The political season is here. Most of the media focus is on the national race for the presidency. More strident utterances and accusations make the headlines coming out of the debates and the Twitter accounts of the candidates. Hillary Clinton has work to do, if she is to become the first woman president. History will be made if she is successful.
But politics is local, and nine African American women in the Denver metro area are poised to make their own history. As the demographics of the city and suburbs change, there are more opportunities for seats in the different legislative and policymaking bodies – a handful have come before them, and their names are well known…Vikki Buckley, Wilma Webb, Gloria Tanner, Elbra Wedgeworth, Happy Haynes, Rosemary Marshall, Edna Mosley .
Now, another generation of candidates is looking out for your interests in the role of government, keeping you safe, facilitating economic growth and educating your children. We asked them three questions to give readers insight into who they are and what they will do if elected. Some of their answers have been edited for length, but every effort was made not to change context or meaning.
Question 1: Politics are local. What experience do you bring to be an effective lawmaker or policy maker to solve problems in our communities, and why are you the best person to fill the seat you are seeking?
Question 2: What is your plan to make our communities better and participants in Colorado’s prosperity?
Question 3: Who are your political (s)heroes and why?
Rhonda Fields, 62, Colorado State Senate, District 29
State Rep. Rhonda Fields was first elected to serve the Colorado House of Representatives for the 68th General Assembly in 2010. She is the first African-American woman elected to the state legislature to represent Aurora’s House District 42, Arapahoe County. In November 2014, she was reelected to her third term. Personal tragedy drove her into politics when her son Javad and his fiancée were killed prior to his testifying in a murder trial. She fought to pass House Bill 1379, which was designed to help ensure the safety of witnesses. The bill was passed and named the Javad Marshall Fields & Vivian Wolfe Witness Protection Act.
It is in memory of her son’s courage, confidence and heroism that she founded the Fields Wolfe Memorial Fund, a nonprofit organization designed exclusively to promote academic excellence, civic engagement and community service.
#1: During my three terms in the Colorado House of Representatives, I have worked hard to bring smart, innovative and effective approaches to government. I have led on passing legislation to strengthen ours schools, champion equal rights, create safer communities, and promote access to affordable housing and health care. Despite personal threats, I continue to stand up to the most extreme wing of the NRA and led the effort to pass groundbreaking gun safety legislation. Colorado needs bold progressive leadership that will not be afraid to confront the challenges we face. I will be that fighting voice.
#2: I will invest in people and protect the values we share – justice, fairness and community. This means protecting our air, water and land. It means fighting for an economy allowing every Coloradoan to share in our growth and prosperity. It means strengthening our system of education so that children have the opportunity to pursue their dreams. As Democrats, we know that a strong middle class means a stronger nation.
Clearly Colorado needs a champion – a leader who will push open doors to create ladders of opportunity for families and individuals alike. We owe it to the next generation to level the playing field, and I will never stop fighting for our children’s futures.
#3: Apart from several local leaders who all have played an instrumental role in shaping my political perspective like the Honorable Wilma Webb, Senator Gloria Tanner, State Rep. Rosemary Marshall and City Councilwoman Edna Mosley, my heroes growing up were the architects of the civil rights movement. I admire people like Thurgood Marshall, Charles Hamilton Houston, and Constance Baker Motley. All of these leaders demonstrated to me that progressive social change was not confined to the streets, and that true activism could also be practiced in the courtroom and legislature. Because of these amazing individuals – I can stand up and speak up!
Angela Williams, 52, Colorado State Senate, District 33
Angela Williams is a significant leader in the Colorado State House. Representing District 7, she is the Majority Caucus chair, founder and chair of the Colorado Black Democratic Legislative Caucus, and was recently appointed as the co-chair of the National Black Caucus of State Legislators Business and Economic Development Committee. Before pursuing a life in public service, Williams was the principal owner of the Angela Williams Allstate Insurance Agency for 14 years. She is now the principal of AW Consulting Inc. Williams worked to protect Colorado children’s educational futures by successfully opposing legislation that would cut school breakfast subsidies. In addition, Williams’ efforts have focused on helping homeowners experiencing enormous financial burdens. She sponsored legislation expanding the state’s foreclosure deferment program and introduced the Mortgage Foreclosure Prevention Program Bill. She also helped negotiate $4.6 million in foreclosure mitigation funds from the U.S. attorney general’s office.
