Why did you run for Congress?
As a Boulder native born to parents active in the 1960s peace movement, I seek to build upon my forbearers’ legacy of idealism and activism. I want to work in Congress to create a peaceful, prosperous, and safe world for generations to come and to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to succeed.
I know that I can be an effective leader for the people of Colorado in an elected capacity. As a former entrepreneur and businessman in Colorado, I am uniquely qualified to represent the interests of Colorado’s small business community. I have always been interested in business, education, politics and public service. My extensive history pushing for quality public education informed my decision to run, as well. Education reform, from preschool through college, is the cornerstone of my policy agenda, both in Colorado and in Congress. During my six-year term on the Colorado State Board of Education, I fought hard to increase education funding and brought an entrepreneurial approach to solving the pressing problems facing our schools. As a founder and Superintendent of public charter schools serving at-risk youth in Colorado, I saw firsthand how critical innovation is within public education.
As the first openly Gay congressman elected as a freshman, I am sympathetic to the civil rights struggles that minorities face in our nation. I ran for Congress to change the direction of our nation and to introduce outside-of-the-box thinking and new ideas to make our nation stronger and better.
Before you served in Congress, you were a successful businessman and educator. What sparked your interest in the government, and subsequently, to run for Congress?
When former Colorado Congressman Mark Udall vacated the seat to run for Senate in 2008, I had become incredibly frustrated with the direction of our country and wanted to make things better for in the people of Colorado. With my background as a successful entrepreneur, former member of the Colorado State Board of Education, and founder of the New America charter school, felt I had the experience and ability to make a bigger difference in people’s lives by leaving the business sector and entering public service full time.
What do you like most about working in Congress?
The best part of my job is working with constituents. Being able to travel the Second District and meet Coloradans is not only an important part of my job, but I also consider it my favorite responsibility. I represent you in Congress, and getting your opinions on the issues of today allows me to represent you properly.
Whether it’s working on a case with one of the federal agencies to secure benefits or assistance for a local resident or fighting to help families afford child care, college tuition and health care, my work on these issues helps people in very real ways.
I also enjoy keeping in touch with my constituents by updating Facebook and Twitter. I have more than 7,000 Facebook friends, nearly 12,000 followers on Twitter, both of which are great ways for me to keep in touch with constituents throughout Colorado and across the nation.
Working on Capitol Hill allows me to be creative and collaborative. I am lucky enough to have to ability to build relationships with other Members, not only from the Colorado delegation and the freshman class, but also from all over the country.
And what aspects of working on Capitol Hill do you like the least?
That’s easy. I don't get to see my family every day, and that's really tough. The time constraints Members of Congress face can be challenging. There are so many issues that require the attention of the federal government – immigration, energy, healthcare, education, and environmental protection to name just a few – that there are rarely enough hours in the day to balance my work with my family life. I like Colorado much better than Washington and travelling several hours on a plane every week is especially difficult with our puppy.
What is a day like for you?
When Congress is in session (i.e. on days when there are votes scheduled on bills pending before the House of Representatives), I am in Washington, D.C. and I spend much of my time meeting with constituents and groups from Colorado who have traveled to Washington to meet with me about various policy issues. I attend hearings in the committee of which I am a member, the Rules Committee. I am also a member of the House Democratic Steering Committee, Vice Chairman and Whip of the House Sustainable Energy and Environment Coalition, and Co-Chairman of the LGBT Equality Caucus. A typical day sees me meeting with Congressional leadership, the Progressive Caucus, the New Dems Caucus and the Freshman Caucus, in addition to speaking at press conferences, giving interviews to the media and conducting tours of the Capitol.
When Congress is not in session, I am usually in Colorado. Like in Washington, I meet with many constituents, advocacy organizations, local leaders and elected officials who have concerns about federal policy matters or want to bring issues to my attention. I also help individuals resolve problems that they may face with federal agencies or other entities and frequently visit local businesses, schools, health facilities, and organizations. Attending festivals, parades, town meetings, and advocacy and awareness events also gives me a unique opportunity to see as many people as possible in our community so that I can stay informed about the concerns of local residents and take those concerns back to Washington. Just this August, I held over two dozen public meetings and met over 7,000 constituents. I hope to have traveled to and held events in all eight counties in my district by 2010.
