Saira Rao Could Be Colorado’s First Woman of Color Elected to Congress

Saira Rao Could Be Colorado’s First Woman of Color Elected to Congress

Saira Rao Could Be Colorado’s First Woman of Color Elected to Congress

“We need loud, fearless voices — new leaders who . . . aren’t afraid to stand up to the establishment on either side of the aisle.”

Running! is a Teen Vogue series about getting involved in government. In this op-ed, Colorado congressional candidate Saira Rao explains why Americans need more diverse and progressive Democratic representatives who will focus on people over profits. If elected, Rao would be the first woman of color to represent Colorado in Congress.

In fourth grade, a boy asked me to “go with him.” Over the moon, I said yes. The next day, when he asked me to meet him in the library, I blushed. Did he bring me a Kit Kat, my favorite candy, or perhaps a Rubik’s cube? It was neither. He came bearing bad news: “Saira, we have to break up,” he said. “My mom says I can’t go with a black girl.”

I nodded, feigning comprehension that this was a logical parental demand — something his mom had to insist on, like a square meal and exercise. Later that day, my own mother came home from her job at the Veterans Administration to find me trying to rub the brown off of my skin with a stone. I was 9. That day in Richmond, Virginia, in 1983 is one of my earliest and clearest memories.

Last summer, in Denver, I came downstairs to find my 7-year-old son slathered in two tubes of sunscreen. When he saw me, he euphorically exclaimed, “Look Mommy, I’m finally white!”

Nothing has changed. And nothing will if we don’t shake up our country’s leadership and vote for equity — racial, social, and economic.

We elect the same people again and again, and innocent brown and black people continue to be killed by police and arrested for everyday things, like sitting in a Starbucks. We elect the same people, and the wealth gap continues to increase. We’re facing an affordable housing crisisacross the country, too many people can’t afford life-saving medications, our veterans come home to face homelessness and depression, Dreamers are being deported, and guns are taking our kids’ lives here, there, everywhere. Is this really America?

I don’t believe it is. That’s why I decided to run for Congress here in Colorado. I am running on a bold progressive platform that will tackle common-sense gun reform, a path to citizenship for all immigrants, a clean Dream Act, equity for all — including our LGBTQ friends and families — and health care that leaves no community struggling to figure out how to pay for their prescription drugs or medical bills.

But equally important, I am running to bring our government back to we the people. We hear a lot about how corporate money in politics is bad, but many of us don’t think too much about it. So here’s the basic gist: If a pharmaceutical company donates $50,000 to help get you elected, once you are in Congress, who will you answer to? That company, of course. If the National Rifle Association (NRA) gives you $100,000, you’ll probably answer to the NRA. This is why we’ve seen prescription drug prices rocket. It’s why gun violence continues to rip apart America. We will never have health care for all, affordable prescription drugs, or gun-free schools and streets until we demand that our representatives stop taking corporate money. That’s why I haven’t taken a penny from corporations or political action committees (PACs) in my campaign, and I won’t do so after I’m elected either.

And it isn’t enough to just elect a person because they identify as a “Democrat.” That’s all well and good, but what has that gotten us? Not much in terms of action in Washington. Not much in terms of fighting against the Trump administration. We need loud, fearless voices — new leaders who aren’t catering to corporate donors and aren’t afraid to stand up to the establishment on either side of the aisle. This isn’t just about flipping red to blue. This is about flipping blue to true blue.

I am not a politician. I started out as a lawyer, working on Wall Street. Then my little brown kids started reading books and watching animated television. I freaked out. Nothing had changed since my childhood. Most books featured white, straight, able-bodied, cisgendered boys. They say when you don’t see the book you want to read on the shelf, go write it. My friend Carey and I took that advice a step further and created an entire publishing company — In This Together Media — to diversify children’s books.

When we started out, we were told that we were crazy, that we didn’t understand the business, that we should just intern, and that “white boys sell.” White boys sell because that’s all that’s being offered, we countered. We persisted, knowing two things: Everyone needs to see themselves in a story to connect with the story, and representation matters. Six-and-a-half years later, In This Together Media is an extremely successful book-packaging company, having sold books featuring children of color, LGBTQ children, and immigrant children as central characters to the likes of Simon & Schuster, Random House, and Penguin.