#1: I have strived to listen to my neighbors’ concerns and then take action. As a mother, I will always emphasize the importance of education. I was the prime sponsor on the ASSET bill that ensured Colorado high school students have access to in-state tuition. I will fight to increase school funding, and to make college more affordable and accessible. In 2015, I worked to tackle the distrust between our community and police and passed six bills with bi-partisan support that improved training requirements, brought transparency and required the use of body cameras. I will continue to work with community members, leaders and police officers on these important issues.
#2: Having been a business owner, I am an active supporter of small businesses and passed bills encouraging growth and reducing barriers to their success. I will continue to help grow our economy and create more high paying, local, jobs.
We must concentrate on rebuilding the middle class, and reinforcing the American Dream through increasing access to education and creating an economy working for everyone. In 2015, I introduced and passed legislation which created a grant program to close an information gap – the lack of public awareness of the available good jobs in certain industries. I will continue to fight for equity in state procurement contracts, equal pay, and higher minimum wages.
#3: Michelle Obama is my political hero. She is a strong, smart and articulate African American woman who represents community. During her time in the White House she has made progress on issues important to working families such as education, healthy families, and higher education.
Khadija Katherine Haynes, ??, Colorado State Senate, District 33
Khadija Katherine Haynes is a native of Denver and a fourth generation Coloradoan. Haynes has been politically active in the Denver community for more than 40 years, having worked in various political campaigns ranging from school boards to initiatives and referred measures to presidential campaigns. Haynes is currently a principal at K-Solutions, a political consulting, lobbying and public relations firm. She co-founded The Urban Farm, a nonprofit organization that teaches agricultural and environmental education to high-risk urban youth. Haynes served as a Gubernatorial Appointee to the Board of Directors of the Scientific and Cultural Facilities District; Mayoral Appointee to the Denver Parks and Recreation Advisory Board; President of Colorado Black Women for Political Action; Co-Chair of the Citizens Advisory Board for the Stapleton Development Corporation and is on the Board of Directors of the National Western Stock Show
#1: Born into a multi-generational political and activist family, I was raised in the “family business.” At 18, I registered with the Democratic Party and within weeks was appointed to the Denver Democratic Party Central Committee – the youngest appointee ever. I served as the director of operations of the governor’s office during the Romer Administration. I recently served as both the policy director and the chief of staff of the Colorado Senate Majority. I have a command of policy issues ranging from affordable housing to transportation, agriculture to economic development, and arts to mental health. I have working knowledge and experience in representing my community in many arenas. My roots and commitment are deep and strong.
#2: Access to and the acquisition of livable-wage jobs, quality education, affordable housing, meaningful health care (including mental health) and fresh food are priorities. I plan to work steadfastly in these areas. Additionally, I’ll focus on transportation, sensible economic development and strengthening neighborhoods. I plan to draw on my own experiences and the wisdom of community members and others to contribute to visioning and planning processes, which will influence outcomes for citizens in Senate District 33. The district is quite diverse which brings great opportunity for creative problem solving and the challenge not to settle for “one size fits all” solutions.
#3: My list of s/heroes is long and each one I admire has given me an invaluable piece of wisdom that I have woven into the fabric of my political life. Perhaps, not surprisingly, at the top of my list is my mother, Anna Jo Garcia Haynes. Though she has never held elected office, her dedication to the enrichment of this district, this city, this state and our country is beyond what most may know. Her moral compass and humility have guided my life and have set a high bar that I strive for every day. Because of her, I am proud to be in the “family business.”
