Rep. Daneya Esgar, D-Pueblo, is in the midst of the 2016 legislative session, which means hearings, voting and events in Denver Monday through Friday, traveling back to Pueblo for meetings in the district she represents on Saturday and, for the most part, keeping Sunday open for her wife, Heather.
But on top of that, Esgar, a former Colorado Progressive Coalition community organizer, has her sights set on a reelection campaign. The freshman House member took on issues such as representation in the Public Utilities Commission, expanding unemployment insurance and rain barrels (which Esgar will be reintroducing to the House) during her first session.
I sat down with Esgar to talk her first session, working for Pueblo and her fight for the place she grew up.
You’ve announced your campaign for reelection. What would you consider your biggest accomplishment for Pueblo during your first term?
It was really making in known state-wide the issues we face when it comes to our energy rates here.
When I first introduced the Public Utilities Commission bill last year — the one that moves it from three to five commissioners to have regional representation — the first glance people thought I was crazy. Why would I change what a governor-appointed commission looks like? And the more I was telling more legislators the stories what’s happening here and the votes the PUC took to raise our rates as much as they have people started to pay attention and really understand the process and address the problem whether they supported the bill or not.
When one of the Public Utility Commissioners decided she wasn’t going to renew her term, the governor’s office actually called me and said, ‘Hey, we’re going to be filling this spot. We want you to try and find people from Pueblo to fill the gap.’ My first impression was that he heard my bill, because the governor was not exactly thrilled that I proposed this bill. But the fact that it got that much attention and when there was a vacancy for the PUC and they were looking for someone outside of Denver made me realize that bringing that bill forward, no matter how crazy people thought it was or the fact that it didn’t pass, it still had an impact.
People do seem to think of success in terms of bills passed.
Exactly. It’s the unintended consequences and unintended good things that come out of having conversations underneath the dome.
Pueblo is somewhere between rural and urban. The city shares issues with both walks of life. How does that affect how you vote in the legislature?
My role or my vote?
Well, both, actually.
I’ve always found it a really unique perspective being from Pueblo my entire life. I understand the rural issues and really understand what people that don’t necessarily live in the urban environment really are going through. In my district alone there is Beulah, Rye, Colorado City, and even though it’s not my district, I know what happens in the county with the farmers, but also I understand that while Pueblo may not be a huge urban spot, we’re the urban spot of Southern Colorado. We’re the Denver to Trinidad. Most of the legislators I work with come from either a suburban area or they come from an urban area or a rural area. They don’t come from an area that is mixed like us.
I always vote my conscience and my consistency. Those are the two I always think about when I have to make a tough vote. When you talk about urban versus rural, it’s a balancing act for me, and it really comes down to what’s going to be best for Pueblo as a whole with this vote.
Right. It’s interesting that you have this perspective because the people who live way out in the lanes are just as dependent on Pueblo.
I’ve always thought that the county is just as dependent on downtown Pueblo as downtown Pueblo is dependent on the county.
You’ve worked with Republicans on seven of the 16 bills you’ve sponsored, and four of the five bills you’ve sponsored that were signed into law had bipartisan support. Is this an outlier situation or is it easy to reach across the aisle here in Colorado?
I don’t know if it’s rare or not. I made a commitment to this community that although I’m a proud Democrat, I understand all issues affecting all of us in Pueblo. It doesn’t matter who you are and what side of the aisle you’re on, it’s the issue you have to solve. And I think part of passing bills when you have a split House and Senate like this is you have to figure out ways to work with people across the aisle. I really think sometimes it seems more dramatic between Democrats and Republicans than it really is. I will say I appreciate the fact that we’re able to come together on some things.
It seems like you work with Sen. Larry Crowder, R-Alamosa, on a lot of things. I mean, when you think Daneya Esgar and Larry Crowder, you don’t think the same issues.
When you look at what’s best for Southern Colorado, it’s really just finding somebody that understands your community needs and if that’s a Republican, then it’s a Republican and if it’s a Democrat, it’s a Democrat. If it’s good for Pueblo and they’re willing to fight for Pueblo and they have an R behind their name, it doesn’t matter.
How do you have a voice in a legislature that is so heavily influenced by lawmakers from the Denver metroplex?
I think you put yourself out there and you make sure that your fellow legislators and your caucus are hearing your voice. I just realized one day that it was part of my job and something I have to do.
Finally, what do you hear most from your constituents that they want changed the most?
Black Hills Energy. I hate to beat a dead horse, and I wish I had something else to push. I never thought I would become a quasi energy expert ever in my life, but those are the phone calls I field the most. And we just got to keep doing what we’re doing. I talk to Sen. Leroy Garcia, D-Pueblo, and there’s only so much we can do at the state level. I know the county is doing what they can do at the county level. And I’m hoping the city starts to figure out what their role is in changing this whole dynamic.
I hear about jobs, people having trouble finding jobs that offer a livable wage. I hear about K-12 education a lot, but then there’s also the people who have gotten their degree from CSU-Pueblo and now what?