When you look at our Congress, it looks an awful lot like the characters in kids’ books: overwhelmingly white and male. All nine members of Colorado’s congressional delegation are white. A woman of color has never gone to Congress from Colorado. I’m fighting to change that because, just like in children’s books, representation matters. When I started talking to people — from local elected officials to the party establishment — about running for this seat, I was told time and time again that I would lose and that this was an impossible task. I was told that 11-term incumbent Diana DeGette would “never lose and I should just wait for her to retire.” I was told that, without corporate donations, I’d never be able to compete with her in the Democratic primary. I’d heard such discouraging words before. I didn’t let them get me down in my publishing career, and I’m not now, either. I smiled, filed with the Federal Election Commission, and announced my run.

Three and half months later, I made it onto the ballot (no easy task here), and in the first quarter of 2018, I raised more money than Diana — all through donations from individuals, not corporations.

How did I do it? I didn’t. We are doing it — Americans, together. My experience so far has proved that people are tired of voting for the same politicians over and over again, and they’re ready for a change.

The November 2016 election was an indictment of the status quo if ever there was one. I, like so many other first-time candidates, have jumped into the ring to provide voters with an alternative to corporate Democratic candidates. With profits out, we can focus on people; and once we focus on people, we can have the hard conversations and build solutions. I want to have those conversations, beginning with the Colorado Democratic primary election on June 26.

I would never forgive myself for not trying if my grandchildren — the next generation — tried to rub the color off their skin or tried to cover up their brownness with cream.

Change is coming.

Colorado is a vote-by-mail state, and ballots drop in early June. For the first time, unaffiliated voters not aligned with a specific political party will be able to vote in the primary. The primary is June 26th. For more information visit

From NBC News: Safe seats? Anti-Trump wave may wash out some Democrats, too

Safe seats? Anti-Trump wave may wash out some Democrats, too

Some long-serving Democrats are facing primary challenges for the first time ever as the party looks to counter President Donald Trump.

by Alex Seitz-Wald and Leigh Ann Caldwell / 

Image: Caroline Maloney, Michael Capuano and Diana DeGette

From left, Democratic Reps. Caroline Maloney of New York, Michael Capuano of Massachusetts and Diana DeGette of Colorado.Getty Images; AP; AP

WASHINGTON — When Rep. Mike Capuano won his Boston-area congressional seat two decades ago, he had good reason to think of it like a Supreme Court appointment: For life.

The low-profile Democrat cruised to re-election nine times, never dropping below 80 percent of the vote, while casting reliably liberal votes that earned him perfect ratings from Planned Parenthood and the American Civil Liberties Union.

Then Donald Trump got elected, and the liberal base began to demand more from its leaders than a party-line voting record.

Now, Capuano is facing his first-ever primary challenge — and he’s not alone, with a small but growing number of entrenched Democrats watching as insurgents out-fundraise them with a sense of urgency fueled by President Donald Trump and an unwillingness to follow the old rules of deference to party elders.

Just as the Tea Party revolution culled some deadwood Republicans on its way to retaking the House, an anti-Trump wave may wash out some of the Democrats’ longest-serving members.

Image: Ayana Pressley
Ayana PressleyCourtesy of Ayana Pressley campaign

“I understand that this is uncomfortable for many people,” said Ayanna Pressley, Capuano’s challenger. “These are different times and it requires our being disruptive.”

Pressley, the first woman of color elected to the Boston City Council, has been dubbed the future of politics and fêted by Emily’s List, the Democratic women’s group, with a prestigious “Rising Star” award.

Even though she’s upsetting the applecart, Pressley has won support from major unions and a tacit nod from members of the Massachusetts congressional delegation, who made the unusual decision not to support their colleague and sit out the race.

Unlike a recent Illinois primaryfought over abortion rights, or the 2016 presidential primary, Pressley and Capuano hold virtually the same political views.

What sets them apart is volume, not pitch, with Pressley saying these times require “activist-leadership” from people with a wider ranger of life experiences.

“We have an opportunity here,” she said of the Trump era. “It can be a moment where we grow and build the most progressive movement of our times.”

Democrats are no stranger to messy primaries in open seats or ones held by Republicans. But they almost always defer to their congressmen once elected.

