John Ronquillo may not yet be a household name, but 2020 is shaping up to change all of that. Since the election of Trump in 2016, the aftermath has seen a brand new set of leaders step up and throw their hats in the political sphere for the first time, including Colorado House hopeful Ronquillo.
Never one to pursue a role in politics as a profession, Ronquillo has spent the majority of his time researching and educating around the stratus of public policy. As a professor of service and ethics at the University of Colorado Denver, he has also worked in applied policy analysis and government relations. The time now feels right for Ronquillo, however, after he took a hard look at the needs of his community and felt he could offer a unique perspective. From the outside in, rather than the inside out, Ronquillo is in a position to forge a new path for himself and land in a seat in the House of Representatives.
Recently, Ronquillo received the LGBTQ Victory Fund Endorsement alongside current representatives Brianna Titone and Leslie Herod as well as an endorsement from the Run For Something organization. OUT FRONT connected with Ronquillo, who is an openly bisexual man, to learn more about why he’s running for a seat in the House, why his background in academia makes him the perfect fit for office, and what he will do for the folks of Colorado if elected.
Congratulations on earning an endorsement by the LGBTQ Victory Fund!
Thank you. I’m excited; it’s exciting. I’m proud to carry their endorsement in part because one of their board members is Neil Giuliano who is a former mayor of Tempe, Arizona, a former president of GLAAD, and the president of the San Francisco AIDS Foundation who happened to be one of my mentors in college.
But, in terms of also being somebody who came out pretty late in life, I’m embracing my identity as much as I can. When I told myself that this was something I was going to do, I said I’m going to do this as authentically as possible. There are too many people, too many voices that are being diminished that I can’t just recess into that heteronormative-seeming lifestyle and say ‘I’m an ally.’ I gotta step up and say I’m part of this family, this alphabet soup, and to say, ‘I see you; I hear you, and I’m going to fight like hell for you.’
A lot of people want to get behind a candidate that is authentic.
I’ve never been somebody who has found a lot of success at belonging, and I think I embraced that early on. Realizing that being unique or different could be lonely, and I’m an only child, so let’s compound all the layers of how how alone you can be, but if anything, I think it helped me become a really self-sufficient person, a really independent person.
What made you decide to run for a seat in the House?
I wish I could even come up with exact crystallization of when I said yes. I was in the Arapahoe County Democratic Party reorganization meeting last year. I think that was what really got me thinking we need good servant leaders to step up, and I always hear this rhetoric about how we need to build the bench, future leaders, who’s going to come next. I put a lot of my own life aside to try and stand up to the best of my ability for my community, and I’m in this to win this, as trite as that sounds. It’s been exciting, and I’ve been really buoyed up by a lot of the support I’ve gotten. I’m running, and I’m listening.
What are some of the issues you want to tackle right off the bat?
I’m definitely a two-sides-of-the-coin type person, so there are definitely very pressing issues that I’m very concerned about that I would love to do, day one. But, I think also having knowledge of the way that our general assembly works and how the two parties and their caucuses work together to identify what the legislative priorities are, I would want to be respectful to that. Especially being a potentially new, freshmen lawmaker, but also the limitation on bills; lawmakers only have five bills that they can move forward as a primary sponsor.
With respect to that, there are some issues that I’m deeply concerned about in my particular district. A lot of the residents that I talked to have some pretty deep-seeded concerns about housing. We continue to feel the housing crunch in terms of affordability, but even beyond affordability, reexamining landlord/tenant laws, transitionary periods if people unfortunately have to be evicted, and we do have to look at some of the laws that govern foreclosure and the time that people have to vacate to stay on their feet.
Can you talk about the cost of living and how many folks experience the reality of homelessness?
Well, across the spectrum from some of the more devastating stories with with homelessness, but also people who are gainfully employed, and I have to be careful with that word ‘gainful.’ What we might say is adequately employed is still really struggling to make ends meet, teachers who are having to work second jobs just to pay their rent or their mortgage.