In my personal time, I spend as much time as possible with my family, hiking and playing computer games with my partner Marlon, playing baseball and tennis, or playing with my puppy, Gia.
Which historical figures influenced you the most?
Golda Meir, Jackie Robinson and Pat Schroeder.
Who are your Congressional heroes?
I really admire and am proud of the Colorado delegation. We come from both sides of the aisle and frequently collaborate with one another to do what is best for our state. I consider Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA) one of our most capable and effective legislators and am glad that he recently wrote a book describing his experiences.
What do you recommend young people who are interested in political and government positions do to pursue career opportunities?
It is important for young people to study hard and get the best education they can so that they may actively participate in our economy, our community and critical discussions on issues of public policy. With a multitude of resources for learning about current events including newspapers, magazines, television and internet, young people should be aware of current events in their community, around the country and around the world. I recommend that students pay attention to the issues and dynamics in our elections and to the legislative process on all levels of government and discuss these events with your friends and family, in addition to applying for an internship in one of my offices.
Also, young people interested in the government should take every opportunity to observe different aspects of our political system. Volunteering or interning in the offices of elected officials or for advocacy organizations focused on issues of particular interest is a great way to learn firsthand the political process. Individuals who are not yet old enough to vote can still volunteer in some capacity or accompany voters, including your parents, to polling places on Election Day to see our democracy at work firsthand. If you are interested in interning at any of my offices, please visit the Intern page of my website.
At any age, you can always write your elected representatives to express your opinion. You can also unite your voice with that of other individuals who share your concerns by joining local and national organizations dedicated to raising awareness of issues about which you care deeply. If you wish to write my office, please click here.
What is the most important issue facing the United States today?
I believe that there are many important issues facing our country today. In the short term, I believe that economic recovery is vital to our nation’s prosperity. I also believe we need to take a hard look at our energy future and our transition from traditional fossil fuels toward renewable energy sources like wind and solar.
In the long term, I believe that education and health care are two issues we must be proactive in investing in, in order to ensure our future as world leaders. My strong background in education tells me that we must address the issues facing our public school system and strengthen the system so that our children are guaranteed the best education possible.
In terms of health care, I believe health care reform is an essential part of America’s new direction. For too long, too many Americans have struggled with high costs, inferior care, or no care at all. We must not be a nation where helpless children cannot receive necessary medicine or visit their doctors for routine check-ups because it’s too expensive. We cannot let pettiness and bickering derail the innovation of medical science that, if given the chance, will produce breakthroughs in treatment and care. I am committed to working with my colleagues in the Congress and the Administration to lower healthcare costs, improve the quality of care, and expand access to that care to all Americans.
What are you doing to advance the rights of LGBT Americans?
As the first openly Gay man elected to Congress as a freshman, the rights of LGBT Americans are important to me. I’ve signed on as an original co-sponsor of the Respect for Marriage Act. I am actively pursuing legislation which would provide LGBT Americans with the same rights as their heterosexual neighbors.
How do you determine initiatives to pursue and how to vote on public policy issues?
The proposals I bring to Washington are all rooted in local concerns. I spend a lot of time in Colorado and really listen to my constituents’ unique concerns. Whether I’m fighting for federal funding for our communities or to change federal policy related to our schools, health care system or environmental protection, I always look to my constituents for guidance.
There are also a number of issues for which I have felt strongly all of my adult life including several that are critical to the economic security of our country, and to the state of American education. I have been a lifelong proponent of quality education, and I look forward to working in the congress to provide quality education to every student in the country.
In addition to making proposals in Congress, I also vote regularly on a wide variety of issues that affect us all. I listen to my constituents, taking into account opinions expressed through conversations with me, emails, letters and phone calls, and I reach out to experts in various fields and officials on all levels of government to better understand how policies will affect our district.