Broad of the Month: Speaker Crisanta Duran

THe women who get it done for denver and do good for broads.

Virginia McCarver | @ginnamccarver

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  Colorado’s 58th Speaker of the House, Crisanta Duran (D). 

Colorado’s 58th Speaker of the House, Crisanta Duran (D). 

Crisanta Duran is a first in a state known for some significant firsts when it comes to women. Duran is the first Latina Speaker of the House in Colorado, and one of six women across the U.S. who serve as speakers of state houses.

Colorado was the first state to elect not just one, but three women legislators to the Colorado State House of Representatives in 1894: Clara Cressingham, Carrie C. Holly, and Frances Klock.

The year before, in 1893, Colorado was the first state in which women received the right to vote through popular election.

Duran’s Colorado roots run deep—six generations deep. She draws inspiration from her family’s history, especially when reflecting on the contrast between the role she holds and the options available to the women in her family, only a few generations prior.

“It is personal for me,” Duran explains. “I often tell the story of my grandmother Eva, who I spent a lot of time with on holidays and in the summer when I was growing up.  She only had a 3rd grade education. She was the oldest girl out of a lot of brothers and sisters. Her parents needed her help and they took her out of school.

She had such a strong sense of the value of family and had so much pride in her home, but there were times I would visit her as a little girl and she was embarrassed. There were basic things she couldn’t do. She couldn’t read, or write, or drive. It always stuck with me, because the trajectory of her life was decided for her, before she had a choice.”

Amid a national political climate wherein issues influencing the trajectory of women’s lives are increasingly shaped by men, Duran’s words feel like a wakeup call.

“It’s important for the women of Denver to be involved in the political process,” she says. “The women’s march was so inspiring to me, to see women a part of the political process and communicate their values and vision. And there is need for our leaders to understand those values and that vision.”

In line with its storied history of firsts for women in politics, Colorado leads the nation in the number of women in the state legislature. Colorado has 39 women legislators, second only to Vermont, which has 71. What does it mean for the state, for women, when 39% of the legislature is women? More specifically, what do women leaders offer us (everyone, society at large, and women in particular)?

This question is much-debated. Social scientific research is inconclusive regarding definitive assertions about women being “better legislators” than men, particularly when the only metric defining effective legislating is the ability to usher legislation into law. Anecdotal evidence from women leaders themselves suggest women do indeed get sh*t done, and Duran’s experiences in the Colorado legislature are no exception.

“There is a bit of a sisterhood here, and we’ve built a support system to support one another and support issues women care about. What we’ve seen here is by having women at tables of power, we bring forward our issues.”

And here’s the immense contribution women legislators like Duran make—they bring forward the issues relevant to women and the trajectory of women’s lives much more frequently than men. Yet, herein also lies the rub.

For Duran and other women leaders in the state and nationwide, the process involved in “effective legislating” concerning issues relevant to women or under-represented minorities is much more complicated and difficult to execute because it involves significant legislative “pre-work.” Before women legislatures even begin to advocate for a specific issue or bill, they must first help others recognize the existence of a standard that makes one segment of the population’s experience the norm and leaves out all others. Next, they foster a view of difference from this artificial standard not as deficiency, but as valuable, and worthy of attention and respect—because meeting the needs of people is not only the right thing to do, it makes good sense socially, economically, and politically. Finally, they explore and fight for solutions to remedy the slights, injustices, and disparities created by the standard. 

This process is one we don’t often notice but it involves significant effort. And all too often, it fails.

Step 2 may become too painful to address head on; step 3 insurmountable in the face of interests well-aligned with and comfortably ingrained in conceptions of what is standard. Add on any further “deviations” from the standard—race, sexual orientation, citizenship—and you have yourself an exponentially harder fight.

So, what’s the broadview for women in Denver when it comes to women’s leadership at the state level? 1. It is a grateful recognition of the additional, difficult, sometimes heart-wrenching work involved in advocating for women and under-represented populations. It takes a bad*ss broad like Duran to go through this process again and again, and be judged primarily by the passage of legislation. 2. It’s a request with an eye to the future:

Continue to be brave, Speaker Duran, and all of our state leaders. Please. For us. We’ll watch. We’ll bring our daughters and sons to watch, too. We know the fight you have. We know the emotional toll it takes every day to persuade others issues relevant to a group outside the “standard” are important. We do. And we love you for taking up that fight again and again. Be our champions. Don’t let anyone tell you not to focus too much on “women’s issues”—instead, throw down your battle flag into that ground and claim the territory with fervor. Because who else will do it?