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Barack Obama gives a shout out to the Colorado Young Dems! Crisanta Duran introduces Caroline Kennedy at University of Denver rally on January 30, 2008.

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Working-class mind-set fueled Duran’s historic rise to House Speaker

Photo by Joe Amon, The Denver Post

Crisanta Duran who has been chosen by her peers to be the first Latina Speaker of the House in Colorado history.

By | | The Denver Post | January 8, 2017


At a Democratic National Committee meeting late last year in Denver, party leaders took a brief break from diagnosing what went wrong to listen to a few success stories.

One of them was Crisanta Duran.

At age 36, the rising star of the Colorado Democratic Party had just been elected the state’s first Latina Speaker of the House. Colorado, she reminded party leaders, had just voted for Hillary Clinton, elected Michael Bennet to the U.S. Senate and expanded the Democratic majority in the state House by three seats.

Then, she related an abbreviated version of a story she’s fond of telling.

The one about her ancestors: the laborers and ranchers, descended from Mexicans, French trappers, American Indians and Spanish explorers.

The one about how, six generations later, she would sit at the dinner table as a child, talking affordable housing and the right to a decent wage with her union leader dad and state employee mom — all made possible because her grandfather put in long hours at the Pueblo steel mill.

At its best, the story is the stuff of a political speechwriter’s dreams: a pulled-up-by-the-bootstraps tale that seeks to remind working-class Americans that she’s one of them. To Duran, it’s also a sort of mission statement that she says informs and drives her policy work.

But even as it veers into the vicinity of political cliche, it’s also a narrative that the Democratic Party was sorely lacking in a year when a billionaire real estate developer was more appealing to many blue-collar voters than the party that had long claimed to stand for working-class interests.

And in a room of pollsters and high-powered party insiders, Duran — a self-described shy girl from Northglenn — may have represented just the sort of throwback, blue-collar Democrat the party needs to rebuild its fraying coalition.

Supporters describe her as a fierce advocate for workers’ rights, who is unafraid to take on complex policy problems. Publicly, her opponents describe her as amiable, but politically savvy — “strategic,” as one leading Republican put it.

In her own words, Duran comes back to a singular theme as she looks ahead to her debut as speaker: being “productive” in an era of divided government.

Family looms large

Duran’s upbringing was steeped in political causes, if not politics.

After a stint at the city of Arvada, her mother went to work on affordable housing for the state Department of Local Affairs. Her father, meanwhile, was on his way to becoming the longest-running president of the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 7 union.

When she was 15, she took a trip to Watsonville, Calif., to march on behalf of strawberry workers — an experience that today she describes as formative.

“I mean, there were some really challenging working conditions. Situations where women were being sexually harassed and abused — people who wanted to have access to a decent wage,” Duran said. “I think for me, those types of experiences left with me the value of thinking about how do we bring people together to create change and to build community?”

After studying public policy and Spanish at the University of Denver, Duran earned a law degree at the University of Colorado at Boulder. She graduated at 24, and shortly after, went to work for her dad, Ernie Duran Jr., as the union’s staff attorney.

Years later, that job, and that of her brother, Ernie III, would become controversial. In 2009, Ernie Duran Jr. was ousted at the end of a bitter, low turnout re-election campaign in which the Durans were accused of nepotism, among other charges, all of which they denied.

After her father’s defeat, Crisanta in 2010 ditched the union hall for a campaign of her own, winning easily over Republican Ronnie Nelson in Denver’s blue 5th District. In the legislature, her union background was never far from mind.

“I’ve always known Crisanta to be just fierce and relentless when it comes to fighting for working people, and elevating their stories and their concerns and doing something about them,” said Jenny Willford, executive director of Emerge Colorado, who recruits and promotes female candidates for Democratic office. “That’s what I’ve seen from her in the past six years.”

A rising star

Duran has risen fast in politics. At 36, she will be the second-youngest speaker of the House in Colorado history.

At 35, she spoke at the Democratic National Convention.

At 33, she served as chair of the powerful Joint Budget Committee — and rankled a few opponents along the way. In one high-profile spat, state Rep. Cheri Gerou, R-Evergeen, called her a “bully.”

But her reputation has morphed somewhat since. In the last two sessions, she partnered with Republicans to pass a number of bills, including an extension of a low-income housing tax credit and workforce development packages she’s particularly proud of. And this past fall, she said she convened the leaders in both parties — even before the election — to talk transportation, a meeting of the minds that both sides say has been productive.

Senate Minority Leader Lucia Guzman, a Democrat, says Duran’s political approach can be traced to her family.

“She has that same kind of spirit,” Guzman said. “She has the spirit of a warrior, and the spirit of a negotiator at the same time.”

Conservatives are withholding judgment, for now — but some say Duran has a ways to go to prove she can be bipartisan.

“She has a legitimately far-left record,” said Kelly Maher, executive director of the conservative advocacy group Compass Colorado. “I’m hoping that she can take that history and set it aside for the sake of finding some compromise in this legislative session.”

Meanwhile, the ranking House Republican, Minority Leader-elect Patrick Neville, described Duran like this:

“We’ve had good meetings together, it’s always been a very cordial relationship,” he said, before adding: “She’s incredibly strategic.”

