Colorado’s U.S. Senate race is expected to be one of the most closely watched races during the 2020 election year, with several Democrats running in a bid to unseat the incumbent Republican Senator, Cory Gardner.
But as three Democratic candidates dropped out of the race over the past few weeks—following the entry of John Hickenlooper, who recently dropped out of the presidential race—yet another Senate candidate has risen in the form of Denise Burgess, the President and CEO of Burgess Services, a Denver-based construction-management firm.
Burgess will be the third Black woman to join the race, with State Sen. Angela Williams and Stephany Spaulding, a college professor and American Baptist pastor, holding firm in their campaigns.
And for her, the timing was just right.
“I took a long time to really think this through,” Burgess told ESSENCE. “I have a gig. And I wanted to make sure that I was bringing something to the table…[that] this is a voice that was needed at the table. I really believe it is. Because I really am about the issues. And really about making sure that those issues are addressed.”
“I also felt, strongly, that at this time, right now in history, the Senate needs new faces, new experiences, new ways to look at things,” she added.
The 2020 Senate race for Colorado could be a historic one. Colorado has never elected a woman to the U.S. Senate. The state has also never had an African American sitting in the U.S. Senate. Should Burgess, Williams, or Spaulding win, they will be the first Black person and the first woman to break that ceiling. There are also five other women who have declared their candidacy.
It is also a rather contentious race. Currently, six of the seven women running, including Williams and Spaulding, slammed the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee back in August for its early endorsement of Hickenlooper in the race and urged the committee to take a step back.
“Those of us who have run for office before have been told to ‘wait our turn’ and ‘don’t rock the boat’ more times than we care to mention…Now, the DSCC, by its endorsement, is implying that we should defer to a male candidate because you seem to believe he is ‘more electable.’ Colorado has never had a woman United States Senator and one has to wonder if circumstances such as this have contributed to that unfortunate outcome,” Williams, Spaulding, Alice Madden, Diana Bray, Lorena Garcia, and Michelle Ferrigno all wrote in a letter sent to the DSCC and Sens. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nevada).
So, with nine other candidates playing the field, why did Burgess decide to run at all? For her, she tells ESSENCE it’s about representing Colorado, something she feels has been missing from dialogue so far.
“For the last year, I’ve been hearing from the other candidates that this race is about beating someone. And it wasn’t about representing Colorado. And that was really what triggered me…this race should be about representing Colorado.” she said.
THE DENISE BURGESS LANE
Burgess does not have the political experience of some of the other contenders, but that doesn’t deter the tough businesswoman, who staunchly believes that “Congress should be filled with people who have experience in life.”
“I really think part of a democracy is bringing all people from all walks of life to represent, no matter what that means in the sense of being a business owner, in the sense of being a parent, in the sense of just knowing how things are,” she explained. “What’s it like to be a small business owner? What’s it like to be a single parent? I think that needs to be in the Senate. And I have that experience. And I think that voice needs to be heard more so than having a career in politics necessary.”
She’s also not too bothered about the already crowded race (which admittedly just got a lot less crowded), knowing what her lane is.
“I have to run my own race and let the voters decide, but really what sets me apart is what I’ve mentioned before is being that small business owner. Colorado’s 96% small business. It’s being that community leader. I was chair of the Denver Urban Renewal Authority, the first female chair, actually,” she said. “So, I understand and have experience in working within the city and different agencies and pulling people together. I’m a contractor, so I take nothing and make it into something functioning. That’s an experience that most people do not have. So, I find my lane to be, it’s the Denise Burgess lane, which is I know exactly where you are. Because I’ve been there.”
Burgess’ main issues include healthcare, entrepreneurship, and infrastructure.
In terms of health, Burgess is seeking to make sure that everyone can be insured, without breaking their banks, and making sure that they have “good, quality healthcare.”
Entrepreneurship is also close to her heart, because, as she puts it, African American women make up the largest section of growing entrepreneurship in the country.
“There are more African American females that are starting businesses than any other section of our population. I really want to understand and be sort of the champion for that, not only in Colorado,” she explained. “Right now, SBA loans women are around 10%. For African American women it’s less than 5%, I believe. As a U.S. senator, I want to know, why is that? What do we have to do to make sure that program works for everyone, including in Colorado and women entrepreneurs especially?”
BUILDING SOMETHING DIFFERENT
And of course, being in construction, infrastructure is a deep concern of hers as well.
“Being a builder, being a contractor, one of the things I can champion … I can speak with knowledge of, is how this infrastructure works, where do we need it, and how do we do it, and how do we roll it out? And how do we create jobs to make sure we have the workforce that has the education to those jobs?” she added.
A self-described “military brat,” Burgess was born in Munich, Germany. Her family settled in Colorado when her father retired in 1973; and, in 1974, he started Burgess Services Inc. The family has been a fixture in the Denver Metro Area ever since.
Burgess notes that as such she has seen Colorado grow, and she has grown with it.
“I went to middle school, high school, college, graduate school, all in Colorado. And I’ve seen Colorado grow from that small town to now it’s a bustling urban area, in the Denver area…We have offices in Colorado Springs and Pueblo, so I’ve seen the growth there,” she said. “I went to school at the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley, so I understand the farm community…I’ve seen this state evolve and Denise Burgess is someone who’s evolved with this state. It’s sort of like I’ve got my education here, I’ve got my opportunities here. I want to make sure those continue for everyone here in Colorado. But I also think you have to understand we’re a state that’s much more diverse than when I first came here. And we have to not only embrace that population but also make sure that they have the same opportunities that our native Coloradans have.”
And that’s something she’s done even as a business owner. In 2013, she launched the Burgess Family Fund with the help of the Denver Foundation to support local girls in science, technology, engineering, and math fields. In addition to being the chair of the Denver Urban Renewal Authority, she has served on the Board of Directors of the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce sine 2010 and in September 2017 was named the first Black Board Chair of the Chamber. The awards and accolades to her name are plentiful, but according to Burgess, this is about the people.
“That’s how I’ve done my whole career, is to go where the people are. [My campaign is] going to be traveling the state. We’re going to be doing candidate forums, of course. The Denver Democratic party just released a series of those, which I’m planning to be a part of. But also, just going to see people,” she said. “Go to Pueblo. Talk to the farmers in Greeley. And for me it’s not a listening tour, it’s a learning tour. And that’s a huge difference. I can listen to you all the time, but if I don’t learn what’s going on, and if you don’t learn about me, we’re not going to make that connectivity, so that I can earn your vote.”
READY TO LEAD
Burgess is fired up about her run, quipping that she’s “going to have some fun along the way,” especially in a race with two other Black women playing the field.
“Black women have been the base of the Democratic party. And we need to have a seat at the table,” she added. “I’m of the Shirley Chisholm thought, if they don’t have a seat, bring a folding chair. I’m bringing my folding chair and getting a seat at this table.”
And not only is Burgess vying for a seat at the table, but she’s also in it, to win it.
“I understand that this is a very high-profile race. But I don’t look at it that way. I just look at it as it’s the race to represent Colorado for the U.S. Senate,” she said. “My job is to earn the trust and the votes of the Coloradans. And to make sure I do it with integrity and a clear message.”Share :