As a 34-year-old son of refugees from Africa, Joe is not your typical Congressman. But his family’s story, and deeply held belief that we need people from all walks of life to speak up and engage in our democracy, motivated him to run for office and fight for Colorado values in Washington D.C.
Joe was elected in 2018 to represent the 2nd District in the U.S. House of Representatives, becoming the first and only African-American elected to serve in Congress in Colorado history. He serves as a Vice-Chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus and was elected by his peers to be the Freshman Co-Representative to Leadership. In that capacity, he serves as a member of the House Democratic Leadership.
Prior to being elected to Congress, Joe served as an attorney, civic leader, and public official who spent his career fighting to expand opportunities for families across our state. Joe and his wife Andrea (who grew up in Broomfield) consider themselves incredibly lucky to call the beautiful City of Lafayette home, where they are raising their infant daughter Natalie and enjoy running on Boulder County’s amazing trails with their puppy Teddy (a pug-Aussie mix). Joe has lived in the 2nd Congressional District for the last 17 years, and was honored to represent the people of the 2nd district as an elected member of CU’s Board of Regents from 2009 through 2015.
Over 35 years ago, Joe’s parents fled Eritrea, a war-torn country in East-Africa, and immigrated to the United States as refugees, eventually settling in Colorado, where he and his sister were raised. As hardworking immigrants and naturalized citizens, Joe’s parents never forgot nor took for granted the freedom and opportunities the United States gave them and their children. Their experience motivated Joe to be an active participant in our democracy at an early age, and to give back through public service.
First, after graduating from the University of Colorado at Boulder summa cum laude and working for the then-Speaker of the Colorado House of Representatives, Andrew Romanoff, Joe co-founded New Era Colorado, the state’s largest youth voter registration and mobilization non-profit in Colorado. The organization, which has been featured in the New York Times and Time Magazine, has since registered over 150,000 young people to vote across the state, secured successful passage of progressive legislation at the state level (including online voter registration and 16/17 year-old voter preregistration), and has led the fight locally against climate change.
Later, while still in law school at CU, Joe was elected in 2008 by the voters of the 2nd Congressional District to serve on the CU Board of Regents, becoming only the second African-American to be elected Regent in Colorado’s history. Joe served a six-year term on the Board (which oversees the CU-System, the fourth largest employer in the state with an operating budget of $3.4 billion), including two-years as Chair of the Audit Committee. As a Regent, Joe fought to make higher education more affordable and accessible and to build consensus on tough issues, sponsoring several resolutions that received bi-partisan and unanimous support, including efforts to lower student health insurance costs and make voter registration more accessible to students, as well as working to increase wages for the University’s lowest-paid workers.
Then, following his term as a Regent, Joe was appointed at the age of 31 to lead the state’s consumer protection agency, making him one of the youngest people to serve in a state-Cabinet across the country. He led the department—an agency with roughly 600 employees and a $90 million budget—for two years, leading the fight to expand economic opportunities by protecting the civil rights of every Coloradan and strengthening consumer protections and safeguards. During his tenure the agency achieved key victories, including the recovery of millions of dollars for consumers, investigations culminating in significant financial-fraud cases, the championing of legislation to combat financial fraud against seniors, and launch of the state’s first online filing system for civil rights discrimination complaints. In recognition of his work to expand the agency’s consumer protection mission, Joe was awarded the 2017 “Consumer Protection Award” by the international Council on Licensure, Enforcement and Regulation.
Joe’s public service is rooted in his firm belief that we should be expanding—not restricting—opportunities for all Coloradans, and he has spent his career doing the same. The opportunity to immigrate to our incredible country and pursue the American dream; to attend college, and participate in our economy; and ultimately, to shape our democracy. Joe’s belief that all Coloradans are entitled to these opportunities, shaped by his parent’s journey and experience, has been a guiding principle in his life, and he is honored to fight for these opportunities each and every day in the United States Congress.