A conversation with … Joan Fitz-Gerald
December 11, 2007
Joan Fitz-Gerald resigned from the Colorado Legislature last month to concentrate on running for the 2nd Congressional District of Colorado.
The primary for the 2nd Congressional District, which includes Boulder, Grand, Summit and other mountain towns, is Aug. 12. Caucuses are Feb. 5, which is the first step in the process to be put on the ballot for the congressional race.
Fitz-Gerald was elected in 2004 as the first woman president of the state Senate, and is one of the highest-ranking women in state politics. She has lived in Colorado for 30 years and has two sons, Matthew and Patrick, who are both attorneys. She and her husband John have been married 35 years.
1. What was your first taste of politics?
When I was a kid in high school, I worked on the Bob Kennedy campaign for the Senate. I volunteered, but I’ve always been politically aware. The first seat I ran for was clerk and recorder in Jefferson County. Sara Rosene (current Grand County clerk and recorder) and I became clerks the same year ” 1990. I did that for eight years. I ran for state Senate in 2000.
2. Why did you decide to run for U.S. representative for the 2nd Congressional District of Colorado?
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I feel like I’ve brought a lot of change to Colorado. It was a different state when I started. I feel like this is a real opportunity to bring change federally. I’ve dealt with lot of issues ” health care, transportation … all these issues we deal with on state level, and I can see how little funding we’ve gotten. The funds have dried up, have been diverted to a military budget … I have the experience and a sense of urgency (on) how you can’t wait forever to see these things accomplished.
3. What do you feel are some of the top issues that the district is battling with?
– The district and Americans are concerned about health care. It’s even more critical in rural areas where networks are not as strong, people have difficulty getting to doctors and specialties. And at what price is that health care? Over a third of working Americans don’t have health care.
– Education ” whether we have kids ready for the next century, the next set of jobs.
– Beetle kill. I’ve worked on that with Al White and Dan Gibbs. Beetle kill is huge ” I hope we can involve FEMA in mitigation efforts.
– Transportation on I-70.
– I’ve been working with the commissioners on the Big Thompson issues with Northern (Colorado Water Conservation District). It’s another resource we’ve taken for granted and thought we could squander. It’s come to the point where the West is growing so fast … The Front Range keeps growing at the expense of the High Country. You can always find money for water ” they say water flows to money. The High Country gets left with a depletion of resources. We need to find a way to even out that balance.
– We know climate change is real. Keeping us energy independent. We can be energy independent. Colorado has started down a path that’s created a larger pool of types of energy we can use, but American people need to be engaged in the need to hold down their usage.
4. Who are you running against?
Two men ” Will Shafroth and Jared Polis. I firmly believe I have a strong chance of winning it because I’ve represented (many counties in the district).
5. How do you feel about the Democratic Convention being in Denver?
I’m very excited. I’ve only been to one in my life. It’s certainly the who’s who of people in public office or in the presidential core. I don’t think people realize how exciting it’s going to be. There are going to be 186 countries represented at the convention as observers, and over 20,000 members of the international press core. We’re seeing a resurgence of the Democratic Party in the West. It’s tied to a very pragmatic set of political values. You have to be pragmatic in the West.
6. How did it feel to be the first woman president of the Senate?
It was an awesome responsibility and one I didn’t take lightly. There were a lot of glass ceilings both in the business world and the political world. I think it’s a job I did particularly well ” we had 18 Democrats to 17 Republicans, and I brought in two more Democrats. If I wasn’t doing a good job, we would have suffered in the 2006 election. We gained.
7. What were the challenges you faced being a woman?
I think there’s always a chance of being overlooked as a woman. I remember I was in this room, negotiating deals. There were seven to eight men and I was the only woman. One attorney came in and shook hands with every man in the room, then sat down. I said ‘Hi, I’m Joan Fitz-Gerald and I’m Senate president.” He took his card out and threw it at me. It was so unnerving. It just seemed to me he didn’t expect to see me there and didn’t want to deal with me.
But then there’s those moments when because of the sensitivity of treating people fairly . . . I’ve had Republicans say to me they were impressed, that I was very fair. When you have the opportunity to do things that re-instate fairness . . . that was really important to me.
8. What is your next step?
I stepped down from the Senate president because it really did take 12 hours a day ” I didn’t leave the Capitol until 7:30 at night. I knew it wasn’t going to be compatible with an intense primary. Rather than short-change my district … Every day I’m in this race for Congress, I make sure I’m doing productive things, contacting voters, working my way to a successful (primary) on Aug. 12.
9. What does your family think of all this?
They’re extremely supportive. It takes its toll on families ” you don’t have any free time. Especially my husband, who’s retired. I’m certainly not there. But he’s very enthusiastic and thinks that I’m needed in Washington. I’m grateful he truly feels that way. My kids … now have their own careers. They’re excited, but they also know it’s painful. You’re personally putting yourself out there. Everybody just hopes you can get through this with the least amount of personal pain.