Rebecca Cranston, 33


Rebecca Cranston for Colorado State Senate

In the #meteo era, Rebecca Cranston’s campaign illustrates the need for trauma-informed perspectives in our government. Cranston, 33, has seen the lack of support for our neediest children first hand, as a survivor of human trafficking herself and as a the director of a foster care non-profit. She hopes to bring these experiences to the Colorado State Senate.

What was the best advice you received before you ran for office?

Run as you are. It was a theme through my Emerge training. Don’t think that you need to check all the boxes. I think particularly women are accustomed to being shot down because we didn’t check every box and we internalize that and think, “Well I just didn’t work hard enough.”

And letting go of that has been really powerful. It's very much enabled me to own my story as a human trafficking survivor, and instead it actually brings the perspective that we need at the capital. We need somebody who understands trauma and how to respond to trauma. Being able to put that in a position of strength has been invaluable to me.

If you could get a beer with any politician who would it be?

I think I would definitely pick Kamala Harris. She's so inspiring and she has just blasted through so many barriers. I really hope to be like her someday.

What’s your favorite place to hang out in your city?

Just a little bit outside of Fort Collins, there’s a place called Horsetooth Reservoir.  I'm a real outdoorsy person so I climb a lot. I love biking and hiking, and there are rivers and lakes there. So I love going out there on a bike or hike and then you can jump in and off a cliff.

It’s such a gem and not many people outside of our community know about it. Sometimes I want to keep it that way.

In your own words, what does this state senate position do?

We are responsible for being the stewards of our state budget. We make changes to legislation that is holding us back. We’re responsible for listening to our constituents and figuring out how their needs are a piece of the puzzle of the whole state,  and how we can integrate needs into the needs of the entire state legislature.

What are the potholes in your area? What are the issues in your community that you feel are getting neglected where you really want to see addressed?

I’m running as a Dem in a rural district. I think as Dems, we've lost out on a lot with our lack of a message for rural areas. That's true in my district. So I hear a lot about health care and that's not specific to rural areas, but there are specific issues when it comes to transportation, when it comes to broadband access, the telemedicine options for specialized medicine they can't get but an urban area can get.

Education is another big issue in my area. In Colorado overall and in my district specifically, the cost of living is rising, but not surprisingly, teachers’ pay has not.

The average teacher is being paid in the poverty zone, and that is a huge issue in my district because school districts have teachers who can no longer afford to live in the districts that they teach in. I hear about teachers going to other districts in the relatively inexpensive areas while other districts were bleeding teachers. I heard about a former teacher who is now working at Whole Foods because they have better benefits.

We also need to start looking to millennials around higher education and student loan debt. We need to start talking about not only the sticker price of higher education, but we also need to talk about the impact of the state divesting from education because of budget constraints.

We need to talk about interest rate reform. Who is getting that 6-8%? We’re not investing our young people and I hear that throughout my district. We are putting more and more of a burden on young people. We are not investing in their futures. We're not creating a world where they can live, start families, and have access to jobs.

Like you said earlier, there is an idea that Dems mostly win in urban areas and Republicans win in rural areas. How do we begin bridging that divide?

I think that's a really bad strategy frankly. I think Republicans have done a pretty good job of running in all races and investing in all races from school board to the legislature. But Dems have not really pursued those races.

Are we not the party of universal healthcare? Are we not the party that says we want people to be cared for in their old age? My district has an aging demographic. When I knock on doors, I hear people say they don’t have access to the medicine they need. That is a message for rural communities, bread and butter issues that they care about.

In Colorado, I will say that in 50% of our school district total, most of which are rural districts, kids are going to school four days out of the week because of budgets constraint. Are we not the party who sees education as the greatest equalizer? To ignore a population on bread and butter issues that impact their everyday life has not been a winning strategy. We saw that in 2016, and I hope we are learning our lesson.

You got your MBA at Georgetown, you worked in DC, you worked abroad, what made you want to come back to Colorado?

I grew up in Colorado. My grandmother grew up a little bit south of where I live right now. It was really special for me to come home. I came home because I missed it.

