In Colorado’s first congressional district, which includes the city and county of Denver and the suburbs of Glendale, Englewood, Sheridan, and Cherry Hills Village, two women are vying for the seat currently held by Representative Diana DeGette since 1997.
DeGette, 60, is a business-friendly, don’t-rock-the-boat Democrat who’s heavily favored to win. Saira Rao, 44, is challenging her by pressuring the Democratic Party to work less for corporations, and more for people of color.
Both women are graduates of NYU Law School: DeGette finished in 1982, and Rao, in 2002. Both supported Hilary Clinton wholeheartedly in 2016. And they share many standard-issue positions, such as supporting a woman’s right to choose. At first glance, it’s not clear what divides these women politically. What would a white-collar Hillary Clinton supporter find so objectionable about DeGette?
Rao, a mother of two, is a former Wall Street lawyer and co-founder of In This Together Media, a publishing company focused on creating diverse children’s books. She has never held elected office. But at least since December 2017, when she published a widely circulated break-up letter to the Democratic Party on The Huffington Post, she has been critical of what she views as a party beholden to corporate interests and insufficiently committed to racial justice.
According to Rao, the Democratic Party is “not much more woke in terms of race than the Republican Party, and that’s why we find ourselves in these situations where we allow black and brown communities to be ravaged by gun violence.” Rao also supports eliminating student debt, implementing single-payer health care, aggressively expanding federal support for affordable housing, passing the Marijuana Justice Act, and defunding US Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
DeGette, who served as a health-care adviser on Hillary Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign, has said in the past that single-payer is a nonstarter. “For over a year, I’ve been a co-sponsor of legislation supporting single-payer health care: the Expanded and Improved Medicare For All Act. Once Democrats take back the House, we will be in a better position to move that bill forward,” she said in an issued statement.
DeGette wants to cap student-loan interest rates and supports loan forgiveness for those who go into “serving the underserved.” In 2015, DeGette said that it would be “difficult in the current political environment” to legalize marijuana nationwide, although she has championed a bill that would keep the federal government from preempting state laws on marijuana (Colorado legalized marijuana for recreational purposes in 2012).