Elet Valentine, 42, Colorado House of Representatives, District 7
Elet Valentine is a native of Denver and grew up in the Northeast Denver neighborhoods of Cole, Park Hill, and now lives in the Montbello neighborhood. In 1996, Valentine obtained her bachelors of arts degree in behavioral science with a minor in criminal justice from Metropolitan State College of Denver. She currently pursues graduate studies in marriage and family therapy. Valentine spent the last 11 years as a small business owner of Valentine Bail Bonds, L.L.C., as a bail bond and recovery agent and enjoys giving back to the community and social justice issues. Other endeavors included giving Thanksgiving baskets to the elderly, advocating for children with special needs in her community, and volunteering her time at other community non-profits.
#1: As a bail agent for nearly 13 years, I gained experience reading statutes, regulations, policies, writing court motions, and defending those actions in various judicial jurisdictions across the State of Colorado. I have been politically active within the Democratic Party as a Precinct Committee Person (PCP) and given testimony in front of committees at the State Legislature, Denver City Council meetings and the Denver Public Schools Board of Education. At the Citizen Oversight Board, A+ meeting I proposed an alternative plan to the closure of Montbello High School and publicly commented for the final Environmental Impact Study (EIS) of the I-70 expansion plan, and in various community meetings.
#2: The Black community is at a systematic disadvantage on many fronts in the areas of economics, education, criminal justice, and healthcare. For any piece of legislation to work efficiently the system in which we operate, it must be changed. My number one priority is improving the economic system to encompass diversity and inclusion. The State of Colorado must take the first step and be a representation for its citizens. To accomplish this challenging task, legislation must be proposed and passed to make it mandatory for anyone doing business directly and indirectly with the State of Colorado, at a minimum, the company’s labor force, should be representative of Colorado’s demographic ratio.
#3: I cannot name one political hero. I believe that any person who stands up against political oppression no matter the form is a hero. It takes a lot of courage to stand by yourself, speak out against opposition, stay consistent, and stand firm in their beliefs. Those are the people I look up to.
Michele Wheeler, 60+, Colorado House of Representatives, House District 7
Michele Wheeler has served actively with various community organizations, and has also had a long career in the health care industry, as well as government and public institutions.
Soon after graduating from Denver East High School, she moved to Washington, D.C. to attend the School of Radiologic Technology at Freedman’s Hospital. In 1979, she returned to Denver and completed her bachelor’s degree from the University of Colorado and later earned her master’s degree in urban and regional planning. Wheeler made a substantial shift in her focus and worked in the Park Hill neighborhood as the community justice advocate for approximately four years. She was also employed by the Denver District Attorney’s Office as a gun violence prevention coordinator, a position that focused on gun violence prevention strategies in the Northeast Park Hill, Cole, and Montbello neighborhoods. After leaving the district attorney’s office in 2008, Wheeler worked part-time for the Stapleton Foundation, the Colorado Clinical & Translational Sciences Institute and the Office of the Independent Monitor.
#1: My education, experience, and record of working in this community and the district for more than 20 years make me the best person to fill the House District 7 State Representative seat. I have been president of the Northeast Park Hill Coalition since 2003. I was a community research liaison for the Department of Family Medicine at the Anschutz Medical Campus identifying health disparities. I was employed by the Independent Monitor as their community outreach ombudsman, arranging mediations of complaints about the police and sheriff personnel.
#2: My plan will be and has always been to help people achieve their goals and dreams by helping them to improve their quality of life, providing our communities with the opportunity to make themselves better and participants in Colorado’s prosperity. I believe if the opportunity is not there, one cannot prosper or it becomes extremely difficult to do so. I will be a voice at the table, hopefully the joint-budget committee table, advocating for opportunities and services for you. My door will always be open. Better schools? Better housing? Better jobs? Better access? Better environment? Together we can do this.
