Photos by Joe Contreras, Latin Life Denver Media, (see photo gallery below)
Crisanta Duran, the first Latina speaker of the Colorado House celebrated her 37th birthday with a packed house of well wishers at the Space Gallery in West Denver September 8th. The dozens of attendees which included more than 50 political representatives, were also there to donate to the Duran for Colorado Leadership Fund that is dedicated to supporting problem solving candidates. Everyone was treated to fajitas, drinks and of course birthday cake. The Some Diggity Band provided the live music.
(Text from the University of Colorado Law School Magazine)
Days after picking up three seats in the November 2016 elections, the majority Democrats in the Colorado House of Representatives voted unanimously to designate Crisanta Duran as the 58th speaker of the House, one of the top three positions in state government.
When she formally assumed the office in January 2017, Speaker Duran took the next step in a rapid rise in Colorado politics. At the age of 37, she is in her fourth and final two-year term representing House District 5 in central Denver, and earlier in 2016 she was a featured speaker at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia (see video below).
Duran was born in Boulder, Colorado, and was one of three children.Duran’s father worked at a tire shop before eventually becoming the president of the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 7 union. Duran graduated from the University of Denver in 2002, double-majoring in Spanish and public policy. She earned a juris doctorate from the University of Colorado.
After law school, she became an attorney with the United Food and Commercial Workers.In 2010, Duran won election to the Colorado House of Representatives for a seat based in western Denver. Duran was elected as the Colorado House majority leader in November 2014. In 2014, the Washington Post named Duran to its “40 under 40” list of rising political stars.
As Speaker of the Colorado House of Representatives, University of Colorado Law School alumna Crisanta Duran has worked hard to be in a position where she can pursue her life’s passion—empowering others.
In 2016, Colorado Democratic representatives unanimously selected Duran as the 58th Speaker of the House. During her tenure, Duran has continued to work on the issues that drive her, including unemployment, affordable housing, infrastructure, training and workforce development, and education.
Duran’s desire to promote better lives for Coloradans is almost innate. Her father, Ernest Duran (’81), also a Colorado Law alumnus, was a champion for the labor community, and her mother was an advocate for affordable housing.
“Growing up, our dinner conversations were about how to effectively empower people, strengthen the middle class, and make sure that people who work hard have the opportunity to succeed,” Duran said.
Following in her parents’ footsteps, Duran used her legal education to also become an advocate. When Duran was a teenager, an experience at a rally in support of strawberry workers in California spurred her to pursue a law degree.
“When I saw the low wages and unsafe working conditions, and heard allegations of sexual abuse and harassment that the female strawberry pickers endured, I realized that it was great to show up and be supportive, but even better to show up and be supportive with skills that really make a difference,” Duran said. “Law school gave me the tools to help make my contributions on these types of issues more effective.”
Duran found that Colorado Law provided an affordable, quality option for obtaining a legal degree.
“I was grateful that I was able to afford to attain a high-quality education and a law degree; those types of opportunities are more important now than ever, when Coloradans are struggling to afford the education they need to pursue their goals,” Duran said.
During her time at Colorado Law, Duran did not know she would end up in a public service position, but always knew that empowering others to help their communities reach their full potential was her ultimate objective. Duran served as president of the Student Bar Association (SBA), where she was able to impact the law school community through an elected position.
“I didn’t specifically think about running for office at that time, but I did know that I wanted to continue to work to empower others, make change, and ensure that people’s voices were heard,” Duran said. “After law school, I translated that into getting very involved with efforts to ensure that young people, women, and workers had a voice in politics, which ultimately led to my decision to run for office.”
While serving as SBA president, Duran worked closely with Lorenzo Trujillo (’93), who held the role of assistant dean of students at the time. Duran said Trujillo has been a great mentor to her and remains involved with the legal profession and broader community. Trujillo even brought a group of students he coaches in mariachi to the House Chamber to play on Cinco de Mayo this year.
