Q&A with Jen Clanahan: ‘I want to protect my daughter and her future’

Author: Dan Njegomir - April 23, 2018 - Updated: May 7, 2018

Colorado Moms Know Best Head Mom Jen Clanahan, with daughter, on Cottonwood Pass in the Collegiate Peaks. (Photo courtesy Jen Clanahan)

Mom knows best; most of us learned that lesson growing up — though we probably didn’t get around to admitting it until years later.

Jen Clanahan, a mom herself, learned that same lesson and decided to take it to a whole new level. Politically active and environmentally activist, she and some like-minded moms came up with an alternative approach to advocating environmental policy and called it Colorado Moms Know Best.

They figured there’s no better premise for advancing the cause of a healthy environment than their devotion to their kids. Or, as the group’s homepage  puts it, “…standing up for our children by protecting Colorado’s outdoors and quality of life, especially our clean air.” They network, host get-togethers and weigh in on policy debates they feel will have an impact on kids’ health.

What inspired her toward involvement in politics and the environment? And what role should kids play? She fills us in on that and more in today’s Q&A.

Colorado Politics: You are a veteran of both the environmental movement and Democratic politics; you’ve worked for U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette, former U.S. Sen. Mark Udall and former U.S. Sen. Ken Salazar, among others. But Moms Know Best seems to put an altogether different spin on political and environmental activism. How did the idea for Moms emerge? And what drew you to politics, and particularly environmental issues, in the first place?

Jen Clanahan: It started with a passion for protecting wildlife and therefore wildlife habitat. That led me to working on environmental issues for several nonprofits.  After many years of what felt like working on the outside to influence decision makers, I thought I’d try working on the inside, helping elected officials who shared my view of making the world a better place.  So, I got into politics.

Then I had my daughter. As parents know, when you become a parent, your view of what’s important changes: more than anything else I want to protect my daughter and her future.  Nothing else even comes close.  I want her to be able to share one of my childhood joys: the ability to wander in awe through a forest smelling the pines, climbing on rocks, finding wildflowers, seeing shooting stars and a chance to glimpse wildlife while hiking or camping.

Most importantly, I want to preserve that experience for her and her children, and that means we need to have strong policies that protect our clean air and the outdoors for future generations.

Several years ago, a few moms got together to take action on methane waste and pollution near their children’s schools. They reached out to Gov. Hickenlooper to help them protect their kids since moms alone can’t clean our air and Colorado Moms Know Best was born. Fortunately, Gov. Hickenlooper did act. Colorado set a strong standard, which later was used for the whole country.

CP: Do you feel Moms Know Best has made strides in advancing its priorities — especially because of its unconventional approach?

Clanahan: I think so! Our success comes from the passion that parents feel about their children. They want to protect them and their world and give them every opportunity for a healthy childhood. Because air pollution can not only exacerbate asthma and other respiratory problems but can also harm still-developing lungs when children are young, causing lifelong problems, there is nearly universal support for clean air, clean water and a healthy outdoor Colorado lifestyle.


Jen Clanahan

  • Head Mom, Colorado Moms Know Best.
  • Senior policy advisor/district press secretary to Colorado 1st Congressional District U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette, 2010-2016.
  • Board member, Center for Native Ecosystems, 2001-2010.
  • Operations director, Udall for Colorado, 2008.
  • Senior analyst, Denver City Councilman Doug Linkhart, 2006-2008.
  • Deputy press secretary for U.S. Sen. Ken Salazar, 2005-2006.
  • Holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of Colorado at Boulder; graduated from Denver’s South High School.


CP: What is the most important single policy change that’s needed to improve our air?

Clanahan: Switching away from dirty coal and other polluting energy sources to clean renewable energy. Moving to renewable energy everywhere possible – homes, manufacturing, how and where we charge the growing number of electric vehicles, etc. Widespread clean energy use would have an enormous impact on improving our air.  Given that it’s a public health issue and can literally save lives, it’s critical that we do so.