Denver has come into view a lot with regard to the camping ban, and we can see that as much as they try and build community and support one another when they are folks with few means, other issues can come about. So, the park right there near the capital was closed because there was a rat infestation. At the end of the day, I’m very concerned about a person’s ability to live and thrive, and be comfortable, to be housed and have a roof over their head.
I’ve always been interested in innovation in general, and I feel that even government can afford to experiment and try to be innovative in terms of the way that we are trying to house people. We’ve seen it recently in the news; we’ve seen an old mall, old motels, be converted into homes, and I think we just need to get a little bit creative in terms of the way that we work towards these policy solutions.
What are other issues that folks in your district are discussing?
A lot of folks in my area talk about transportation; transportation is huge. We see RTD being continually scrutinized, especially in the Denver Metro, in terms of having a driver or operator shortage, seeing a reduction in lines, seeing delays and lines being opened. As somebody who utilizes public transit, I was excited that there was what I perceived to be a very healthy and vibrant mass transit system. Over the the near seven years that I’ve been here, now I can say I’m not entirely sure that’s the case. I see the desire for it to be there and the need; I’d love to see CDOT and RTD cooperate a little bit more to expand. I know Denver has talked a lot about wanting to have their own department of transportation; I do know that we can do better.
As a person who comes from a background in academia, can you talk about the current state of education and student loan debt?
We have some really great educational offerings, but beyond that, and even as a college professor, I will be the first to say that it’s not for everyone. Even my own story, which I don’t love saying this, but I do so I can let people relate, I owe more on my student loans than I do on my home. And that’s a loaded statement because I was able to purchase a home. I know there’s a bill this session that would look at some sort of debt reduction or forgiveness. I think it’s a great swipe, a good scratching the surface; it’s not nearly enough. I think maybe the lawmakers who are involved in that are probably looking at it as that we need to do something rather than nothing. And I, of course, applaud that we have presidential candidates who are saying ‘Elect me and I will cancel your debt,’ and obviously my ears turned to them.
I think we have continued to keep pushing that idea of the American Dream being built on education, education, education. Sure, education can take you very far, but education was also buried in terms of what the offerings are, and I want students to look at ways of being fulfilled and happy without going into such needless debt. So, that’s something that I would probably look at very keenly that might not be a marquee policy issue that the state is concerned about.
What gaps in LGBTQ protections would you want to address if elected?
We continue to see really heinous crimes committed against transgender people, and my concerns are deepening there. I’m proud to be in a state that has one of the very first transgender lawmakers elected, Brianna Titone, and I think that she has done a terrific job in the time that she’s been in office. I think there are further protections that can be brought about for that community, and that’s something that I would probably pay keen attention to in terms of protected classes.
Other issues of discrimination, I feel one of the bills that’s currently under review now in terms of medical attention to trans youth is going to be contentious, and I personally feel that the bill is unfortunate. I believe in science; I feel that we have the science to say that this is a good thing, especially when professional medical associations are saying we back this; we endorse this. It’s going to be a challenge. It’s going to be a challenge, but we’ve got to fight for them; we’ve got to protect them.
How much of your candidacy is tied to your sexual identity?
In a lot of ways, and this is just me being candid, I don’t view the ‘B’ attached to my identity as being revolutionary. I believe I would be the first openly bisexual man elected, but it’s not a first overall; we’ve had trailblazers that have gone before us; we have giants on whose shoulders we stand. I recognize that, but I think it adds context; I think it adds value to say that we really do have all these people. I think it matters to say to folks who are being victimized, assaulted, and sadly murdered to stand up for those people within our community and say, ‘I see you, and I stand with you.’
Did you have any hesitation in claiming your bisexual identity in such a public way?
I’m comfortable being who I am; I’m comfortable being out and open, probably more so than I ever have. Life is short, so it was, ‘If you’re going to do it, do it as authentically as possible.’ There’s so many elements to my identity, and maybe that will help me better understand what you’re going through in your own life; maybe that will help me be a good representative.