Diana DeGette: Member of Congress, 1st District, Colorado, Democrat
DeGette, 41, graduated from Colorado College (B.A.) and New York U. (J.D.). She has followed in the political footsteps of a feminist icon, her congressional predecessor, Democrat Patricia Schroeder, who retired in 1996 after 12 terms representing the Denver-based 1st District.
DeGette first entered politics because she felt she could more directly influence public policy as a legislator than as a litigator. She spent four years in the Colorado House, eventually serving as assistant minority leader.
The 1996 contest to replace Schroeder in the diverse urban district received national attention, in part because of DeGette’s GOP opponent, Joe Rogers, a black attorney and former aide to Colorado Republican Sen. Hank Brown. But before her showdown with Rogers, DeGette, seen as the early frontrunner for the Democratic nomination, overcame a tough primary challenge from former Denver City Councilman Tim Sandos. DeGette picked up additional black support in the primary when a third candidate, Les Franklin, who is black and the former head of Democratic Gov. Roy Romer’s job training office, gave up his primary bid and encouraged his supporters to vote for DeGette, who is white. Sandos, who is Hispanic, was also seeking support from minority voters. DeGette won the nomination with 56 percent of the vote.
Meanwhile, Rogers, who had been planning to run against Schroeder before she made her surprise retirement announcement in 1995, hoped to tap into Denver’s minority community and attract Democratic voters. In the 1st, more than 10 percent of the population is black and more than 20 percent is Hispanic. Rogers won the endorsement of a group of black ministers who usually support Democrats, and focused his campaign on education and crime issues. But DeGette picked up support from Denver Mayor Wellington Webb, a black Democrat. In addition, she won the backing of EMILY’s List, a powerhouse group that funds pro-choice Democratic women. She defeated Rogers by a solid 17-point margin, polling 57 percent of the vote, just a bit under the winning tallies Schroeder had enjoyed.
DeGette was re-elected with 67 percent of the vote in 1998.
-Information for career path biographies has been adapted from Congressional Quarterly’s Politics in America, a comprehensive volume which profiles all Members of Congress. Edited and researched by Phil Duncan, Brian Nutting and the CQ Politics staff. For more information, call 202-887-8500 or 1-800-432-2259, ext. 279.
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