Since the Tea Party wave uncorked the bottle in 2010, Republicans have been significantly more likely to face primaries than Democrats, according to the Brookings Institution. Only two House Democrats lost their seats to friendly fire in the last election.

“Beating an incumbent of your own party is one of the hardest thing to do,” said Rep. Ro Khanna, D-Calif., who defeated an eight-term incumbent on his second attempt two years ago.

That hasn’t stopped Adem Bunkeddeko, a 29-year-old Harvard grad and child of Ugandan refugees, who says Rep. Yvette Clarke, a Brooklyn Democrat, has done not enough to promote affordable housing in her rapidly gentrifying district. “At the end of the day, it’s about getting things done,” he said.

And nor has it stopped Jonathan Lewis, a historian and businessman in a neighboring district, who is trying to oust senior Democratic Rep. Eliot Engel, D-N.Y. “If I told you there are nations in the world where people are running for election after election completely unopposed, you might wonder what country that is,” Lewis said.

Even Barack Obama, perhaps the greatest politician of his generation, failed to oust an entrenched Chicago lawmaker.

But this year, challengers hope the super-charged Democratic base and widespread frustration with elected officials will let them catch incumbents sleeping.

“We have a big split in the party I don’t know that the party establishment has fully wrapped its mind around it,” said Saira Rao, who is challenging Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Colo.

In hipsterifying Denver, the first-time candidate outraised DeGette, a member of Democratic leadership and a 23-year incumbent.

Rao volunteered for Hillary Clinton’s campaign in 2016, but grew frustrated with the Democratic Party for taking the votes of women of color like her for granted.

So she wrote an essay on “Breaking Up with the Democratic Party” that went viral, and the overwhelming response compelled her to run for office.

“We have a window (to save the country). It’s closing pretty soon. We don’t have until 2020 and I have zero faith that the corporate Democrats in Congress will do a damn thing about it,” Rao said. “Thank you for your service Nancy Pelosi, but we need new leadership.”

The odds are stacked against upstarts, and what few polls exist have shown them behind. Voters in safe districts don’t typically pay attention to congressional primaries, with some big city districts posting single-digit turnout in the past.

Suraj Patel
Suraj PatelSuraj Patel for Congress

That’s a shame, says Suraj Patel, a 34-year-old Obama campaign alum and New York University professor challenging Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., an institution in Manhattan politics.

“No party should be satisfied with 6 percent turnout,” said Patel. “We don’t just need to elect Democrats, which we do, we need to elect better Democrats.”

Patel has raised nearly $1.1 million, outpacing Maloney two quarters in a row, and built a massive campaign team for a congressional race, with 25 staffers and 49 interns.

As he sees it, Democrats should be using the safety of deep blue seats in progressive major cities to take risks on new policy ideas and champion a bold agenda.

“We’re really wasting an incredible opportunity to lead from districts like this,” he said.

Saira outraises her opponent without corporate PACs

Saira outraises her opponent without corporate PACs

Incumbent and Chief Deputy Whip Rep. Diana DeGette was outraised by progressive newcomer, Democrat Saira Rao

Denver, CO, April 16, 2018 – Less than 100 days ago, Saira Rao announced her candidacy for Colorado’s 1st Congressional District. She is challenging incumbent Rep. Diana DeGette for the seat. Since then, she’s met with hundreds of people, hosted and attended dozens of events, and raised over $250,000 from individual donors in her 1st Quarter, outraising DeGette’s numbers.

Saira will be placed on the ballot for the Democratic party’s primary election, a nomination she earned by petitioning on the ballot and participating in the party’s assembly process. Rao has shown she has the right message and fire to unseat DeGette in the June 26th primary.

The establishment in Denver is taking notice of Rao’s success thus far, as has her opponent, Rep. DeGette. In two emails sent over the weekend to her supporters, DeGette stated, “I have good news and bad news. First, the good news: I am officially on the ballot for the Democratic primary in June. The bad news: my opponent outraised me last quarter. I urgently need support to fuel our grassroots field effort.”

Colorado’s first Congressional district, which encompasses Denver and parts of Jefferson and Arapahoe counties, has grown dramatically in the last few years. Said Rao, “Primaries define the future. We, the Democratic party, already know what we’re against, but what are the values we won’t compromise on? What we are for?”

