Politic365 had an opportunity to speak with Jessie Ulibarri, a 28-year old Democratic candidate for Colorado’s 21st Senate District. Although he is relatively young, Ulibarri has an impressive list of accomplishments as a non-profit advocate with ties to Colorado’s working class, Latino and LGBT communities.
Currently, he’s the youngest candidate in the Centennial state running for the state senate. And should he become the state senator for District 21, Ulibarri would be the first openly gay person to represent the district.
For the past ten years, Ulibarri has been involved in non-profit advocacy at different levels beginning as a college student. He describes his work over the years as a “reverse lobbyist:” he was helping to involve people who don’t have money to throw at the political process – like some of the special interests who hire teams of lobbyists. “I help people tell their stories at the Capitol,” explains Ulibarri.
Most recently, he was a Public Policy Director at the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) of Colorado, and prior to that, he worked as the State Director of the Mi Familia Vota fund, a civic engagement program to encourage Latinos to participate in the political process. Other notable service assignments include being a Founding Board Member of the Colorado Latino Forum and serving as a Commissioner on Colorado’s GLBT Commission.
Having an employment and volunteer history concentrated in the public policy and advocacy arena, Ulibarri felt that the time was right to move from advocacy to running for office.
Ulibarri described one particular incident that happened last year with members of the state house GOP who offered a proposal to balance the state budget by eliminating a free breakfast program for needy children. Ulibarri argued that this policy seemed counter-intuitive in the sense that denying young children the most important meal of the day would lessen the impact of teachers trying to prepare students for higher learning. The discontinuation of the free breakfast program prompted Ulibarri to do more than “just be an advocate” and so he started considering a run for office.
Two key policy areas that have been dominating the news in terms of the Latino and gay communities involve tuition (access) to higher education and civil unions. Given the continued debate in the public sphere over these two hot-button issues, Ulibarri offered some thoughts on how he might govern.
The Colorado ASSET Bill, which has been moving through the State Senate, would create a new level of tuition at state colleges and universities for undocumented students. The tuition level would be higher than resident tuition but would be lower than the rate for out-of-state students. This bill would give young adults who graduated from Colorado high schools the opportunity to more easily pursue post-secondary education.
“Growing up in this part of town (Senate District 21), many of the people I grew up with and went to church with were DREAMers. Some of them had higher GPAs than I did and did not go to college,” Ulibarri told Politic365. “This was one of the first times that I witnessed injustice up close. When our first state level DREAM Act was introduced, I went to the State Capitol to testify on behalf of the DREAMers. Every year since 2003, I have been advocating for this, and this year, there is a good chance that it might pass. I would definitely support this as a State Senator.”
Civil union legislation has also been advancing in the Colorado State House, which would give gay couples the same protection that straight couples have. This current bill addresses parental rights, child support, medical decisions, end-of-life decisions, and estate issues.
In referring to the civil union bill, Ulibarri said, “My family and I have testified about this bill – I’m optimistic that it will pass this year, but if it doesn’t, I will support it next year, hopefully as a State Senator.”
Ulibarri has grown up and worked in the newly redrawn Senate District 21. Coming from a working class family with a humble beginning in a mobile home park to becoming the first in his family to graduate college, he reflects the values of working people he and his parents grew up with.