By Janet Simons
THE COLORADO STATESMAN
There have been times, over the past eight years of the Bush administration, that U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette, a Democrat representing Colorado’s 1st Congressional District, has seemed a bit — well, tense.
But Democratic victories in Congress and the presidency seem to have helped her get in touch with her relaxed, joyful side.
She beamed as she addressed reporters at a Dec. 17 press briefing at her district office.
Right out of the chute, she addressed speculation that Gov. Bill Ritter would select her to replace Ken Salazar in the Senate when Salazar becomes President-elect Barack Obama’s secretary of the interior.
DeGette said she had spoken to Ritter about that possibility before Obama had made any official pronouncements.
“I told him it was important to look at who can best represent the entire state and who is most likely to get re-elected after just two years,” she said.
Alluding to reports that DeGette had heard from several people who encouraged her to go for the seat, Westword publisher Patty Calhoun, asked if any of those supporters were, perhaps, hoping to replace her in the safest congressional seat for Democrats in Colorado.
DeGette responded dryly that she had no way to know about their intentions.
She went on to note that, now that she has more seniority than any other Colorado member of the House or Senate, she might be most effective staying where she is.
“I’m the only member from Colorado in leadership,” DeGette said, “and as chief deputy whip, I’m ranked number three in the House.
“The attention is flattering, but that’s not what counts.”
DeGette also noted the importance of her position as vice chairman of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, where hearings on health care reform will be heard.
“The Democrats have a long list of talented people,” DeGette said. “We’ll have to weigh that against the seniority issue.”
Then, like an epicure approaching a gourmet buffet, DeGette reviewed her legislative priorities.
It went something like this:
• Stem cell research: “It’s a dream come true. I talked to Obama about the possibility of reversing Bush’s ban by executive order. That would be a great message to send to the country.”
The State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP): “Bush vetoed SCHIP — twice. I’ve been talking to members of Obama’s health care team about it, and it may be one of the first issues he addresses, starting with using the stimulus package to get more money to hospitals that treat the poor.”
• Health care reform: “The stars are aligned for national health care.”
• Global climate change: “Now that we’re going to have president who believes that global warming exists, we can do something. And if we don’t do something serious about it now, it’s going to be too late.
•Wilderness designation for public land: “Under the Republicans, the only use designated for wilderness has been economic development, as in ‘drill, baby, drill.’ But when the Wilderness Society polled residents of the Western Slope, it found that 73 percent supported setting more land aside just for wilderness.”
In a parting shot, DeGette dismissed those who say she’s too liberal to win a U.S. Senate seat in a statewide race.
“According to Bob Schaffer, Mark Udall had the most liberal voting record in the Colorado congressional delegation,” she said. “And yet he beat Schaffer by 10 points.”