Joe Neguse Makes History and Will Work to ‘Keep Hope Alive’
“With so much vitriol right now in Washington and our political system, we must remember that while fear is contagious, so is hope,” said Joe Neguse immediately following his electoral victory on November 6, 2018. “Tonight, I am deeply hopeful for the future of our country, as we work together to rebuild our democracy.”
Neguse’s victory is historic, making him Colorado’s first African-American to be elected to the United States Congress. The 15-year resident of Lafayette won the election with 60 percent of the vote, beating Republican opponent Peter Yu by a 30 percent margin, and replacing Governor-elect Jared Polis in the U.S. House of Representatives for the 2nd Congressional District. The district, located in the north-central part of the state, encompasses Broomfield, Clear Creek, Gilpin, Grand, Larimer, and Summit counties, as well as portions of Boulder, Eagle, Jefferson, Park, and Weld counties. Included in the district are the northwestern suburbs of Northglenn, Thornton and Westminster, as well as Boulder, Fort Collins, and the mountain towns of Vail, Grand Lake, and Idaho Springs.
At age 34, Neguse is the youngest member of Colorado’s Congressional delegation, and one of the youngest in the United States Congress. The son of Eritrean refugees who fled during the armed conflict against Ethiopia, Neguse is joined in Congress by another child of African immigrants, Minnesota Democrat, Ilhan Omar, whose family fled war-torn Somalia in 1995.
Upon arrival to the United States, Neguse’s parents were granted asylum and eventually became naturalized citizens. He was born in Bakersfield, California, and moved with his family to Colorado when he was six years old. Throughout his childhood, Neguse lived inAurora and Littleton, and attended Thunderidge High School in Douglas County, where he engaged in community organization and public service work.
Neguse attributes his continued activism to the influence of his hard-working parents. “At an early age my parents emphasized the importance of taking advantage of opportunities that do not exist in all countries,” he says. “My parents never forgot, nor took for granted, the freedom and opportunities the United States gave them and their children.”
After graduating from Thunderidge, Neguse entered the University of Colorado at Boulder and served as co-student body president under the institution’s tri-executive system; a prestigious experience shared with State Senator Steve Feinberg and State Representative Leslie Herod. Many of his efforts while in office were applied to finding solutions to increase funding for Colorado’s education system.
Neguse majored in political science and economics and graduated ‘summa cum laude’. He accepted a position working for then-Speaker of the Colorado House of Representatives, Andrew Romanoff. During the campaign, he co-founded New Era Colorado, a nonprofit organization that launched the state’s largest youth voter registration and mobilization initiative.
New Era Colorado was featured in the New York Times and Time Magazine after registering thousands of young people to vote throughout the state of Colorado. The organization worked to pass legislation for online voter registration and voter pre-registration for 16 and 17-year olds, and it focuses on finding ways to reduce the impact of climate change. “New Era Colorado was an effort to encourage young people to get involved in the political process,” Neguse said. “We know that where more people participate, we have a better outcome.”
Following his undergraduate studies, Neguse enrolled at the University of Colorado’s law school, and in 2008 he was elected to represent the 2nd Congressional District to the Colorado University Board of Regents, becoming the second African-American to win the seat. He served a six-year term on the Board, overseeing the entire University of Colorado system, and monitoring the $3.4 billion operating budget for the fourth-largest employer in the state as Chair of the Audit Committee.
As Regent, Neguse fought to increase the accessibility of higher education by finding practical solutions to improve affordability. He sponsored several resolutions that received bi-partisan support, including efforts to lower student health insurance costs, make voter registration more accessible to students, and increase wages for the university’s lowest paid workers.
In 2014, Neguse ran against Wayne Williams to become Colorado Secretary of State, he lost by small margins near the end of this regent term. At age 31, he was appointed by Governor John Hickenlooper to lead the state’s Consumer Protection Agency, making him one of the youngest people to serve in a state-Cabinet across the country. He provided leadership to over 600 state employees and managed a $90 million budget, in a two-year fight to expand economic opportunities and protect the civil rights of Colorado residents with consumer protections and safeguards.
Neguse achieved several key victories during his tenure. He recovered millions of dollars for consumers, launched investigations that culminated in significant financial fraud cases, championed legislation to combat financial fraud against seniors, and launched the state’s first online filing system for civil rights discrimination complaints.
In recognition of his work to expand the agency’s consumer protection mission, Neguse was awarded the 2017 ‘Consumer Protection Award’ by the International Council on Licensure, Enforcement and Regulation.
Wanting to represent the state of Colorado on a national level, Neguse launched his congressional campaign with a platform that included supporting the same universal single-payer Medicare plan that was supported by Jarred Polis. In an interview with Westword Magazine, Neguse elaborated on his health-care vision, saying, ”When I visit with folks across the district, one thing is clear: Folks are incredibly concerned about their ability to afford quality health care. A family shouldn’t have to choose between paying their mortgage and taking their children to the doctor. Families shouldn’t have to go bankrupt if a loved one gets sick. From my perspective, the solution is universal health care.”
Neguse went on to explain that his campaign was based on morality in addition to a desire to build economic security. “In the current system, we spend more per capita related to our GDP on health care than any other country in the Western world,” he said. “We also have poor health outcomes on a number of different statistical fronts. Look at infant mortality rates as one example, or maternal mortality rates compared to those countries that have some form of universal health care.”
Given Neguse’s passion for universal healthcare and his desire to lower the cost of public education, it comes as no surprise that Senator Bernie Sanders and Jared Polis both showed up with pledges of support at a campaign rally in Boulder. Neguse received an impressive range of endorsements; the most notable from labor organizations such as the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, the Airline Pilots Association, the American Postal Workers Union, and Colorado Professional Fire Fighters.
He also received extensive support from former and current elected officials from the 2nd Congressional District and other districts throughout the state.
Denver’s former Mayor Wellington Webb and former State Representative Wilma Webb were among the many current African-Americans who endorsed Neguse, and after an energetic and effective campaign, he was successful in winning the seat. His accomplishment was historically significant, in addition to a being an incredible realization of his parents’ greatest dreams.
Neguse has settled into his new role in Washington, D.C. with his wife Andrea and infant daughter, Natalie. “I will continue my work to raise the minimum wage and to ensure Medicare-for-all,” he said. He addressed bi-partisanship in Congress with optimism, saying “I believe Democrats and Republicans can work together on legislation regarding infrastructure,the drug crisis and immigration.”
Joining Reverend Jesse Jackson and former President Barack Obama as leaders who have used their political platforms to inspire hope, Neguse has confidence in his role to positively influence the daily lives of Colorado residents. He is working fearlessly to represent the voice of the people with his favorite saying in mind, “Fear may be contagious, but so is hope.”