In some ways, Jason Crow, the Democrat recently sworn in to represent Colorado’s 6th Congressional District, is the unicorn Colorado progressives were waiting for. Since its creation in 1983, Republicans have represented this suburban district—first with Dan Schaefer, then Tom Tancredo, and, most recently, Mike Coffman, who served in the role for 10 years.
The 6th was, to say the least, a tough nut for Democrats to crack. The district changed drastically after Coffman’s first term, having been redrawn in 2011 to encompass the populous city of Aurora, plus parts of Littleton, Centennial, Highlands Ranch, and Brighton. The change was expected to benefit Democrats, leading political insiders to question whether Coffman’s time was up during every election cycle. Yet, even as voters in the district chose Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton as president in 2012 and 2016, respectively, Coffman continued to hold his seat.
Then Jason Crow came along.
You could say the first-time politician and Army veteran won the 6th in 2018. Or you could say President Donald Trump lost it. Crow’s campaign focused heavily on linking Coffman to the Commander in Chief, who is unpopular in the diverse district. The Republican Party—perhaps sensing a loss or maybe punishing the congressman for his disagreements with the president—withdrew financial support months before the election, while outside-spenders simultaneously threw cash at Crow, setting the stage for the most expensive congressional race in state history. In the end, Crow won by 11 percent.
Before he became a candidate for public office, Crow served four years in the Army, from 2002 to 2006. He completed one tour fighting with the 82nd Airborne Division in Iraq in 2003, immediately followed by two tours in Afghanistan with the 75th Ranger Regiment. In 2009, Crow graduated from the University of Denver’s Sturm College of Law and subsequently joined Denver’s Holland & Hart, where he made partner in 2017. The father of two—Josephine is 5 and Anderson is 8—also spent five years volunteering on the Colorado Board of Veterans Affairs and co-chaired Gov. John Hickenlooper’s Veterans Affairs Transition Committee.
With the dust from the election settled and the 116th Congress sworn in, we caught up with Crow to learn about his priorities for the upcoming term. (Hint: Some variation of “stand up to Trump” came up numerous times).
5280: Colorado’s 6th district is truly unique, as it includes Aurora—home to many immigrant communities—and a politically diverse mix in the suburbs. How did you win over voters in this district?
Jason Crow: My message is very simple: I’m going to roll up my sleeves and I’m going to get things done. I don’t care if it’s with a Republican, a Democrat, or an Independent. I have an obligation to deliver for people of this district, and I’m going to do that the best I can. We’re gonna push hard and try to build coalitions and try to deliver to the people of this district. That’s a message that really resonates.
What I decided to do was to go everywhere, every part of the district, and make the case. That meant going to Highlands Ranch, going to Aurora, going to Brighton. We held over 400 community and campaign events. We attended events from church basements to community centers to [recreational] centers, and we made our case to everybody and we won with a historic victory—over 11 percent.
You’re entering Congress in a remarkable period of American politics and a historical year for the House of Representatives. How would you describe the energy of this freshman class?
Well, there’s a lot of excitement, and there’s also a lot of resolve. There’s excitement because this has the potential to be a very transformational class. These are people who really represent the country, and I think we have the capacity to change the culture of Washington—not only because of the fact that on January 3, a quarter of Congress [was] new, but because we’re going to be different representatives. And there’s resolve because we see the fairly unrelenting attack on our institutions and other rule of law coming from [the Trump] administration. We haven’t had a Congress that’s willing and able to hold this administration accountable, to defend our values, to defend our institutions.
You are one of 19 military veterans newly elected to Congress, bringing the total of veterans to 96 (77 in the House). Six of those veterans are women, the largest number of female veterans ever. How will your military background help you serve your community?
I think about my experience in Iraq, for example, where I served with people from every background. Black, white, Asian, Hispanic, straight, gay, every corner of this country, every religious background, and we had a job to do. We didn’t ask whether we were Republican or Democrat, what our political background was, or what we thought about as a specific policy issue. We had to find a way to come together and overcome some of our differences, to figure out what we had in common, and to get that job done. [Veterans] bring that background in service and sacrifice for the nation [to the table] in this job and in Washington.
You’ve been an advocate for veterans in Colorado for some time, including serving on the Board of Veteran Affairs for five years and pushing for the building of the new VA Hospital in Aurora. Now that you’re in office, what specific veterans’ issues are at the top of your list?
Well, we have very local issues and we have national issues. The local issue is making sure we complete the VA hospital in Aurora, and making sure that it provides the service that it needs to provide to the veterans of this community. Still, after the budget overruns, years over schedule, the hospital still does not have the primary care beds and the rooms that it needs to have to provide service to our veterans. It’s going to cost anywhere from an additional $200 million to $300 million to finish the project, which is deeply concerning on a lot of levels. We have to complete the project, we have to get the money that we need to build out the facility, so we have the room to provide service.