Now, as a state representative, Duran has focused her efforts on making sure people across Colorado have the tools they need to be successful in today’s economic environment. While much of her work has dealt with unemployment and workforce development, the issues of affordable housing, infrastructure, the clean energy economy, and education are broad areas where she sees the most hope for an impact on the state’s future.
“It’s great to have a strong economy, but it’s also really important to look toward the future and ensure that our state can manage the impacts, and that people across the state are benefitting from that growth,” Duran said. “If we don’t act on some of these issues, Colorado will be a very different place in the years to come.”
At young 36, Duran has risen quickly in politics. She attributes her success to the support of her colleagues and to her parents’ emphasis on the value of hard work. She translates the importance of a responsible work ethic to her legislative initiatives, which focus on providing tools for those who work hard to succeed. Duran said some of these initiatives include “expanding job training in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, and ensuring that schools are preparing students for the modern economy with a solid education in computer science and digital literacy.”
“If people work hard, they should be able to have the opportunity to succeed and take care of their families. With this changing economy, it’s more important than ever to make sure people have the tools to succeed, that we are re-training our workforce to meet those demands,” she said.
Duran enjoys getting to see how her service as a state representative has a positive impact on everyday lives.
“I hear from students who say they wouldn’t have been able to afford to go to college had we not passed the ASSET bill, which I sponsored and which allows undocumented students who graduate from Colorado high schools to receive in-state tuition at Colorado colleges and universities,” Duran said. “Those are the best moments, the ones that put our work here at the Capitol in very real, personal terms.”
In her fourth and final two-year term representing House District 5 in central Denver, Duran said she is focused “100 percent” on representing her constituents. When her term ends, she plans on having some relaxation at her family’s ranch in southern Colorado, as well as continuing her work to empower others in new capacities. Outside of the Capitol, Duran enjoys spending time with her nephews; traveling; playing with her dog, Coco; and brushing up on her dancing skills (she is a former flamenco dancer).
What is your fondest memory of being a student at Colorado Law?
The memory that sticks out to me as the most meaningful was when I joined a legal clinic for students and professors and was able to help an Ethiopian man receive a grant of asylum as a refugee on account of the torture he had experienced in his home country. When our client was granted asylum, I was left with an even stronger feeling of how grateful I am to be an American and to have the tools to help people in a meaningful way.
What do you know now that you wish you had known in law school?
I didn’t fully appreciate the power of believing in yourself and your ability to create change. Far too often, people don’t realize their ability to make a difference, and they forfeit their power. It’s more important than ever to be involved—voting, supporting candidates you believe in, and even becoming a candidate yourself. We need leaders who believe in themselves and their ability to make positive change for their communities, now more than ever.
What advice would you give to current students as they’re preparing to graduate?
Law school and the time after you graduate can be very demanding and time-consuming. Make sure to set aside some of that time to get to know your fellow classmates and to maintain your relationships with them. You will be members of the legal profession together for many years to come, and the professional relationships and friendships you build with them will be very valuable.
Who was the biggest influence on your career?
President Obama. Until he was elected I didn’t really believe that our national political environment could change as much as it did. He shook up the status quo and led the country forward on so many fronts. Although we still have work to do to ensure that people aren’t taken for granted and communities aren’t left behind, he inspired me to believe I could run for office and be effective in this type of role. His ability to inspire people to be part of the political process and to believe anything is possible really made our country better in many ways.
I was honored to be able to introduce President Obama at a rally in Denver when he was running in 2008—check out my speech here! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5puuvX_mYGo
Of what accomplishment are you most proud?
I am most proud of the work we’ve been able to do at the state level to help people get the tools they need to succeed. Whether it’s connecting Coloradans with training and educational opportunities to gain the skills needed for high-quality jobs or ensuring that students come out of high school with a fundamental education in computer science that is so crucial for the modern economy—it’s so important to help hardworking Coloradans get the tools they need to seize opportunities. I’m proud that we have been able to make a lot of progress on this front, and it will continue to be a top priority for me.
Photos by Joe Contreras, Latin Life Denver Media