Colorado Representative Crisanta Duran (D-Denver) is already a change-maker in local politics. Now, the House Majority Leader—the first Latina and the youngest woman ever elected to this role in Colorado—is receiving national recognition for her accomplishments.
In late March, EMILY’s List, a political action committee (PAC) that advocates for female candidates, announced Duran as the 2016 winner of the Gabrielle Giffords Rising Star Award—an honor that celebrates exceptional women serving in state or local governments.
Stephanie Schriock, president of EMILY’s List, cited Duran’s leadership in expanding economic opportunity for women and families, and increasing Latino and youth political participation as reasons for her nomination. There were six nominees overall, and the winner was decided via online voting.
We caught up with Duran to talk about her legislative priorities and her perspectives on women in politics.
5280: Why is it important to increase women’s participation in politics—from city councils to the White House?
Crisanta Duran: It’s very important that we have diverse perspectives at the tables of power to make sure that we come up with the best policies. Without these diverse perspectives and life experiences, many times issues can be overlooked.
Who is in office really does make a difference. In the Colorado legislature, we have more women elected than anywhere in the country. And we are really blazing a new path when it comes to diversity amongst the Latino community, African community, GLBT community, and young people. We should be proud of that.
What are your legislative priorities?
I really ran on the idea that I wanted to bring forward a voice that represents the community I live in to the Statehouse, and make sure that people have access to economic security and access to the American dream.
A lot of my bills have been focused on the day-to-day issues Coloradans face: Trying to figure out how their kids are going to be able to get a good education, making sure that they are able to balance their budgets, and ensuring that people have opportunity have been my focus.
Colorado has the highest percentage of female state legislators, yet we’ve never had a woman governor or senator. How can we break that barrier?
First and foremost, we need to continue to encourage women to run for office. We also need to focus on mentorship, because there have not been as many women in higher levels of government.
In my role as Majority Leader there are several young women I mentor to be in politics. That sisterhood can help make sure that women are able to continue to excel and be successful in their roles, and also hopefully run for some of those different positions. Those are glass ceilings in this state that will be broken.
How has serving on the first all-female top leadership team in the Colorado House impacted your work?
Over the last year, there were advancements on a lot of economic security issues that had a meaningful impact on women. By having women in different leadership positions we’re also setting an example. We are telling young women across the state of Colorado that you can aspire to be the Speaker of the House, the House Majority Leader— those goals are attainable. It’s a very important message.
There is a lot of value in women being in different leadership positions. But the experience and the values and the vision matter just as much.
What advice would you give to young women interested in leadership?
There is nothing more powerful than one’s ability to believe that they can accomplish great things. Many times people limit themselves and they don’t believe they have what it takes to make a difference. It’s crucial that people understand their power to be able to affect politics. We are living in a time where politics is changing in a lot of ways. We’re seeing more doors open.
Having a strong support system is also so important. My advice is that sometimes you just have to go for it and believe in yourself and in your ability to make change.
Editor’s note: This interview has been edited for length.