“Well-vetted policy”

In the coming session, Duran plans to focus on transportation, the state budget and economic issues. She’s particularly concerned about making sure the state is providing the right education and the right training for the jobs that are available.

“I think that as we have seen a changing economy, we really have to be focused on how do we continue to see the middle class grow, because it hasn’t. In fact, it’s shrunk,” Duran said. “And that divide continues to be a challenge for a lot of families in Colorado and across the country.”

When pressed on specifics, from hot-button issues ranging from transportation funding to construction defects, she simply says she’s studying a number of options, and wants to see “well-vetted policy” emerge from her chamber.

But virtually all of her priorities come back, in one way or another, to a rhetorical theme: “Don’t take any Coloradans for granted,” she says, “and don’t leave any Coloradan behind.”

It’s the sort of Democratic economic message that failed to connect with voters across the country last year. But her background — daughter of a union boss, granddaughter of a steel worker — may lend that message an authenticity that national Democratic leaders seemed to lack.



EMILY’s List honors Colorado House Democratic leader Crisanta Duran

By Joey Bunch | | The Denver Post | March 25, 2016

Crisanta Duran, leader of the Colorado House Democrats, received national recognition Friday when she was named the EMILY’s List Gabrielle Giffords Rising Star.

EMILY’s List, which bills itself as the nation’s largest resource for women in politics and is recognized as left-leaning and pro-choice, announced the award on its website Friday morning.

“We are deeply impressed by Crisanta Duran’s strong leadership skills, her work expanding economic opportunity for women and families, and her commitment to increasing Latino and youth political participation,” Stephanie Schriock, president of EMILY’s List, said in a statement. “The EMILY’s List community has supported Crisanta Duran throughout her career in the Colorado House of Representatives and her rise to majority leader.

“As the first Latina to serve as a party’s majority leader in Colorado, Crisanta Duran is a trailblazer who consistently puts Coloradans first.”

Duran said EMILY’S List helps her do important work.

“I’ve fought for progressive change here in Colorado, and it’s because of the work EMILY’s List does that I have more women than ever fighting beside me all across the country,” Duran said. “The Rising Star Award is my favorite example of EMILY’s List’s commitment to building the pipeline — the work we all do at the state and local level is every bit as important to women and families as what happens in Washington. At times it can be tough, but I will never give up. The stakes are just too important for the communities I love.”

In February she was named the state Democratic Party’s Rising Star.

In 2014 she was lauded by the Washington Post as one of its “40 under 40” leaders in state politics from across the country.

Duran has represented House District 5 in central Denver since 2011. In 2015 Duran became the first Latina and the youngest woman in the history of Colorado to be elected House majority leader.

In its announcement, EMILY’S List called Duran “instrumental in the passing of a bill that allows undocumented students to receive in-state tuition rates, and has worked across the aisle on workforce development, affordable housing, and rural economic development issues.”

The other finalists were Michigan state Rep. Stephanie Chang, Ohio state Rep. Kathleen Clyde, Pennsylvania state Rep. Leanne Krueger-Braneky, Bernalillo County, N.M., Clerk Maggie Toulouse Oliver and New Jersey Assemblywoman Shavonda Sumter.

Duran is the third recipient of the award.

EMILY’s List recognized two winners last year, Georgia House Democratic leader Stacey Abrams and Boston City Councilor Ayanna Pressley. Colorado state Sen. Morgan Carroll, a Democrat from Aurora, was a finalist last year. Carroll is running for the U.S. House against incumbent Republican Mike Coffman.

Named for former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, who was the youngest woman ever to serve in the Arizona state Senate before being elected to Congress in 2004.


Colorado Democratic State Representative Crisanta Duran sits at her desk on the opening day of the 2016 Colorado Legislature, at the Capitol, in Denver, Jan. 13, 2016. (Photo by Brennan Linsley/AP)

Colorado Democratic State Representative Crisanta Duran sits at her desk on the opening day of the 2016 Colorado Legislature, at the Capitol, in Denver, Jan. 13, 2016.
Photo by Brennan Linsley/AP



Crisanta Duran could lead more Latinas to public service

By , The Denver Post

January 7, 2015, 5:15 pm

Rep. Crisanta Duran

Colorado House Majority Leader Crisanta Duran, left, talks with supporters, including former Sen. Polly Baca and former House Speaker Ruben Valdez before the opening of the Colorado legislature at the State Capitol in Denver. (Photo By Craig F. Walker / The Denver Post)

As the minutes ticked down to the 10 a.m. start of the 70th General Assembly Wednesday, House Majority Leader Crisanta Duran hosted 20 people in her Capitol office, including her parents, Ernie Jr. and Teresa Duran, and other mentors were members of a group called , a national non-partisan organization that aims to attract Latinas to public service.

Duran is the kind of leader the group dreams of: an accomplished Hispanic woman passionate about her causes while blazing a path for others to follow. Wednesday Duran became the first Hispanic woman to serve as either party’s majority leader in Colorado.