“Our road to Washington has just begun and I promise to fight FOR the values and issues you care about. Our grassroots campaign is funded by the people and FOR the people. I will not take a penny from corporations. This campaign is about social, racial, and economic equity for all. We need a clean Dream Act now; Dreamers are human beings, not soundbites. We need single-payer healthcare and affordable prescription drugs, which means standing up to Big Pharma. The elimination of crushing student loan debt is one of my top priorities.”

DeGette has accepted corporate PAC money since she was first elected to Congress in 1997. As of January 2017, she has accepted $303,700 from “other committees”, many of which are corporate PACs. Rao is running on a progressive agenda where she believes everyone deserves a seat at the table. Among other things, she has not taken a single donation from corporate PACs. Change is coming to Washington and her name is Saira Rao.

Saira clears a quarter million dollars in fundraising from individual donors

Saira clears a quarter million dollars in fundraising from individual donors


Rao has rejected corporate PAC money in favor of individual donations

Denver, CO, April 2, 2018 — Democrat Saira Rao (, who is running to represent Colorado’s first Congressional district, will file her first quarterly report showing over $250,000 raised from individual donors.

Rao, who launched her campaign in January, said, “This campaign is about bringing people together. I’m proud of the coalition we’re building of Democrats and independents who want a more representative government.

“If Democrats are going to take back Congress, we need to build a party that answers to everyday people, not corporations. We can’t fight Trump’s anti-worker agenda if the same donors are funding both parties.”

Rao has also pledged to not take corporate PAC money. In February, she made headlines when she cleared the 500-donor mark within 28 days of her launch. Today, her campaign boasts the support of over 950 individual donors.

Notable Democratic leaders who have also taken the No Corporate PAC pledge include Senators Kristen Gillibrand, Bernie Sanders, Cory Booker,  Elizabeth Warren, and Maria Cantwell, Representatives Ro Khanna and Jared Polis, Paul Ryan challenger Randy Bryce, and Ted Cruz challenger Representative Beto O’Rourke.

Rao’s progressive platform includes controlling prescription drug costs, eliminating student loan debt, and passing a single-payer healthcare bill.

The Democratic primary is June 26th, 2018. For the first time, Colorado’s unaffiliated voters will be able to participate. If elected, Rao will be the first woman of color from Colorado to go to Congress and one of the few Asian-Americans to ever hold office in the state.

About Saira

Saira Rao ( is a Democratic candidate for U.S. Congress in Colorado’s District 1. The daughter of immigrants, Saira is an entrepreneur and social justice activist who built her career around empowering marginalized communities. She is the co-founder of This Together Media, a children’s books company that features diverse protagonists. She and her husband Shiv live in Denver with their two children, Lila and Dar, and their dog, Hector.


Former CDP Chair Buie Seawell: Saira is “the future”

Former CDP Chair Buie Seawell: Saira is “the future”


Former Colorado Democratic Party Chair Buie Seawell endorses Saira, calling her “the future”

Denver, CO, March 13, 2018 — Democrat Saira Rao ( announced today that her campaign won the endorsement of Buie Seawell.

Buie Seawell, son of former North Carolina Attorney General Malcolm Buie Seawell, is a longtime Party figure and community leader. A distinguished professor at the University of Denver, Seawell served as Senator Gary Hart’s Chief of Staff and was the Colorado Democratic Party Chair from 1985-1989. “I’m endorsing Saira Rao because she has the energy, intelligence and care to lead our party and our country in this monumental moment of our history. She is not ‘the same old thing.’ Saira Rao embodies the future.”

Said Rao, “Buie’s leadership in the community and in our Party has created opportunities for so many, and I am honored to have his endorsement.”

Rao, 43, is the co-founder of In This Together Media. If elected, she would be the first woman of color from Colorado to go to Congress. To date, Saira Rao has earned the support of over 830 individual donors and is not taking any corporate PAC money. Her platform is available at

About Saira

Saira Rao ( is a Democratic candidate for U.S. Congress in Colorado’s District 1. The daughter of immigrants, Saira is an entrepreneur and social justice activist who built her career around empowering marginalized communities. Her company, In This Together Media, sources and shepherds to publication children’s books featuring brown, black, LGBTQ, poor, disabled, and female protagonists. She and her husband, Shiv, live in Denver with their two children, Lila and Dar, and their dog, Hector.