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Katie Barrett is emblematic of the movement to elect more women to office.
Katie Barrett is emblematic of the movement to elect more women to office.
Photo by Meg Brown

Meet Katie Barrett, Symbol of Effort to Elect More Colorado Women

Even as Rifle restaurateur and Second Amendment advocate Lauren Boebert is shaking up the Colorado Republican Party by running against 3rd District Congressman and fellow party member Scott Tipton, Democratic women are lining up to take on other established GOP incumbents. Emblematic of them is Katie Barrett, who's facing a very difficult task: She's targeting Representative Patrick Neville, minority leader of the Colorado House, in the November 2020 election.

Barrett is a political novice, but she boasts a number of qualities that give her a chance to win over Neville voters, including her status as a firearms expert, albeit one who advocates for gun-law reform of the sort she'll outline at an event this weekend in Parker (get details below). "I'm hoping to interject some common sense and have a reasonable conversation," she says. "It's my strong belief that asking people to think more deeply about safety isn't infringing on their rights."

Another arrow in Barrett's quiver is the backing of Emerge Colorado, an organization that offers a helping hand to women wanting to run for office. "Emerge Colorado has been around since 2012," notes executive director Michal Rosenoer, "and since then, we've trained 350 women to run for office across the state — and our win rate in Colorado is 90 percent, which is exceptional."

Among the women to benefit from an association with Emerge Colorado is Jena Griswold, the first Democratic woman elected to serve as Colorado Secretary of State. Moreover, Rosenoer points out, "three of the fab five who helped flip the state Senate were Emerge grads: Jessie Danielson, Faith Winter and Tammy Story. Representative Brianna Titone, our first transgender legislator, is also an Emerge grad, and so is Daneya Esgar, the first queer legislator from Pueblo, and Leslie Herod, the first openly queer black woman in the legislature."

It won't be easy for Barrett to follow in these footsteps. Neville, who represents House District 45 in typically red Douglas County, which encompasses Castle Rock, is among the most powerful Republican officials in the state, and he seems to be coated with Teflon. Note that even after joking on Facebook about Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, who accused U.S. Supreme Court nominee (and current jurist) Brett Kavanaugh of sexual assault in 2018, he paid no substantial political price. But Barrett isn't the type of person to shy away from a challenge.

A self-described Air Force brat who moved with her family to Aurora when she was eight years old, Barrett enrolled at Arizona State University with the idea of earning a degree in business or law before deciding, "Oh, this isn't want I want to do. So I took a couple of years off and worked as a special education aide in Cherry Creek Schools for seventh- and eighth-graders — and I loved it." Influenced by a favorite instructor during her own school years, she subsequently graduated in education from what is now Metropolitan State University of Denver and focused on teaching science, doing so for 27 years. Along the way, she married a fellow science teacher she met at Horizon Middle School and raised a daughter who's now a critical-care nurse living in Utah.

Patrick Neville is the minority leader of the Colorado House.
Patrick Neville is the minority leader of the Colorado House.

After her retirement in 2012, Barrett got involved with the Aurora Police Department's citizens' academy, eventually becoming a boardmember, and also volunteered for four years for the 18th Judicial District DA's office, where she focused on cold cases. "That was incredibly rewarding," she recalls. But in addition, "I love to read newspapers and follow what's going on — and I found myself thinking a lot about both sides of many different issues and wondering how I could serve in that way."

These thoughts coalesced after Barrett heard about Rocky Mountain Gun Owners, a group with which Neville has close ties, "raffling off a .50 caliber sniper rifle to raise money for recalls of people like Tom Sullivan, who I adore. I was like, I have to do something about this."

A former competitive shooter, Barrett eventually traded in her guns to pay for bathroom remodeling, "but I feel very comfortable around them. I can see their sport value, and I can see they're a tool. I've even gone through a couple of concealed-carry classes, just to see what kinds of things they're teaching. But the way Rocky Mountain Gun Owners were so vehement about thwarting democracy with money pushed me over the edge."

Still, Barrett was concerned about the expense of a major campaign. "My husband and I are both retired teachers, and my husband was reluctant for me to run because of the money angle," she admits. But she eventually decided that if she declared early, as she did last June, and took the slow-and-steady approach to fundraising, she could take the leap without bankrupting them.

She also reached out to Emerge Colorado, and executive director Rosenoer was impressed. "She's a lifelong teacher and a sharpshooting champ who really understands the conservative community. She's of and from that kind of town. We know the most important swing vote in Colorado tends to be suburban women, and she's a candidate who reflects that swing vote, and she really understands those values. Instead of wanting to recall legislators, she wants to make sure kids aren't getting shot in schools. So she's the kind of great choice that maybe Castle Rock hasn't had before, and we're excited to work with someone like Katie, who wants to get something done instead of trying to break down the government."

Guns aren't Barrett's only issue. Her platform includes education, growth, health care, women and family care, and a concern for the environment that flows from her science background.

Rosenoer sees parallels between the energy Barrett displays and that of other hopefuls with whom Emerge Colorado has collaborated: "In Colorado, we've seen Democratic women knock out Republican men consistently for the past four or five years, and usually it's because the women outwork these guys."

Rosenoer adds, "Over the last few years, a lot of folks have asked me if more women running and winning is just a response to the Trump election, but I think that conversation is a little sexist. I think women running and winning is a movement, not a moment, and I don't think it's going to end in 2020, or the year after that."

Katie Barrett will be hosting "Language of Firearms" at the Parker Public Library, 20105 East Mainstreet, from 1 to 3 p.m. on Sunday, January 19. Click for more details.

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