First U.S. House Dem Primary Candidates

Candidates Want to Address Homelessness, Environmental Justice

Longtime Democratic Rep. Diana DeGette will face another challenger this election, as congressional candidate newcomer Neal Walia has thrown his hat into the ring. 

DeGette has been the representative for Denver’s Congressional District 1 in Washington, D.C. since 1997, but Walia said he wants to make a change in Congress at this time because he sees too many Americans struggling financially through student loan debt and other factors. 

Since the Federal Elections Commission reporting on March 31, DeGette has raised about $703,000 for her campaign while Walia has raised about $164,000 for his campaign.

Both candidates recently spoke with G.E.S. Gazette about their campaigns for the upcoming primary election, which will be June 28. 

A question-and-answer session with Diana DeGette and Neal Walia will take place 6-7:30 p.m. May 24 at the Laborers’ International Union of North America Local 720 hiring hall, 875 Elati St.

According to the Colorado Secretary of State and Federal Elections Commission websites, no Republican had filed to enter the CD 1 race by April 25. 

Diana DeGette

Diana DeGette

One of DeGette’s biggest goals is to address environmental justice. She has a bill that she’s hoping to pass in the spring requiring the Environmental Protection Agency to identify the 100 most polluted communities in the country, which would address issues like air quality in Globeville. 

“This is a bill that has bipartisan support, so we hope that we can get this passed,” DeGette said. “I’m continuing to pressure the EPA to regulate Suncor in a much more robust way, because it’s just spewing pollution across Commerce City into those same neighborhoods.”

As the GES Gazette reported in last month’s issue, the Environmental Protection Agency formally objected to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment’s approval of Suncor’s operating permit recently.

 DeGette said she is also working on getting the Women’s Health Protection Act passed, which would codify the landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision of Roe v. Wade.

“Just this year for the first time, we had a pro-choice majority in the House,” she said. “My goal is to continue to advance that to make sure we get inroads in the Senate to pass it. When the Supreme Court comes up with a decision on the Mississippi case later this spring, I think this is going to galvanize the women of America, and also men who realized that a woman’s right to choose really is in jeopardy.”   

Degette has also worked to get money for housing for people experiencing homelessness as well as funding for service providers such as Colorado Coalition for the Homeless and Urban Peak. The $13 million DeGette requested in appropriations was stalled for about a year in the Senate, however, and she said that it’s just now coming in. 

“Homelessness is a very complex nut to crack,” the congresswoman said. “The types of people who are homeless, it’s not uniform. You have homeless families, you have individuals who just lost their job and could afford housing. You have to have job training issues. You have to have substance abuse remediation, all this stuff.” 

DeGette said she thinks throughout the year, cities will ask for more mental health services for people without homes.

“We’re continuing to work on mental health parity, to get money out to health care providers and to local governments because even though we’ve passed a law that says mental health has parity, mental health services are still wildly underfunded,” she said. 

Although it can be a daunting task to unseat a longtime member of congress, DeGette said  she still has a responsibility to appeal to her constituents to send her back for another two years in Washington. 

“I have had a primary the last few years. I welcome that discourse because I’m really proud of my record, and I think that I am able to accomplish a lot,” DeGette said. 

Neal Walia 

Neal Walia

Walia said he is on a mission to reduce student loan debt, as it is a contributor to keeping people from taking financial steps in their lives. The son of Indian immigrants, Walia is the first in his family to be born in the United States.

Walia’s experience includes working for former Gov. John Hickenlooper on homelessness and developing connections between the state government and the American Asian and Pacific Islander communities.  

However, despite his career, he said he is being “crushed by a lifetime” of student debt. He can’t afford to buy a home in Denver and the cost of childcare is too burdensome for him and his wife to begin a family–and that’s why he’s running. 

“I have lived the struggles of our constituents and I have to fix them as if their lives depended on it because my life does, and when you’re looking at Denver and the 1st Congressional District, we have long been ready to be a leading voice in the movement for the Green New Deal, for housing as a human right, and for health care as a human right,” Walia said. 

As part of his health care agenda, Walia said he wants to advocate for “Medicare for All,” which would provide more access to cheaper health care options than the existing provisions of the Affordable Care Act. 

“We need every single Democrat and every single person across this country who is elected to champion a vision that I have,” he said. “My obligation is not to just sign laws but to motivate and work within our cities, our state, and in our region to galvanize that momentum and to bring people forward who claim to care about health care.”

Walia said that in addition to providing housing, his Medicare for All platform would include plans to address the unhoused population.  

“Many of our unhoused neighbors are facing trauma that we can only imagine,” he said. “Some of these folks are coming back from war. We are talking about some of the most challenging symptoms a human being can face, and that is why (I) wholeheartedly believe in Medicare for All.”

As far as tackling environmental issues, Walia said he would not take money from oil and gas companies or lobbyists for his campaign, and he said he is a proponent of the Green New Deal. 

“My obligation when I’m elected into Congress is to challenge the oil and gas lobby that has a vice grip on not just the Republican Party but the Democratic Party in our state as a whole. There are so many Democrats, state, local and federally, who take that money, and we have to move forward from there.”  

Walia said he wants to focus on constituents and issues rather than partisan divides. 

“When you are a grassroots campaign, that means you are committed to putting people above everything else,” he said. “That means people over party. It means people over politics. It means people over profit.” 

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