On Monday, Aug. 15, Councilmember Junie Joseph was elected by members of the Boulder County Democratic Party to be their nominee for House District 10 in the November 2022 election.
Joseph is all but certain to win the Nov. 8 election, given that the district leans solidly Democratic. House District 10 includes the City of Boulder mostly east of Broadway.
“It was such a whirlwind. I was so nervous,” Joseph told Boulder Reporting Lab after the vote on Monday night. “I wasn’t sure how that was going to go. I was humbled by the support.”
The state House seat opened last month after Rep. Edie Hooton withdrew from her reelection bid, prompting a rush of candidates to seek the party’s nomination. The candidates included Boulder Mayor Aaron Brockett; RTD Director Lynn Guissinger; Celeste Landry, a local elections expert; and Tina Mueh, a science teacher at Centennial Middle School. (Hooton did not endorse any of the candidates.)
Because the June primary had passed when Hooton dropped out, it triggered an election by a vacancy committee made up of Democratic Party members who attended the March 26, 2022 caucus. Colorado is one of five states that, under state law, permits vacancies to be filled by a party appointment.
After three rounds of voting over Zoom, 34 of the 62 committee members voted for Joseph, earning her the simple majority needed to win the nomination.
In January 2023, when the 36-year-old Haitian American is expected to head to the Colorado Capitol, she will be the first Black woman to represent the City of Boulder in the state House. It’s a milestone for a predominantly white city that, like the rest of the nation, has been grappling with issues of racial equity.
“Part of the work of equity is making sure that when we have exceptional candidates and one of them brings some additional life experiences that are different from what has been typically represented, we elevate that person,” Councilmember Nicole Speer, who campaigned for Joseph, said. “I think it reflects a big step forward on the way that we act on the values that we say we have.”
Many of Joseph’s supporters cited her professional and lived experience as a renter and a young Haitian immigrant.
“That lived experience is needed at the Capitol to better inform our laws and to make sure people with those same experiences are at the table informing policy,” Lisa Calderón, the executive director of Emerge Colorado, an organization that helps women get elected, said.
Joseph’s city council seat will likely remain vacant for much of 2023, and be up for grabs next November.
‘I knew I wanted to be a value to my community.’
Joseph moved to Orlando, Florida, when she was 14 from Port-Au-Prince, Haiti. She said English was her fourth language — after Creole, French and Spanish.
“I have not had the easiest life,” Joseph told vacancy members ahead of Monday night’s election. “I was born in what some considered the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. I have seen a lot of trauma and suffering. I did not see a lot of options for success growing up, but I knew I wanted to be a value to my community.”
She went on to earn a bachelor’s degree from the University of Florida, a master’s in applied human rights from the University of York in England, and interned at the White House under the Obama administration. She worked as a human rights officer for the United Nations in the Central African Republic. In 2018, she moved to Colorado to get a law degree from University of Colorado Law. A year later, while earning her degree, she won a seat on the Boulder City Council. She is currently working as a family attorney, while serving as the chair of the policy committee for the Colorado Municipal League and as a volunteer area coordinator for the Boulder County Democratic Party. She also serves on the Colorado Geographic Naming Advisory Board, which recently has considered name changes to landmarks with ties to racist language or people.
On issues of criminal justice and housing, Joseph has positioned herself to the left of many Democrats serving in the state legislature. During an Aug. 13 candidate forum hosted online by the Boulder County Democratic Party, Joseph said she supported ending cash bail for people detained in jail and outlawing urban camping bans — like the one in Boulder — that make it illegal for homeless people to sleep in public spaces. (While on city council, Joseph has voted in favor of spending money on a pilot to clear homeless encampments, and against making it illegal to possess a tent or propane tank.)
She said she would have voted against a 2022 Democrat-backed law making it a felony to possess more than one gram of fentanyl. She said she would vote for zoning reforms to allow for more dense multifamily housing.
Early in the race, Joseph was seen as lacking the political connections that typically give candidates an advantage in party-run elections. Many of the committee members — such as Ruth Wright, a former state representative, and Senate President Steve Fenberg — have deep roots in local and state politics.
Eric Budd, a local organizer and vacancy committee member, said he supported Mayor Brockett in the first two rounds of voting. He said he met Brockett during a campaign event in 2015, when Brockett was first elected to the Boulder City Council.
Brockett did not get enough votes to move to the third round. Budd said he then voted for Joseph because of her policy positions.
“I was getting clear signals that she is progressive on criminal justice issues,” Budd said. He said they also align in support of a ballot measure to change city elections to even years. Budd said he is peripherally involved in the campaign to pass that measure in November.
Ahead of this week’s election, Joseph said she called and knocked on doors of as many committee members as possible.
“One of the things I admire about Junie is that she is the hardest-working person I have met,” Speer said. “She was showing up to people’s doors and reaching out to them via phone, via text and via email to generate support.”
Joseph said early on she had no endorsements and was getting mixed signals from some committee members. She said someone in the community told her Boulder doesn’t need more immigrants.
“I had a couple of interactions that gave me pause and made me think that there is no way. Maybe you can’t do this. Maybe you’re not going to win,” Joseph said. “But maybe some of these people did change their mind. I really believe in the power of engaging people.”
Joseph had the support of several prominent organizers in Denver, including members of the Black Caucus at the Colorado House, Emerge Colorado and Elisabeth Epps, a community activist and former public defender who won this year’s Democratic primary for House District 6 in Denver. Organizers worked behind the scenes to contact committee members to drum up support. Others mentored Joseph through the process.
“Our communities want principled progressive leadership, and I was glad to encourage her through her process,” Epps said. “I look forward to celebrating together on election night.”
‘Still breaking barriers in 2022’
In 1973, Arie Taylor became the first Black woman to serve in the state House, according to the Colorado Legislative Council, the nonpartisan research branch of the state legislature. In 1994, Gloria Travis Tanner became the first Black woman to serve in the state Senate.
“Women are still breaking barriers even in 2022,” Calderón of Emerge Colorado said. “I think it is important for Boulder to embrace that and claim it.”
Joseph said she had mixed feelings about the historic implications of her election.
“There is this struggle between where we need to be and where we are. I hope one day I will never be the first of anything, because it’s 2022,” she said. “But also, I think it speaks to the human spirit. Here in Boulder, people care. People want to make a difference. People want to see change.”