Many have said it's not easy being blue in one of Colorado reddest counties, but you won't hear Electra Johnson complaining.
She's the newly elected chair of the Democratic Party in lopsidedly Republican El Paso County - also the state's most populous - and she has been turning heads since her spirited race for county commission last fall.
She lost - perhaps inevitably, in the GOP-dominant region - but she impressed Democrats and even Republicans with her performance and fell short on Election Day by only about six points. Between her bid for office and her steadfast support for, and energetic involvement in, the Bernie Sanders presidential campaign, the 42-year-old political novice and Colorado native made quite an impression. She was elected chair of the El Paso County Democratic Party on Feb. 4 with what supporters say is a mandate to energize and unite party members.
Q. You are an architect and urban designer, callings that tap into human creativity at its finest in the quest for perfect harmony between beauty and functionality. In other words - an endeavor that couldn't be further from the debasing world of politics. What on earth possessed you to jump into the fray?
A. I got into architecture and urban design with the idealistic idea that I could change the world through design. Then I became a mother and I realized that I needed to make a difference. I could no longer hold the direction that we were (and are a year later) going as a culture under my skin anymore.
Every major urban design project that I've ever done while I was working on the EPA smart growth task force involved a political advocate. I figured a way to get things done was to become that advocate.
I raised my hand at the (Democratic Party) county assembly last year and said, "Are you kidding me? This is how we get our elected officials?" This was on the heels of a project in Weld County where I watched county commissioners sell out their community and constituents to the oil and gas industry and to corporate interests at the expense of their water source and their quality of life. I was appalled.
Q. You are a big supporter of Vermont U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, who won the majority of Colorado Democratic delegates going into last summer's Democratic National Convention. What draws you to him, and what do you think it is about Colorado politics that made Sanders so popular among the state's Democrats?
A. Bernie Sanders is the first politician to address what the American people are really dealing with on an economic level in this country. Bernie Sanders was not just popular in Colorado, he was popular across the country because of what he was saying ... that change starts from the bottom up not the top down. He implored people like me to get involved in politics on every level. He also addressed some of the very real issues that my generation is dealing with from student loan reform - where much of my generation starts out life deeply indebted to the banking industry that has taken over federal student loans - to the health-care industry, where many families are working as hard as they can yet are one step away from homelessness due to health-care crisis. He also addressed sustainability and climate change, which we must start looking at. We need to be creative about reinventing our economy. The jobs that have been shipped overseas from NAFTA are not coming back, and we need to creatively invent our economy so that our local economies are sustainable.
Q. What is the relationship among Democrats right now between "Berniecrats" and supporters of Hillary Clinton in El Paso County? Statewide?
A. It's improving with people like me at the helm. Let's leave it at that.
Q. What's it like leading the Democratic Party in the state's pre-eminent Republican stronghold, and how will that influence your priorities as county party chair?
A. I'll let you know in six months once I'm established.
Q. Is there a political figure, past or present, who particularly inspires you?
A. Absolutely, Bernie Sanders!
Also Franklin D Roosevelt and Eleanor Roosevelt. My grandmother's generation according to Eleanor Roosevelt was the lost generation coming out of the Great Depression. And the new deal completely rebuilt the infrastructure of this country and set us on a path so that the American dream could continue to be realized. We are currently in a place where those safety nets are being swept away. We live in the richest country in the world. I think it's appalling that we let people starve; that people have to choose between health care and homelessness; that people cannot afford an education; that we are polluting our rivers and streams, and our local food system no longer exists.
Q. What do you like most about living in Colorado Springs?
A. Being so close to the mountains, seeing the stars at night, and the incredible and amazing community that we have here.
Q. Name a favorite pastime - hobby, sport, whatever - and name one prominent Republican, past or present, you wouldn't mind joining you in it.
A. My obsession, hobby, sport is regional decentralized infrastructure and stories that relate to it - looking at systems theory and how overlapping systems can symbiotically work together.
I'd like to sit down with Dwight Eisenhower, and plan out a new future for this country. He opposed McCarthyism; supported the New Deal; helped desegregate schools; he expanded Social Security to include people like my grandmother's generation, and he saw that absolute power corrupts absolutely. He was a visionary, statesman and an intelligent leader. He was not in it just to line his own pockets but to truly lead the American people.