“I am humbled that all of you are here this morning as we begin this journey,” Duran told the other women in the room. “This is a journey that we will continue to work on together.”

“I think the key to this for young people is to have the passion to make
a difference and make things a little bit easier for the next generation.”
— Polly Baca

Sitting at Duran’s left was Polly Baca, the first Hispanic woman to serve in the Colorado General Assembly after she was elected in 1974. Four years later, she was elected to the Senate, breaking the barrier in that chamber, as well. Baca was the first Hispanic woman to serve in both chambers of the same legislature anywhere in the country.

After the House gaveled in, Baca sat on the front row and looked on with a proud glow as Duran helped new House Speaker Dickey Lee Hullinghorst do the state’s business.

“It’s a journey that begins with a passion to serve,” Baca said of Duran’s position as a role-model for the next generation, the way she had been for Duran. “You have to figure out what it is that you want to do to make a difference.

“For Crisanta and I and many of legislators that are here, it’s about helping make things better for our fellow citizens in our community, this country and the world. So it’s a journey to find your place, to find where you can serve best.

“I think the key to this for young people is to have the passion to make a difference and make things a little bit easier for the next generation.”


By Aaron Blake, Published: May 19, 2014

This list focuses on people who have made names for themselves in politics outside of Washington, D.C. – state-level politicians, mayors, local officials and operatives – but could soon be known to all of us. We sought advice from more than 100 different sources from all across the United States and gradually pared it down to 40 names. Read more >>

Forty under 40 winner: Crisanta Duran

Denver Business Journal - by Amanda Moutinho
Posted Friday, March 11, 2011  

Crisanta Duran
Title: State representative for House District 5
Company: State of Colorado
Age: 30
Key Civic Affiliations: Colorado Latino Forum,
GI Forum, New Era Colorado

Rep. Crisanta Duran of House District 5 takes an active role in her community.

As an attorney, she's always stayed close to her community, majoring in public policy at the University of Denver and law school at the University of Colorado at Boulder.

Kathleen Lavine | Business Journal

The Denver Business Journal's Forty under 40 winners
were asked when they were in kindergarten, what did
they want to be when they grew up? At the photo
shoot they wrote their answer on the blackboard.
Crisanta Duran wanted to be a servant of the people.

Working in the private sector made her realize there was only so much she could do to help the people, Duran said. So she focused on other ways to make a difference.

She was an active member of the Colorado Young Democrats and was always passionate ...

Colorado women broke political barriers

By Sheba R. Wheeler - The Denver Post - March 2, 2011

Women were among the queue of people waiting to vote on Nov. 6, 1894, in Denver. (Photo Courtesy of Marcia Goldstein)

When Crisanta Duran, 30, was elected to the state House of Representatives last year as the youngest Latina legislator in Colorado history, everyone asked the same question:

"How did you do that?"

Her response: She believed it could be done.

"Many issues are entirely impacted by our beliefs in ourselves and our ability to achieve whatever we want," says Duran, D-Denver.

That same sense of purpose has guided Colorado women to accomplish goals for more than a century. Duran and two other speakers on Tuesday will chronicle the history of women's suffrage in Colorado, current challenges and future agendas as part of a Women's History Month event hosted by Progressive Women of Colorado.

A demonstrator makes her views known outside the Denver Public Library, circa 1910. (Photo Courtesy of Marcia Goldstein)

At age 30 Crisanta Duran became the youngest Latina elected to the Colorado House of Representatives. (The Denver Post)

Speakers include Ellie Miller Greenberg, an educator, civil rights activist and 2010 inductee into the Colorado Women's Hall of Fame, and Marcia Goldstein, a women's historian and author of "Denver Women in Their Places: A Guide to Women's History Sites."

Colorado was the "birthplace of women in party and electoral politics," Goldstein says, because women here were the first in the nation to clear a path through then all-male political parties after they won the right to vote in 1893. (Her online exhibit "This Shall Be the Land for Women" chronicles Western women's suffrage campaigns.)

The Rocky Mountain states were the first to legalize full suffrage for women in the nation: Wyoming in 1869; Colorado, 1893; Idaho and Utah, 1896. National suffrage did not pass until 1920.

Other firsts:

  • Colorado elected three Republicans to the state House in 1894, and elected 10 women to the House from various parties by 1900.
  • Helen Ring Robinson was the first female state senator in Colorado, elected in 1912.

In the contemporary legislative scene, Duran won her legislative election with 77 percent of the vote in District 5, which encompasses the Lower Downtown, Highland, Capitol Hill, Sunnyside and Globeville neighborhoods.

The labor attorney with strong union ties says her work is far from over. She is introducing legislation for more statewide affordable-housing programs and a bill to encourage parental involvement in K-12 schools.

Among her concerns are that families are struggling economically, Latinos are disppaportionally represented among the unemployment rolls, and women continue to earn lower wages than their male counterparts in both blue-collar and professional jobs.

"We need to make sure that women have equal opportunity," Duran says.

The Colorado House had 10 female representatives in 1900.
(Photo Courtesy of Marcia Goldstein)

* Please note: Crisanta Duran is currently the youngest Latina serving in the state House, not in the history of Colorado.


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