CP: Have there been any environment-friendly Republicans elected in your time in Colorado? Why do you think the GOP is so much less inclined toward your world view than are Democrats?

Clanahan: Well, some of my favorite people are Republicans, my parents among them!  I work to understand their view and try to bring them around to understanding mine.  Colorado Moms Know Best are nonpartisan and work with all moms — party doesn’t matter — our kids’ future does.

Colorado has had a history of collaboration on several important conservation issues with Republican leadership on many of them. State Sen. Tillie Bishop from Grand Junction, who helped Great Outdoors Colorado tap into lottery funds, is one example. Speaker Lola Spradley of Beulah was a champion on renewable energy technology and Sen. Norma Anderson moved our modern transit plans forward.

Currently, Sen. Kevin Priola of Adams County is doing some great work on energy efficiency and electric vehicles. The Moms have appreciated U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner’s recent work on extending the renewable energy tax credits. His efforts on the outdoor recreation economy (along with U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet’s) especially around the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) have been good as well. The LWCF needs to be reauthorized by Sept. 30 though so moms will be watching to see if he takes a leadership role on that.

We can agree generally that clean air and a healthy outdoors is important for the health of everyone, especially those more sensitive to pollution like kids.  But the devil is in the details.

I heard a theory that described a Democrat’s view toward nature as one of a mother, that natures is something to be protected and nurtured.  Something that has its own intrinsic value.  In contrast, a Republican’s view is that of a strict father. Nature provides something for people to use to take care of themselves and no one should interfere with that — more of a utilitarian approach. That theory has stuck with me.

I want decision makers to think of our children’s future when making policy. I also want to teach my daughter the importance of being an active citizen in our democracy, involved in the political process and using her voice to stand up for herself. Taking her with me to talk to decision makers is one way I can do that.

CP: Children have been a part of our nation’s political tapestry since the first politician kissed the first baby. Over the years, kids have been rallied, marched and photo-opped for a host of causes across the political spectrum.  While that approach inevitably has drawn some criticism, it also must strike a chord with the general public — otherwise, activists wouldn’t keep employing it. What do you — as a mom and an activist — feel is the appropriate degree of kids’ engagement in politics?

Clanahan: Everyone understands the importance of protecting children. Our responsibility as adults is to protect their futures, to build resilience into our natural systems to ensure kids have opportunities that we’ve had. I want decision makers to think of our children’s future when making policy.

I also want to teach my daughter the importance of being an active citizen in our democracy, involved in the political process and using her voice to stand up for herself. Taking her with me to talk to decision makers is one way I can do that. At this point, I haven’t hesitated to take my child along, but it’s up to each parent to decide what’s best for their own children.

CP: Do you think today’s children will be more, or less, jaded about politics than prior generations by the time they reach voting age?

Clanahan: We have seen an uptick in citizen involvement in the last couple years. I’m hopeful the next generation will continue that trend. We may be reaching a tipping point – the partisan divide has grown larger; the gap between rich and poor continues to grow; corporations have been declared people; gerrymandered districts mean less compromise; top elected officials lie to the public; the free press is threatened.

I am hopeful that soon everyone, led by an energetic youth, will say enough is enough. We need action to get back to the ideals of democracy that this country was founded on.  I think the next generation will feel they deserve the opportunities the previous generations have had. Young people have tremendous power. If they exercise that power and see the result, they will stay involved and be a force to be reckoned with.

CP: There have been some calls for lowering the voting age to 16 in Colorado, at least, for school board races. Do you think that’s a good idea?

Clanahan: It’s an interesting idea. I would need to spend more time with 16-year-olds to see what I think about it.

Dan Njegomir

Dan Njegomir

Dan Njegomir is the opinion editor for Colorado Politics. A longtime journalist and more-than-25-year veteran of the Colorado political scene, Njegomir has been an award-winning newspaper reporter, an editorial page editor, a senior legislative staffer at the State Capitol and a political consultant.