and Loveland—the northern end of the densely populated Front Range, off Interstate 25 as it heads toward Cheyenne, Wyo. It includes all of fast-growing Larimer County east of the mountains and reaches into Boulder County to pick up the city of Longmont. Fort Collins became a center for California transplants seeking a different lifestyle at start-up telecommunications firms. It also is home to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lab that conducts cutting-edge research to combat bioterrorism. To the east is Weld County, still mostly rural and more conservative in its politics. By heritage and usually by inclination, this was once reliably Republican territory, but it is getting friendlier to Democrats as liberal and independent-minded Denver residents migrate to northern Colorado for cheaper real estate. The district was evenly split in 1992, though it later gave solid margins to Bob Dole and George W. Bush. In 2008, Barack Obama won Larimer County with 54% of the vote, but McCain won the district, 50%-49%.
Rep. Betsy Markey (D)
Elected: 2008, 1st term.
Born: April 27, 1956, Creskill, NJ .
Home: Ft. Collins.
Education: U. of FL, B.S. 1978; American U., M.P.A., 1983..
Family: Married (Jim Kelly); 3 children.
Professional Career: Legis. aide, U.S. Rep. Herb Harris, 1979-1981; President's office, American U., 1981-83; Pres. Mgmt. Fellow, U.S. Dept. of Treasury, 1983; Office of Information Systems Security, U.S. Dept. of State, 1984; CEO and CFO, Syscom Services, Inc., 1988-2005; Regional Dir., U.S. Sen. Ken Salazar, 2005-07.
The new congresswoman from the 4th District is Democrat Betsy Markey, who defeated three-term Republican Rep. Marilyn Musgrave in a bitterly fought contest in 2008. While Musgrove survived a close 2006 race against state Rep. Angie Paccione by fewer than 6,000 votes, an anti-incumbent year coupled with a Democratic wave was enough to propel the moderate Markey to victory over the stoutly conservative Musgrave. The district had not been won by a Democrat since 1973.
|Betsy Markey (D)||187,347||(56%)||($2,897,153)|
|Marilyn Musgrave (R)||146,028||(44%)||($2,876,753)|
|Betsy Markey (D)||Unopposed|
Born in New Jersey, Markey was the sixth of seven children. In her large Irish Catholic family, she was often challenged by her siblings, in everything from ping pong to poker, instilling in her a competitive spirit. Political conversations were not uncommon at the Markey dinner table. Her father, a construction worker who founded his own refrigeration and air-conditioning business, was a staunch Democrat and union member who supported John F. Kennedy for president. Her mother, a lifelong Republican, voted for Richard Nixon. The children learned the value of work from a young age. All were expected to get a high school job to begin saving for college. Markey majored in political science at the University of Florida and after graduation, moved to Washington, D.C., to work for the House Subcommittee on Post Office and Civil Service. Meanwhile, she got a master’s degree in public administration from American University. Markey did a fellowship with the Treasury and State departments, then was hired at State to work on cybersecurity and on identifying cyberterrorism threats. When she left the department following the birth of her second daughter, Markey was given its Meritorious Honor Award.
Building on her experience in the emerging technology market, Markey and husband, Jim Kelly, launched their own Internet business called Syscom Services, from their home in the late 1980s. The family moved to Colorado in 1995, and Markey and Kelly purchased Huckleberry’s, an ice cream and coffee shop in Fort Collins. They later sold the business. Markey got involved in local politics, founding the Northern Colorado Democratic Business Coalition. In 2002, she was elected chair of the Larimer County Democratic Party. Soon afterward, Markey went to work for Democratic Sen. Ken Salazar as his regional director in the northern part of the state.
When Musgrave proved vulnerable because of her support for conservative social issues, including sponsoring a bill to ban same-sex marriage, Markey in 2007 announced her candidacy for the seat. Other potential candidates declined to make the race, leaving Markey unopposed in the primary. Mindful of the conservative leanings in the 4th District, Markey spent much of the general election promising to work with Republicans as well as Democrats. She also was an adept fundraiser. By the fall, she had pulled nearly even with Musgrave; each of them had about $2.9 million. Markey was also the beneficiary of spending by several interest groups, including the Defenders of Wildlife Action Fund, which spent $1.6 million on anti-Musgrave advertising; she also received independent support from EMILY’s List and over $1 million from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.
The race turned negative. Markey criticized Musgrave for co-sponsoring a bill to lower taxes on coins and precious metals investments, which she said would benefit Musgrave and her husband, who have nearly $100,000 invested in coins and metals. Musgrave charged that Markey used her Senate job to obtain government contracts for Syscom; Markey claimed she divested her ownership of the contracts while working for Salazar. On Election Day, Markey prevailed convincingly, winning 56% to Musgrave’s 44%. Her 12-point margin of victory was the largest for a Democrat challenging a Republican incumbent in 2008.