CD3 candidate Anna Stout visits Alamosa

Photo by Stout's outreach director, Dawn Cooper Anna Stout, at the center of a conversation with voters during a campaign event in Alamosa.

ALAMOSA — When Anna Stout announced her intention to run for the Democratic nomination in Colorado’s Congressional District 3 (CD3), she knew the race would be an uphill climb. But, as she told a larger-than-usual group of voters she recently met at a campaign stop at the Purple Pig Pizzeria and Pub in Alamosa, Stout believes her lived experience combined with the accomplishments she brings to the race make her uniquely qualified for the job.

“People are looking for somebody who really gets what our struggles and challenges and opportunities are,” she says. “You can visit communities throughout this district in Colorado and get a superficial idea of what the needs are, but it’s only superficial.

“When you’ve grown up with that same experience and shared that struggle to have an existence, you understand it at a much deeper level. People want to support someone they can connect with and who understands them.”

Stout, 39, has lived in Grand Junction since she was a child and is one of three daughters raised by a single mother through her middle and high school years. With no extended family in the area, life growing up was “a struggle," as her mother supported the family by operating a daycare in their home, she and her sisters were on free and reduced lunches and “bought school clothes at the flea market.”

After graduating from high school, she earned a bachelor’s degree from Colorado Mesa University followed by a master's degree in Global Affairs with an emphasis on Organizational Leadership from the University of Denver.

She’s currently in her second term on Grand Junction’s City Council and now serves as Council President and Mayor of Grand Junction with a population of more than 66,000 citizens.

Stout has almost 20 years of experience in nonprofits and business, including as the CEO of the nationally recognized Roice-Hurst Humane Society. Fluent in Spanish, she’s a Certified Court Interpreter and Translator and owner of a translation and interpretation company, all leading to extensive experience with Spanish-speaking populations throughout the state.

Stout is also the founder and president of a nonprofit aimed at fostering Grand Junction’s sister city relationship with El Espino, El Salvador, which includes having raised thousands of dollars in high-school scholarships for local students pursuing a quality education in that area of their home country.

Even with that varied background of experiences and accomplishments, Stout still views her regional history and connection with voters as her greatest asset.

“Grand Junction has been through a lot of booms and busts in my life. Growing up there has helped me understand western Colorado, rural Colorado, and small community Colorado. Empathy for what life is like in this district guides my policy as mayor of Grand Junction and also the other roles in the non-profit realm at the state level,” she says.

“And in all those roles I have found myself trying to be the loud voice for the people in this part of the state because we’re typically underrepresented in the centers of power or at the decision-making table. It’s defined our entire history.

“The reason we have a representative in Congress is to be our voice whenever decisions are made or resources are allocated. We need to have someone clamoring for the needs of this district but you can’t do that effectively if you don’t really understand what those needs are.”

In a conversation with the Valley Courier, Stout acknowledges that the diversity of her background — CEO of an animal welfare non-profit, creating a non-profit that fosters a relationship with a small city in El Salvador, Spanish interpreter and translator and, now, mayor of a city that is the second largest population center in CD3 — is not the traditional trajectory for a candidate seeking to serve as a member of Congress.  

But Stout is also not a traditional politician. A question about policy may prompt a 20-minute answer with reference to multiple, overlapping issues.

The opioid crisis is connected to mental health but also socio-economics, health care access, job opportunities and housing.

The crisis at the southern border is clearly a security issue, but it’s also related to understaffing in the Department of Justice, a cap on visas that hurts local economies, “desperation immigration” that leads to human tragedy on both sides of the border, and a federal budget that devotes less than 1% to diplomatic efforts and the state department. In her answer, she’ll cite the sister-city relationship with El Salvador as a microcosmic example of what can be done to support people staying in their home countries.

A question about the federal role in addressing the migration of young people from small communities to urban centers will lead to a discussion of quality education at the secondary level being a determinant of where people settle down, limited access to college by first-generation college students, support for free community college as long as taxpayers are only paying for education in areas where workers are needed, the importance of entrepreneurial support in starting a new business plus access to health care, child care and public safety. And, in her answer, she’ll cite what Grand Junction is doing on all those different fronts to address that issue in the city.

Stout acknowledges that those kinds of responses don’t lend themselves to short interviews or 30-second sound bites on the campaign trail, something she is frequently reminded of by her staff.

And she agrees that she might be easier to peg (and to promote) if she shortened her responses to something that could be put on a bumper sticker or a t-shirt. But that is something she is unwilling to do.

“Answers like that lead voters to think that issues are simple with simple fixes, and that’s just not the way things are. Pretending that it is, is a disservice to people. I also value being authentic, and an answer like that from me is not authentic, at all,” she says.

Reactions of voters after the event with Stout were largely positive. But, among most of those who attended, one thing was clear. They wanted to learn more.