#3: My s(heroes) include Rep. Rhonda Fields for her faith, integrity, strength of character and witness protection legislation for others; Rep. Angela Williams for her respect and ability to garner bi-partisan support for legislation; Attorney Linda Lee for her strong legal mind; Dr. Marilyn Mills-Walker for her strong medical mind; Former Sen. Gloria Tanner as the first African American woman senator in Colorado, who sponsored legislation on civil rights for women; and former Rep. Wilma Webb for her tenacity in establishing Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day in Colorado.
Leslie Herod, 33, Colorado House of Representative, District 8
Leslie Herod is passionate about making a difference in the community through advocacy and civic engagement. This passion grew from a very early age as she watched her mother who was an officer in the Army Nurse Corps serve her family, community and nation. Herod graduated from the University of Colorado at Boulder where she was elected president of the Student Union’s Legislative Council and made it her mission to create a campus climate that was inclusive of all students regardless of race, class, sexual orientation, gender or ability. After graduating, she continued to work in public service at the Colorado State Capitol. Under strong leaders such as former Speaker Andrew Romanoff, former Majority Leader Alice Madden, former House District 8 Rep. Rosemary Marshall and Deputy Mayor Treasurer Cary Kennedy, Herod gained direct experience in public policy.
Later, Herod served as a senior policy advisor to Gov. Bill Ritter, Jr., specializing in social services, criminal justice, mental health, specific issues relating to senior citizens, and anti-poverty issues. She met regularly with legislators and constituents to contribute to the creation of just and clear policy and laws. After leaving government service, Herod became a program officer with the Gill Foundation where she led philanthropic initiatives focusing on LGBT equality and alliance-building in communities of color. She serves on multiple community boards and commissions and recently, formed a strategic planning and community partnership consulting firm.
# 1: Dedicating my life and career to finding real solutions to the problems facing our state and our community, and utilizing my public policy education and experience, I have worked on positive change initiatives-including the Five Points Main Street Initiative and free breakfast programs for our kids. I worked with the Colorado executive and legislative branches making an impact on issues in social services, criminal justice reform, behavioral health, issues facing seniors and long-term solutions to address our homeless population. Not only have I worked on these issues at the policy level, I volunteer my time in the schools and with homeless youth to determine how we can keep improving. I will put this experience, my passion, and my dedication to our community to work as a state legislator.
#2: Knocking on doors across the district and attending community meetings, I hear consistently that people want safe neighborhoods, good quality schools and opportunities to participate in Colorado’s economic growth. I will advance policies that keep us safe and at the same time advance sensible criminal justice reform and combat mass incarceration. Further, the key to any thriving strong community is good quality schools. I will fight to ensure that all our kids receive the quality education that they deserve. Finally, we must create an economic environment where small businesses can thrive and where all members of our community benefit from economic prosperity, not being pushed out of our neighborhoods. I will fight for this.
#3: Honorable Rosemary Marshall and Honorable Gloria Tanner are my heroes for many reasons. As Black female leaders, they did not just break barriers, they committed and continue to commit their time and energy to fighting for justice and to ensure coming generations have the best opportunity to succeed. I stand on their shoulders.
All of these women have brought positive changes to their communities in numerous ways. And their responses show a passionate eagerness to take their commitments to the next level. The November election is only 8 months away. While that may seem like a long time, there is little time to waste. Make a point to get to know these women and the other candidates in your district. If these women are elected, it will be historical. As the metro area changes it is vitally important to stay connected. Attend meetings; follow them on social media; ponder your selection and then vote in November.
Janet Buckner, Colorado House of Representative, District 40
Rep. Janet P. Buckner was elected by a vacancy committee in July 2015 to serve the remainder of the term of her late husband, John W. Buckner, representing House District 40 in southern Aurora. She is a member of the Health, Insurance & Environment and Education Committees. Rep. Buckner retired from a professional career in 2007 after more than three decades in medical sales, training doctors and other hospital personnel as well as other sales representatives. She has promised to be an advocate on women’s health issues.
