This week, former Colorado Speaker of the House Crisanta Duran blindsided pundits aplenty when she announced that, rather than run for the U.S. Senate against the supposedly vulnerable Cory Gardner, she would challenge Representative Diana DeGette, a fellow Democrat who's represented Congressional District 1 for more than two decades.
The move is a risky one, as noted by Colorado Independent columnist Mike Littwin. "Most Democrats I’ve talked to are either puzzled or furious or some combination of both," he wrote after her declaration, "which, just spitballing here, is not necessarily the best way to begin a campaign for Congress."
But Duran showed no evidence of having been knocked off balance by either confusion or criticism. Indeed, she's in mid-campaign form when it comes to talking points and artfully denouncing DeGette, who hasn't responded to a Westword interview request about Duran's bid at this writing. Ask her about issues with which she and her opponent differ, and Duran only comes up with one: She backs the Green New Deal, while DeGette has yet to. But in an overall sense, she portrays DeGette as too comfortable, too accommodating, too entrenched.
Or does she? For the most part, Duran talks in generalities that seem to be about DeGette, but when quizzed about whether they are, she answers in an open-ended way that encourages constituents to connect the dots for her.
Take these comments, for example: "This is not a time to be safe, it's not a time to be shy. It's a time to be bold. We need a leader in Congressional District 1 who has the political courage to take on the tough issues and move forward with a bold, progressive agenda for all the communities in the district," the implication being that DeGette has done none of these things. But Duran stops short of confirming that. "To me, this is about the future," she says. "I'm just talking about what my approach would be and what my approach has been in the past."
Similarly, Duran doesn't outright accuse DeGette of being beholden to "special interests" and "dark money," even though both terms appeared prominently in her campaign-introducing email blast. But she hints that such problems could crop up down the line if candidates aren't as vigilant about rejecting such addictions as she is.
She describes her decision to seek election in CD1 like so: "I've been spending a lot of time trying to figure out where I would be most effective, and after hearing from a lot of community leaders and people in District 1, people who want their voices and values heard in Washington, D.C., I decided that Congressional District 1 would be the most effective place I could be moving forward."
Duran concedes that a possible campaign against Gardner was once front and center in her thoughts. "I did seriously consider it," she says — though she laughingly rejects speculation that her new campaign video, which doesn't specify the office she's seeking, was originally made with the U.S. Senate race in mind and then re-purposed for District 1. She also acknowledges that "there were many people in the last several months" who encouraged her to run for mayor of Denver before she settled on a congressional effort.
As for why she's the right person for this particular job, Duran offers an explanation that contains another sideways shot at DeGette. "I think in these times, when we see Donald Trump in the White House, it's more important than ever that we evaluate if we have the right people in office during the right time," she allows. "During the time I served in the Colorado legislature, I worked to never miss an opportunity to advance the voices and values of the people I represented. In these changing times, we need leaders who are going to take action not because of political convenience, but because of political courage. Throughout the eight years I served, I took on a lot of tough issues, and I think we need a leader in Washington, D.C., who will do that on behalf of all the communities in District 1."
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The insinuation this time is that DeGette isn't representative of today's CD1 — and Duran actually comes close to co-signing this interpretation. "I commend Congresswoman DeGette for her service," she insists. "But the reason I'm running is that the district has changed a lot over the past twenty years since Congresswoman DeGette was first elected. And in these changing times, when Donald Trump is in the White House, I believe it is time we have a new and different style of leadership to move Congressional District 1 forward."
Top priorities for Duran if elected include fighting against climate change and income inequality, supporting improvements in health care and advocating on behalf of comprehensive immigration reform. But she stresses that her agenda will largely be shaped by conversations with the people of Congressional District 1. "I don't think bringing a bunch of legislators together gets you the best ideas," she says. "To me, the best ideas always come from community outreach and town halls and listening to people in the district. That's my leadership style — to go to the people and learn what issues are impacting them every single day, and making sure there's a level playing field."
In the meantime, Duran brushes aside complaints from Democrats about her trying to defeat a fellow party member instead of someone in the GOP, arguing that pressing DeGette is "good for the party. The status quo enabled somebody like Donald Trump to rise to the presidency. So for me, I think we need to always be evaluating whether or not we are missing opportunities to be able to lead and really work to lift up all communities in the state of Colorado, and make sure that they're heard. And I also will say not one person owns a seat in Congress. It is up to the people who they want to lead them, and I look forward to making my case in every community in District 1 in order to earn their vote."
It's not hard to figure out what she means by that.