The second component of that is we have to keep the old facility (at 1055 Clermont St.) open now for another three to five years. We’re going to need a very high level of oversight and accountability to ensure the VA is maintaining quality at both facilities, cleanliness, the level of service our veterans and our families deserve, because it’s going to very hard for the VA and the administration to manage two facilities, particularly one that has aged well past its lifespan. I’m going to be making sure that we work with the VA, that we hold them accountable, and that we have an open line of communication to find out what resources and support they need to get that done.
At a larger level, this is our sacred promise to our veterans: For hundreds of years, we’ve made the promise that if you put your life on the line in service to our country, we will protect you and your family, and make sure you are taken care of. That’s a responsibility that I take very seriously.
Let’s talk about healthcare. About 93.5 percent of Coloradans have health insurance today, thanks in part to the state opting into a major Medicaid expansion in 2014 through the Affordable Care Act (ACA). What do you see as the most critical healthcare issues for Colorado, and what are your priorities going into this new term?
Healthcare is complicated—we’ve known that for a long time now—so I always start with a value proposition: Healthcare is a human right. It’s not a privilege, and it shouldn’t be reserved for people who can afford it.
For me, that means a couple of things. For one, we have to protect the advances that have been made under the Affordable Care Act. The fact that it added 20 million people to the healthcare rolls nationally and over 600,000 people to the healthcare rolls in Colorado is progress. That makes a huge difference in the lives of those people and their families.
The second is making sure that we’re fixing the problems of the ACA. I believe in a public option. I think it’s time we create an expanded version of Medicare and allow folks under 65 to buy into that version. What I think that will do is increase competition, decreases costs, and increase the quality of care.
The third is we have to solve the prescription drug issue. They are way too expensive, you’re paying several times what they’re paying in Canada and Europe for the same drugs simply because the federal government won’t allow agencies to negotiate for the prices of those drugs. So it’s about time that Congress allows the federal government to negotiate the prices of those drugs to deliver real savings to folks. Those are the three things that I think we could build a coalition around.
Gun violence and gun control were a significant part of your campaign. How do you plan to address gun control reform with a narrowly Republican-held Senate and Republican president?
Well, we’ve reached a tipping point on this issue. I really believe that the dialogue and conversation around gun violence prevention in America is changing, and the momentum is on our side. Over 90 percent of Americans believe in universal or advanced background checks. Colorado has already led on that issue. After the Aurora theatre shooting, [voters] in Colorado went to their elected officials and said we demand change, we demand common sense solutions to this issue, and we passed universal background checks. That’s made a difference. Over 400 people in Colorado have been prevented from [purchasing] firearms after those background checks. I think that’s a real difference.
So, I come at this issue a little differently. I grew up a hunter, starting when I was 12 I hunted deer and duck and rabbit. I’m a gun owner now, I’m an Army Ranger, three combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. I used these weapons of war at war, I’ve had them used against me, and I know what they’re capable of. But I’m also a parent. I know that we have a gun violence crisis in our country, over 30,000 people a year are dying in our homes, our streets, and our schools. That’s not OK. I’ve had enough of it.
It sounds like you’re expecting compromise from Republicans, then.
We’ll see what the folks in the Senate are willing to do. We are on the right side of history on this issue. If they’re willing to work with us, I will work with them to get that done. If they’re not, then they’re going to have to be accountable to the people in their communities.
The Trump presidency has brought into the light a much fuller picture of America’s immigration challenges. Aurora is at the center of many of these conversations in Colorado. What do you believe are the most critical aspects of federal immigration policy in Colorado?
Right now the most important thing we have to do is to stand up to this administration and push back on their immoral policies. We still have hundreds of young children, toddlers that haven’t been reunited with their families. We saw in the last week two young children die in [Border Control] custody, and we’re still looking into the facts around that, but these were children who needed medical care.
This administration’s immigration policies do not represent the values of this community or of America, so we have to push back to hold this administration accountable and to hold their agencies accountable—to hold the hearings and conduct the oversight that Congress has been unwilling or unable to conduct in the last two years under the control of the Republicans.
That’s number one. Number two, it’s way past time to pass the Dream Act. We have to protect our DACA kids, our Dreamers, and make sure we are allowing them to join the community and to move forward with their lives. This is something that I think there is growing consensus on, and we just have to get it done.
We need comprehensive immigration reform. We’ve been talking about this for way too long. The problem is not trying to figure out what we need to do. People know what we need to do for the most part. It’s about getting the leaders in Washington, who have the moral courage to get this done.
Mike Coffman was remarkably endeared to the 6th for a long time. Are there any lessons you’ve learned from him?
Well, I applaud Mike Coffman’s lifetime of service to the country. He’s a fellow veteran and he’s served in a lot of capacities over the last three decades in office and in uniform. I wish him well going forward. He was nice reaching out to me after the election, and we actually had an opportunity to attend the Veterans Day parade in Denver together. We had the ability to sit there and support our veterans and their families in a way you would expect two fellow veterans to do.
Alright, it’s time for the bonus round of this interview. Favorite Colorado sports team? What’s your sport?
I’m a Broncos fan and my kids are die-hard Broncos fans, as well. So it’s a tough year there’s no doubt about it, but I’m confident they’ll go forward and do well.
This Q&A has been edited for clarity and length.