People come to Colorado because of the quality of life. We have with blue skies every day. We have mountains to snowboard and to really experience nature. I traveled the world, I lived abroad, and even though I enjoyed my experiences, I came to the conclusion that I really couldn't do much better than the place I was born.

So I came home, and I decided that because I myself was a homeless kid and I had experience under my belt with consulting where I was figuring out how to solve large complex problems, I started to think about different solutions for our child welfare system here which is pretty broken. We have less than 50% of foster kids graduating high school, only 2% that are even attending college at all, while we have 25% of foster kids themselves becoming parents by the time that they exit foster care. It's pretty clear that there is a generational issue that we are not getting to the roots of.

You just you decided to run after you became a foster parent yourself. When did you hear that call? What is the moment you realized you needed to run?

I started the child welfare organization, FosterShip. Then I was the director at another nonprofit tackling issues like the opioid epidemic. So I was seeing both sides of things. I was seeing both the impacts of drug use broadly, but also the shame and stigma placed on parents. I’m not saying we should accept bad parents. But I am saying that the way to solve the issue is to understand the trauma behind it and to get at the root of it.

I was working on these issues and simultaneously becoming a foster parent. That was at the end of 2016, an election where we saw the lack of that attention to trauma-informed perspective to healing. In fact, we saw people profiting and benefiting from deepening divisions between people, whether it was the urban-rural divide is, where it’s the racial divide, the gender divide, which we see really clearly during the #metoo movement.

When my daughter came to live with me, I realized this was her normal. This divisiveness and this ugly language are considered actually normal for 14-year-old kids and younger. I wanted to be a leader that had a perspective around those divides but also had a policy perspective.

You've made your background as a previously homeless child one of the central parts of your campaign, knowing that it could be used against you. How did you get ready to share your story and prepare for the potential backlash against it?

I thought a lot about how I was going to approach it. To be honest, I haven't really wanted to make it a big part of my campaign for the reason. It is difficult for me. At this point in the campaign, I’m finding that I don’t need to quite as much as I did in the beginning.

I've been sharing my story for about a year now. I decided that it really does inform why I’m running. I wouldn't be able to give the real reasons of why I'm running without talking about it. It's authentic, it’s who I am, and I don't want to hide that. And I do think it brings a unique perspective of strength.

If I'm completely honest, I was terrified. And this was this is pre #metoo movement. I was terrified that people were going take my background and make it into something really, really ugly like we do with women. As hard as it is for me to tell my story, it's been infinitely harder to hear my story bastardized for people who are trying to beat me.

And lo and behold, something like that it did happen early on in my campaign. I was actually really lucky because about a month after that happened all of a sudden, women all over social media began telling their stories about sexual harassment and sexual assault. And I suddenly didn’t feel alone anymore, and I think that’s just dumb luck. But I'm really grateful for it.

But now it's more about how do I put that behind me and start talking about why it's relevant, it's relevant to people in my community. I find myself not really making it such a focus of my campaign anymore.

What doubts using people have about you as a candidate? And what do you say to people who think you're too young to run?

Well, during my primary it was a lack of experience. But I think being able to highlight my depth of experience and an education that I can fall back on. I do have a pretty unique perspective that can be inclusive which has really helped folks on board with my campaign.

Now that it’s general season, I would say that the doubts about me are actually more about my ability to win. My district has a plurality of unaffiliated voters. I think that's reflective of the partisan polarization that's happening right now. So for me to win, I really do need to turn out unaffiliated voters. And that's not conventional wisdom in Colorado politics, and probably politics more broadly as well. I would say that the doubt now is my ability as a candidate to turn out unaffiliated voters that are really turned off by partisan politics.

What advice do you give to other young people who decide to run for office?

Do it. Don't be afraid. Own it. Own who you are. Don’t let people define you. Don't let anybody else define who you are or what your experience means or why it matters or doesn't matter. Have a very clear idea of the things that you have done, who you are, where you come from, and why that reflects the people who you aim to represent.

The views expressed in this interview are those of the candidate, and do not reflect the beliefs and views of Ballot Breakers or its staff.

Lacy Wright