Joe Neguse on His Parents' Refugee Story and Making History in Congress

Joe Neguse is the Democratic nominee to represent the 2nd Congressional District.
Joe Neguse is the Democratic nominee to represent the 2nd Congressional District. Facebook
Joe Neguse is in a tricky position. As the Democratic nominee for Congress in the 2nd District, which includes Boulder and is currently represented by gubernatorial hopeful Jared Polis, pretty much the only way he can lose is if a bizarrely specific virus kills every progressive voter before November.

But in the extended interview below, Neguse, who is being challenged by Republican Peter Yu, Libertarian Roger Barris and independent Nick Thomas, doesn't slip into cockiness for a single nanosecond. Instead, he regularly emphasizes his dedication to take nothing for granted and work as hard as he possibly can throughout the campaign — and to continue doing so for the next two years in Washington, D.C. if he emerges triumphant.

The conversation begins with Neguse talking about his parents, who came to America as refugees shortly before he was born. He then discusses his time at the University of Colorado Boulder, where he served as co-student body president under the school's tri-executive system — a breeding ground for future politicians, including state representative Leslie Herod and state senator Steve Fenberg. But he doesn't give CU Boulder a free pass related to a proposal floated in April about cutting back the student government's power and responsibility — an approach that appears to have been shelved following protests and widespread condemnation.

Neguse also discusses his co-founding of New Era Colorado, an advocacy organization for young voters, his failed 2014 campaign for Colorado Secretary of State and what he learned from falling short, and the issues he's identified as his top priorities: policies to protect the environment, universal health care and a woman's right to choose and immigration reform. In addition, he supports a so-called clean version of the DREAM Act, which would protect participants in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program without approving actions viewed by critics as anti-immigrant, including millions for the Mexican border wall touted by President Donald Trump.

Near the end of the chat, Neguse addresses the fact that if he is elected, he'll be the first African-American member of Congress from Colorado since the establishment of the state in 1876. It's the kind of history almost certain to be made a few months from now — not that Neguse would admit anything of the sort.

Here's what he had to say.

click to enlarge Joe Neguse with wife Andrea and a friend. - FACEBOOK
Joe Neguse with wife Andrea and a friend.
Westword: How do you introduce yourself to the voters in your district?

Joe Neguse: I describe myself as a Coloradan — as somebody who cares deeply about our state, someone who considers himself incredibly lucky and fortunate to have grown up here and who had the opportunity to build a life here, and someone who cares deeply that we're working collectively to try and solve some of the public-policy challenges that we face.

Tell me a little bit about your family.

My parents came here from East Africa — from a small country called Eritrea. They came as refugees many years ago, over 35 years ago. I was actually born in Bakersfield, California, and we moved to Colorado when I was six. We lived in Aurora for a brief time, and then in Littleton, Highlands Ranch. I've spent the majority of my life here in Colorado. I went to school up at CU Boulder, where I was a tri-executive, then went to law school and represented the 2nd District for six years as a regent. I met my wife in Boulder County and I've lived there since 2002. So I consider myself a Coloradan, having lived here since I was six. But my story is in many ways an immigrant's story, like many Coloradans.

That's a large motivation why I decided to get involved in public service. At a very early age, I was taught by my parents that it was important to pay it forward. As I mentioned, we were incredibly lucky to have had the opportunity to live our dreams in the United States. In many ways, we lived the American dream in many senses of that phrase. Given my parents' background, it was very clear to me the importance of the opportunities and freedoms that we have in this country that don't exist in a lot of places in the world. Our shared experiences and my experience as a first-generation American are things that motivated me all my life to be involved in public service.
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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts