Joseph “Joe” D. Neguse (1984–) is a politician who represents Colorado’s Second Congressional District, which includes Boulder, Fort Collins, and most of the northern Front Range. A member of the Democratic Party, Neguse is the first African American elected to Congress from Colorado. He previously served as a regent for the University of Colorado, his alma mater, and as executive director of the Colorado Consumer Protection Agency.
Elected at age thirty-four, Neguse is one of the youngest members of the House of Representatives. A member of the Progressive Caucus, Neguse often sides with other young Progressive colleagues, such as Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York and Representative Ilhan Omar of Minnesota. Among other positions, Neguse favors universal health care, robust funding for public education, and strong protections for public lands.
Joseph D. Neguse was born on May 13, 1984, in Bakersfield, California, to Debesai and Azeib Neguse. His parents were both Eritrean; they had separately fled Eritrea in the early 1980s, when the country was fighting for independence from Ethiopia. Both ended up in Bakersfield, where they were introduced through mutual Eritrean friends and married. The couple had two children, Joseph and Sarah. The family soon moved to Colorado so Debesai, an accountant, could pursue a master’s degree at the University of Denver. Azeib, meanwhile, attended the University of Colorado–Denver. The Neguse family lived at various times in Aurora, Littleton, and Highlands Ranch. Joe attended Thunder Ridge High School in Highlands Ranch, graduating in 2001. In 2002 Neguse moved to Lafayette, in eastern Boulder County.
Neguse attended the University of Colorado and was politically active in college. He served as co–student body president, and he founded New Era Colorado, a group that worked to organize, engage, and amplify the voices of young voters. New Era is credited with helping register more than 150,000 young voters since 2006. He also championed a successful 2005 ballot measure, Referendum C, that increased public education funding. He graduated with a degree in economics and political science in 2005, and in 2009 he completed his education with a JD from the university’s law school.
Neguse credits his time in Colorado with stoking a passion for environmental protection and better health care, which he sees as interconnected. Neguse has also said his political career was influenced by his parents’ immigrant experience, as they had fled their war-torn homeland, moved halfway across the world with nothing, and were able to earn advanced degrees in the United States. The example of his parents drove Neguse to work for improved education and young-voter turnout so that today’s young people could have the same opportunities he had.
In 2009, fresh out of law school, Neguse was elected to represent Colorado’s Second Congressional District on the University of Colorado’s Board of Regents—a university supervisory body consisting of members from the state’s seven congressional districts, plus two statewide officials. At the same time, he also began his career in labor law, working for the Denver firm Holland & Hart. A failed campaign to become Colorado’s secretary of state in 2014 nevertheless put Neguse on the state Democratic Party’s radar. In 2015 Governor John Hickenlooper appointed Neguse as head of the state’s consumer protection agency.
This critical political experience enabled Neguse to make a bid for Congress in 2018, at the age of just thirty-four. On November 6, 2018, the district’s reliably Democratic counties propelled Neguse to a fifty-seven-point victory over Republican Peter Yu, making him the first African American congressman from Colorado.
House of Representatives
After Neguse was elected to the House, he told an interviewer, “I firmly believe that we are a country rooted in the values of empathy and compassion for people who are coming to the United States to rebuild their shattered lives.” In the House, he went on to support the DREAM Act—a proimmigrant bill that would legitimize the children of illegal immigrants. At a time when President Donald Trump was demonizing and detaining Central American immigrants and asylum seekers at the US–Mexico border, Neguse cast votes for legislation that protected immigrant and refugee rights.
In addition to his support for immigrant rights, Neguse has supported increased civil rights for women and minorities. Like fellow Colorado Representative Diana DeGette, Neguse supports the proposed Equality Act, which would prohibit discrimination based on sex, sexual orientation, and gender identity. He also supported legislation to shore up the Voting Rights Act and was one the many cosponsors of the Emmett Till Antilynching Act in early 2020, which would make lynching a federal hate crime. Neguse has joined other House Democrats in repeatedly condemning President Donald Trump’s many racist and incendiary remarks.
Neguse has also upheld his long-standing commitments to young voters, environmental protection, and public education. In January 2019 he introduced the Next Generation Votes Act, which would allow sixteen- and seventeen-year-olds to preregister to vote. Neguse has sponsored bills to protect endangered wildlife on the South Platte River, add acreage to the Arapaho National Forest in his home district, and extend a 2000 law that provided federal funds to rural schools. As the Trump Administration sought to open public lands for extractive industries, Neguse coauthored legislation that would protect Colorado’s public lands (the CORE Act) and support research on environmental issues such as ocean acidification.
As part of a new Democratic majority in the House, Neguse also voted in the fall of 2019 to impeach President Trump over his attempt to withhold military aid to Ukraine in exchange for investigating the son of political rival Joe Biden.
Neguse met his wife, Andrea, a Broomfield native, while living in Boulder County. In August 2018, Andrea gave birth to the couple’s first child, Natalie.