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Strategist: Democrat Joe Neguse ‘near certain’ to run for Jared Polis’ 2nd District congressional seat

Author: Ernest Luning - June 11, 2017 - Updated: June 12, 2017

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Joe Neguse, executive director of the state Department of Regulatory Agencies and a former CU regent, addresses Colorado Democrats at the party's biennial reorganization meeting on Saturday, March 11, 2017. (Photo by Ernest Luning/Colorado Politics)Democrat Joe Neguse, a candidate in the 2nd Congressional District, addresses Colorado Democrats at the party’s biennial reorganization meeting on Saturday, March 11, 2017. (Photo by Ernest Luning/Colorado Politics)

Democrat Joe Neguse, executive director of the Colorado Department of Regulatory Agencies and a former CU regent, is “near certain” to run for the 2nd Congressional District seat held by fellow Democrat Jared Polis, who announced Sunday morning he’s running for governor, according to a top Democratic strategist close to Neguse.

Neguse, the 2014 Democratic nominee for secretary of state, is likely to finalize his decision “sooner rather than later,” the strategist said, and could announce his plans within days.

It could be a crowded primary in the Democratic-leaning district, which includes all or parts of Boulder, Larimer, Broomfield, Jefferson, Clear Creek, Eagle, Gilpin, Grand, Summit and Park counties. Just hours after Polis said he’s running for governor, Colorado Politics was first to report that businessman and gun-control activist Ken Toltz, the Democratic nominee in 2000 in the 6th Congressional District, said he’s likely running for the seat.

Neguse, 33, is no stranger to the 2nd Congressional District’s voters, having won election to a six-year term representing the district as a CU regent in 2008 — albeit when the seat had somewhat different boundaries prior to the most recent redistricting. He was only the second African-American elected to the Board of Regents, which oversees the CU system and its $3.4 billion budget.

Along with state Sen. Steve Fenberg, D-Boulder, and state Rep. Leslie Herod, D-Denver, Neguse in 2006 co-founded New Era Colorado, a left-leaning nonprofit dedicated to encouraging youngsters to register to vote and cast ballots.

The son of Eritrean immigrants, Neguse grew up in Highlands Ranch and graduated from the University of Colorado Boulder, where he served as student body president, and CU Law School, where he was class president. An attorney, he practiced law at Holland & Hart, the state’s largest law firm, before Gov. John Hickenlooper named him to run DORA two years ago.

With some 600 employees and an $87 million budget, DORA includes the state’s Office of Consumer Counsel, Civil Rights Division and the Public Utilities Commission, as well as six other divisions regulating everything from banking and insurance to real estate and financial services.

Neguse lost his 2014 bid for secretary of state to his Republican opponent, then-El Paso County Clerk and Recorder Wayne Williams. Neguse trailed by just over 2 points, coming closer than any other losing statewide candidate that night. Later, Williams introduced Neguse before a Senate committee at the confirmation hearing for his DORA post and sang his praises.

“Joe and I had the opportunity to both run for secretary of state for more than a year (as) we went across the state and showed up at different forums,” Williams told lawmakers. “There were some things we disagreed on, but there were also a lot of things we agreed on. And we did throughout the campaign keep it civil.”

Neguse has twice been named the Colorado Democratic Party’s “rising star” — in 2010 and 2015 — and won a spot on the Colorado Super Lawyers Rising Stars list four years in a row, from 2012 to 2015.

While Polis has publicly weighed a gubernatorial bid for months, Sunday’s announcement sent current and potential politicians scrambling at the prospect of running in a congressional district without an incumbent on the ballot — only the second open seat in the state since Polis won the same seat in 2008 after then-U.S. Rep. Mark Udall declined to seek reelection so he could mount a successful run for the U.S. Senate. (The most recent open seat was when then-U.S. Rep. Cory Gardner, a Republican, gave up his seat for his winning challenge against Udall in 2014.)

Through its various configurations over the years, the Boulder-centric 2nd District hasn’t been represented by a Republican in more than four decades. Before Udall and Polis, its Democratic representatives were Tim Wirth, first elected in 1974, and David Skaggs. (Wirth and Udall each went on to serve one term in the U.S. Senate.)

— Ernest.Luning@coloradopolitics.com

Ernest Luning

Ernest Luning

Ernest Luning is a political correspondent for Colorado Politics. He has covered politics and government for newspapers and online news sites in Colorado for more than 25 years, including at the Highlands Ranch Herald, the Jefferson Sentinels chain of community newspapers and the Aurora Sentinel, where he was the city hall and cops reporter. After editing the Aurora Daily Sun, he was a political reporter and blogger for The Colorado Independent site. For nearly a decade, he was a senior political reporter and occasional editor at The Colorado Statesman before the 119-year-old publication merged with Colorado Politics in 2017.