Early in her career she worked for several years as a speech and language therapist. She has a bachelor’s degree in education from Ball State University in Muncie, Ind.
# 1: I have lived in Aurora since 1975. The Colorado way of life is one that I have known for 25 years now. My experience in education and the medical field led me to be an advocate for marginalized members of society. My husband John was principal of Overland High School and together we were deeply involved in our community and had an open door policy at our home. Now my open door policy carries over into my life as a legislator. I am always excited to hear from my constituents and look forward to continuing to be a voice for my neighbors.
#2: This session I am sponsoring several bills that level the playing field and ensure everyone’s shot at success. The House recently passed my first bill, Parental Involvement, which allows parents to take unpaid leave to attend important academic activities. Additionally, I am co-sponsoring a bill that ensures businesses that receive state contracts pay men and women equally for the same work. I am also working on a bill that creates a public-private partnership allowing employees not currently offered access to a workplace retirement plan to save for their future. These bills prepare working families to lead stronger more economically stable lives, which in turn helps the economy and the community as a whole.
#3: My (s)heroes include Gloria Tanner, Rosemary Marshall, and Wilma Webb, three African American women who served in the Colorado Legislature. All three of these women worked hard to pave the way for women like me to continue to serve Colorado. They made tremendous contributions to Colorado, and because of their dedication, I’m now fortunate enough to represent House District 40. I hope to use that good fortune to improve the lives of hard-working families in Aurora and across the state.
Dominique Jackson, 55, Colorado House of Representatives, District 42
Dominique Jackson currently sits as a commissioner on the Citizen’s Advisory Committee for Housing & Community Development for the City of Aurora. In this role, the board votes to fund various projects and developments to ensure the availability of quality, affordable housing; to create opportunities for locally-owned small business to get started and grow; and to help insure quality of life for all Aurora residents. Jackson was appointed by Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper, and re-appointed by Denver Mayor Michael Hancock, to serve on the Commission on Homelessness. She was appointed and reappointed to serve on to the Sustainability Advisory Council by Mayor Hancock. Jackson is interested in learning more about people, business and her neighbors; she has participated in several leadership training opportunities including: Leadership Aurora, Leadership Denver, Congressional Black Caucus Leadership Institute, and Emerge America.
#1: I am running to represent my neighbors in North Aurora because many of the issues we face can only be changed at the state level. I am uniquely qualified because I have personally experienced many similar struggles. I’ve served on the board of Aurora@Home, the Commission on Homelessness, and the Sustainability and Advisory Commission and El Centro Humanatario. These positions require an ability to bring consensus to complicated problems.
#2: My plan is to focus on three main issues: education, attainable housing and amending TABOR. Empowering our teachers also empowers our students. We need to listen to our teachers to find out what’s working and what’s not working. It is essential for our citizens to be able to afford a place to live and I believe the ability to own a home is critical to growing a strong middle class. It’s unfortunate our fast growing economy is hampered by TABOR. We must address the “Hospital Provider Fee” issue to free up space in our budget.
#3: Children, especially, don’t know who they “can be” or what they can do if they don’t get a chance to “look over the fence.” I was lucky enough to see Shirley Chisholm on TV one day. And surely, the fact that she was a Black was the first things I noticed. But ever so the researcher, I started looking into her life and discovered that she became the person she was, not just because of her strong sense of fighting for what she believed was right (a trait I too possess), but simply, because she loved others.
Naquetta Ricks, 48, Colorado House of Representatives, District 42
Naquetta Ricks is a longtime Aurora resident, small businesswoman, innovative and strong community leader, parent, and graduate of the University of Colorado Denver Business School. As our state recovers from the worst recession since the Great Depression, Colorado working families look for leaders who will focus on giving their children access to tools they need to compete in the 21st century. With a background in auditing and finance gained through her work with Lockheed Martin, Regional Transportation District (RTD) and US West, Ricks hopes to bring that vital experience to ensure that the state legislature is accountable to Colorado taxpayers.
