Colorado 1st Congressional District: Rep. Diana DeGette, Jennifer Qualteri

Republican candidate Jennifer Qualteri (left) is running against Democratic incumbent Rep. Diana DeGette to represent the 1st Congressional District.

Diana DeGette — Democrat — Incumbent

Diana DeGette is the longest-serving member of the Colorado delegation, representing the Denver area in Congress since 1997. 

Colorado’s first district remains mostly the same despite the redistricting process; it is the state’s most heavily Democratic, with a +57 advantage based on the average of eight past elections. 

A former lawyer and state lawmaker, DeGette, the dean of the Colorado delegation, is seeking her 14th term in Congress. During her tenure, seven of her bills have made it into law. One of them made the ‘Every Kid Outdoors’ program — which allows fourth graders and their companions to visit National Parks and other federal lands for free — permanent. Others updated the system for regulating over-the-counter medicines and increased funding to the national organ transplant network. She was also the lead Democrat on the 21st Century Cures Act, working closely with GOP Rep. Fred Upton to spearhead the bipartisan bill through Congress. 

DeGette currently sits on the House Natural Resources Committee and the powerful Energy and Commerce Committee, where she chairs the Oversight and Investigations subcommittee.

From this perch, she’s held hearings on everything from the pandemic to insulin pricing, vaping and ransomware attacks. She’s also co-chair of the Congressional Pro-Choice Caucus. Of the 15 bills DeGette has introduced thus far this Congress, many have focused on health and environmental issues. She was also able to direct millions in appropriations dollars for projects for Denver this Congress through Community Project Funding. 

So far in 2022 she’s worked with members of Congress from Colorado and New Mexico to encourage the Bureau of Reclamation to put Inflation Reduction Act money toward addressing the Western drought, she presided over a debate for a bill that would ban high-capacity magazines and she questioned oil executives about record-high oil prices in a congressional oversight hearing.

DeGette has been an ally to current House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. She’s often asked to preside over the Chamber during contentious issues, such as the debate for president Trump’s first impeachment. And she was appointed one of the managers for his second impeachment. DeGette goes into the fall election with about $485,000 cash on hand, according to the latest campaign finance filings. 

DeGette is a fourth-generation Coloradoan and describes herself as a progressive leader. She graduated from Denver’s South High School and earned a B.A. in political science from Colorado College in 1979. She returned to Denver in 1982 after she was awarded a J.D from New York University Law School. She began her career as a lawyer focused on civil rights and employment litigation. 

Jennifer Qualteri — Republican — Challenger

In April, Denver Republicans nominated Jennifer Qualteri to face the uphill task of running in a district with the strongest Democratic advantage in the state. She’s a longtime volunteer with the Denver Republican Party and was invited to enter the race by the congressional district chair. This is her first time running for office. 

Qualteri has worked for the Colorado Department of Human Services as an accountant for 18 years. Her website says she has belonged to both political parties over the years, but in the end, “she went with the one who is transparent, strengthens alliances and friendships, and has goals to keep you free and thriving now and in future generations.” She served as the Secretary for Denver Republicans House District 4 and has volunteered with various GOP campaigns over the past decade. 

Qualteri has taken a virtual approach to campaigning, posting lengthy blog entries laying out where she stands on the issues. The topics range from her opposition to legal abortion to making false claims about the security of the election system and criticizing her opponent for working to increase federal protections on public lands outside of the district while not being more active on local development issues.

In a campaign video, Qualteri said the first item on her agenda would be to work toward abolishing the Department of Education. She said “they have taken the liberty to dumb down and demoralize people and children — they are not taught to read, write, or do math.” Qualteri said removing federal oversight would be an opportunity for students to get back to learning the basics: reading, writing and arithmetic to prepare them for jobs once they graduate.

Qualteri believes states should oversee education funding and curriculum development rather than the federal government. 

Other issues important to her include reducing inflation and crime in Denver. She explains these priorities are rooted in addressing basic human needs.“People need food on the table, housing and they need to feel safe,” said Qualteri in an interview. She added she’s experienced inflation in small ways in her own home over the past year as she’s watched the price for things like Pizza Rolls — her grandson’s favorite treat — climb and climb. “It’s out of control,” she said. 

In September, Qualteri pledged, if elected, to support term limits for members of congress and she said she would sign on as a sponsor of the Social Security Fairness Act, which would allow recipients of government pensions to also collect full social security benefits.

Qualteri, a mother of three, was born in Denver and returned to the district about 20 years ago. She has an undergraduate degree in sales and marketing from the University of Colorado Denver and an MBA with a focus on accounting and entrepreneurship from the University of Denver. 

Qualteri has not filed with the FEC for the November election because she hasn’t spent enough on her campaign to reach the required threshold. 

CPR's Caitlyn Kim contributed to this report.