Diana DeGette (1957– ) is a lawyer and politician who has represented Colorado’s First Congressional District—the city of Denver—in the US House of Representatives since 1997. A member of the Democratic Party, DeGette is known for her ardent support of reproductive and civil rights, environmental protection, and increased access to healthcare. Before serving in Congress, DeGette attended Colorado College and served in the state legislature.
Diana Louise DeGette was born in Tachikawa, Japan, on July 29, 1957, to Patricia and Richard DeGette. Her father was an architect in the air force, and her mother was a teacher. She was the oldest of five children. The family soon returned to Denver, where DeGette spent most of her childhood. She recalls being deeply affected by the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., in 1968, an event that inspired her commitment to civil rights. She attended South High School, graduating in 1975.
DeGette graduated from Colorado College in Colorado Springs in 1979. She earned a JD from New York University in 1982 and returned to Colorado to work as a public defender and civil rights lawyer. In 1985 she married attorney Lino Lipinsky, and the couple has two children, Raphaela and Francesca.
DeGette was elected to represent Colorado’s Sixth District in the state legislature in 1992, and she was made assistant minority leader by the end of her first term. During this time, the Colorado legislature dealt with Colorado’s Amendment 2, a ballot initiative approved by voters in 1992 that removed antidiscrimination protections for LGBTQ people and was opposed by DeGette.
After one term, in 1996 DeGette decided to seek national office. She sought to succeed Representative Pat Schroeder, who had announced her retirement. With Schroeder’s endorsement and backing from environmental and labor groups, DeGette won the First Congressional District seat with 56 percent of the vote, defeating Republican lawyer Joe Rogers.
When DeGette entered the House of Representatives, she made the protection of LGBTQ rights and women’s rights a priority. This position placed her in opposition to Republican Speaker Newt Gingrich, who was leading conservative efforts to slash welfare and education funding, as well as incorporate conservative Christian values into law.
In 1996, just before DeGette’s election, Congress passed the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which defined marriage in the United States as between one man and one woman. DeGette was one of several Democrats to oppose the act, which was eventually signed by President Bill Clinton. During her decades in Congress, DeGette has proven to be a consistent advocate for LGBTQ rights. In 2006 she voted against a proposed constitutional amendment—championed by the George W. Bush administration—that would have restricted marriage to heterosexual couples.
In 2018 DeGette spoke out against the US Supreme Court ruling in favor of Masterpiece Cakeshop in Lakewood, Colorado, whose owner had refused to bake a same-sex wedding cake for two of DeGette’s constituents. She used the ruling to argue in favor of passing the Equality Act, which would prohibit discrimination based on sex or sexual orientation. The bill passed the House of Representatives in 2019 and is in the Senate as of April 2020.
DeGette has also prioritized women’s rights and reproductive freedom. She has repeatedly voted against bills that would have blocked federal funding for abortions or defunded Planned Parenthood.
Along with LGBTQ and women’s rights, health care has been one of DeGette’s primary concerns while in Congress. In the Gingrich Congress, DeGette argued for the protection of Social Security and other major entitlement programs that Republicans targeted for budget cuts. She has also supported legislation to help poor families receive Medicaid, to expand medical research, to create better standards for medical equipment for children, and to improve care for diabetics.
In 2019, as evidence mounted for the health risks of e-cigarette smoking, or “vaping,” DeGette introduced two bills aimed to curb vaping among teens. One would raise the national tobacco purchasing age from eighteen to twenty-one and another would ban the sale of flavored vape juices used in e-cigarette cartridges.
DeGette has also championed environmental protections, most recently through her introduction of the Colorado Wilderness Act in 2019. Passed by the House in February 2020, the legislation would designate certain federal lands in Colorado as wilderness areas, placing greater restrictions on their development. DeGette also serves on the House Natural Resources Committee and the Committee on Energy and Commerce.
Throughout her career, DeGette has earned a reputation among her peers for her willingness to take on complex laws and problems, with an emphasis on evidence and detail.
DeGette has earned high ratings from progressive groups, including 100 percent ratings from the Planned Parenthood Action Fund, the American Medical Association Pact, and Sierra Club. She earned a 55 percent rating from the more conservative US Chamber of Commerce and a 13 percent rating from the National Rifle Association.
Since winning her House seat in 1996, DeGette has not been seriously challenged in an election. In 2018 she was reelected with 73.8 percent of the vote over Republican challenger Casper Stockham. In 2019 Crisanta Duran, a Democrat and former speaker of the Colorado House, announced her intention to challenge DeGette in the 2020 election; however, lackluster fundraising and organizing forced Duran to abandon her campaign later that year.