Ricks is treasurer of the 6th Congressional District and a member of the Central Committee. She is a member of the African Leadership Group and the Women Empowerment Group, working professionals serving the immigrant community by helping individuals integrate into American society.
#1: For more than 18 years, I have worked in complex industries – transportation, defense, information technology and real estate. I received my bachelor’s degree in accounting from Metro State University and my MBA from the University of Colorado Denver. As a business owner, I bring business expertise to the community. I served on the board of the Aurora Public School Educational Foundation. I am a past board member of the Conference of Minority Transportation Officials Colorado and in 2015 I was appointed to the City of Aurora Citizen’s Advisory Committee. I am the president of the newly formed African Chamber of Commerce of Colorado-USA. I also served as treasurer of the African-American Initiative of the Colorado Democratic Party.
#2) I believe being raised in Aurora makes me best qualified to address the needs and issues of North Aurora in House District 42. There are many challenges and opportunities with its cultural diversity and more than 136 languages spoken in Aurora Public Schools. Immigrants and refugees comprise a large percentage of the population in Aurora, yet our concerns are not heard in the State Capitol. I will champion the cause of educational issues for our children. Low graduation and high dropout rates combined with a lack of funding has plagued some APS schools. I will champion small business development, which is important to our economic prosperity and affordable housing development in Aurora.
#3: My first (s)hero is my mother who was a progressive entrepreneur. Her work with the United Nations and the World Health Organization brought justice for the needs of the less fortunate in Liberia and around the world. Ella Jo Baker was a brilliant black woman whose legacy inspired a whole generation. Others include Ida B. Wells-Barnett who’s passion for Justice was uncompromising; Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the first elected Black female president of Liberia; Leymah Gbowee, a Liberian peace activist and Nobel Peace Prize winner; Tawakkol Karman of Yemen, the first Arab woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize; and Rep. Rhonda Fields for her passion for justice and fairness and for doing the right thing.
Editor’s Note: Just as we are proud of the African American women who are striving to make a difference in their communities, we are also proud of the African American men looking to serve Colorado communities.
Tony Exum, House District 17
Tony Exum Sr. was elected in 2012 to represent House District 17 in southeastern Colorado Springs. A retired battalion chief in the Colorado Springs Fire Department, he spent 35 years making his city safer. According to his website, Rep. Exum believes opportunity must be available to all Coloradans, not just the privileged few, he will fight to make sure Colorado tax dollars are creating Colorado jobs that can’t be outsourced and he knows that if the next generation is going to compete in a global economy, we need to invest in Colorado classrooms, not protect special interest tax loopholes.
Rep. Exum lives in Colorado Springs. His son Tony Jr. is a noted jazz saxophonist.
Eric Nelson, House District 42
Eric D. Nelson, Ph.D., is a life visionary, entrepreneur, former educator, and veteran community and political organizer. He currently serves his community as a member of the Aurora Public Schools Board of Education and served his country in the U.S. Air Force.
Although his service on the school board has been a rewarding and informative experience, Nelson has found that there are many barriers to improving the school learning environment. As a state representative, he hopes to sweep away those barriers and give more children the opportunity to achieve the education and experiences they need to reach their full potential.
As a small business owner and banker, he understands that a strong middle class is key to the overall economic health of our state.
Dr. Nelson earned a B.A. in psychology from Southeastern University, a Master of Social Work from Northwest Nazarene University, an MBA from Northeastern University, and a doctorate in organizational psychology from Southeastern University in Washington, D.C.
Nelson has extensive experience working with young people as a volunteer and mentor through his present service as a school board member and past service as a board member for Bennie E. Goodwin After-School Academic Program, a youth civic engagement nonprofit. He is also a minister and elder at the Potter’s House Church of Denver.
Nelson moved to Colorado in 2000 from his native Georgia. He lives in Aurora with his three children and wife, Laura.