She was raised by a single mother in a Democratic household, and grew up not knowing if her mom could make next month’s rent, much less buy groceries and keep the lights on.
That story may sound familiar to supporters of Lauren Boebert, the Republican candidate for the 3rd Congressional District, but it also is the back story about her Democratic opponent, Diane Mitsch Bush.
But while Boebert says she found a way out of a cycle of poverty through adopting conservative values, Mitsch Bush went another direction. Her mother, Margaret Mitsch, got out of that cycle by getting a low-level government job in her hometown of St. Paul, Minnesota, and joining a union, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.
It was then Mitsch Bush, an only child, learned the benefits people can get from having a stable, good-paying job with benefits and security, and has worked her entire career to help others understand the basic principles of compassion and helping others to obtain those same things.
“She had to take out payday loans so we could make the rent on a one-bedroom apartment,” Mitsch Bush said. “My mother believed firmly that we’re here to make the world better for everyone, and that everyone deserves respect and dignity. My mother was never on welfare. She just struggled and struggled. It taught me the importance of hard work.”
The year the now 70-year-old graduated from high school in 1968, two traumatic national events occurred that also helped shape her opinions: the assassinations of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy. At the same time, the 1960s counterculture movement was in full swing, and Mitsch Bush read two books that she said had a huge impact on her political thinking: “Silent Spring” by Rachel Carson, and “The Other America” by Michael Harrington.
Carson, a marine biologist, was an early advocate of today’s environmental movement, who took it to a global level. Harrington, a political scientist, is a founding member of the Democratic Socialists of America.
In past elections, including when Mitsch Bush challenged and lost her 2018 congressional bid to U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton, whom Boebert defeated in the GOP primary in June, Republicans accused her of being a socialist because of those books and her one-time subscription to “In These Times,” a Chicago-based publication founded by historian and lifelong socialist James Weinstein.
Like then, Boebert has repeatedly called her opponent a “far-left socialist Democrat,” primarily over Mitsch Bush’s support of universal, single-payer health care.
Others have even gone so far as to say that Mitsch Bush’s degrees in sociology proves she’s a socialist, even though the two have nothing to do with each other, she said.
“I have my hand on my Presbyterian Bible, and I swear that I have never been a member of any such organization, Senator McCarthy,” she quipped, referring to the anti-communist hearings of the 1950s by then U.S. Sen. Joseph McCarthy. “Don’t listen to the attacks, folks. Look at what I’ve done.”
While in college in the late 1960s and early 1970s, she attended numerous demonstrations and protests, but never got into trouble with the law. At that time, she became interested in pushing women’s rights and equality issues.
A thorough criminal history and court records check of her in Minnesota and Colorado turned up nothing. But that’s not so amazing a feat given the turmoil of the time, Mitsch Bush said.
“I’m a wonk,” she said. “I was so concerned with getting my 4.0 (grade-point average) and succeeding. Yes, I attended various civil disobedience protests, but at the same time, I was never some wild hippie.”
Mitsch Bush has undergraduate, master’s and doctorate degrees in sociology from the University of Minnesota. She got her bachelor’s degree in 1975 summa cum laude, which means with the highest distinction. She completed her PhD in sociology and social policy four years later.
She’s continued her wonkism since college to this day. After graduating, Mitsch Bush took positions in the 1980s as a sociology professor at the University of Arizona in Tucson, and later at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, where she eventually became tenured.
Mitsch Bush left that CSU job in 1993 to work closer to home in Steamboat Springs, as a social sciences professor at Colorado Mountain College, where she eventually retired from teaching. She said she got tired of working out of town and only coming to her Steamboat Springs home on weekends, taking a $15,000-a-year pay cut to do so.
While a professor, Mitsch Bush wrote numerous scholarly articles, all with such eye-glazing titles as “Socialization Patterns Over the Life Course,” and “The Routinization of Social Movement Organizations: China as a Deviant Case.”
She moved to Steamboat Springs in 1976 with her then husband, Steve Bush, who was a police officer. They divorced in 1982 because he didn’t want children, she said. Later, she became engaged to Kent Eriksen, a local bike store owner who now is well known in the outdoor sports industry for his custom bikes.
Even though Mitsch Bush says she was never a hippie, that reputation stuck somewhat, in part, because of how and where she and Eriksen lived.
The two resided in unconventional homes just outside of Steamboat Springs. In a chapter on the couple in the 1998 book, “Hands-on Log Homes,” in which the two were featured, they lived in an earth-berm home and a treehouse, eventually buying 15 acres and building their own log home made from aspen trees on the property.
Her engagement to Eriksen ended after a decade, and she eventually met and married her current husband, Michael Steven Paul. She never had children.
Accusations of Mitsch Bush’s socialist leanings became even more confirmed to her detractors when, as recently as two years ago, she was advocating for universal, single-payer health care, or a Medicare-for-all option for everyone.
These days, however, Mitsch Bush said her views are more nuanced, saying she’s no longer pushing for those things, at least not right now. Instead, she now prefers to see reforms to the Affordable Care Act.
“I’m not saying I don’t want it, what I’m saying is right now we are in an emergency,” she said. “We have to deal with the ACA first. COVID has exacerbated that emergency, so we first have to make sure that people can get coverage under the Affordable Care Act, under Medicaid.”
She said proposals she’s seen to date about universal coverage or Medicare for All do two things she doesn’t like: They don’t say how they would be paid for, particularly during a time of rampant national debt, and they attempt to do away with private insurance companies, which she says many people will want to augment any likely universal plan, much like those operated in Canada and Australia.
Before she was elected as a Routt County commissioner in 2006 — she served two terms — she spent many years doing such things as serving on the county’s planning commission, working with battered women and helping area farmers cope with urbanization.
In 2013, she won a seat in the Colorado House, quickly rising to become chairwoman of the House Transportation & Energy Committee.
During her six years there — she resigned in 2017 to run for Congress — Mitsch Bush sponsored numerous bills, the majority of which had bipartisan sponsors and support.
They included such things as allowing the Federal Mineral Lease Districts in Garfield and Mesa counties to invest money, measuring THC levels in industrial hemp, offering income tax deductions to farmers and ranchers for leasing out agricultural assets, setting standards for vehicle traction laws on Interstate 70, providing incentives for hydroelectric power generation plants and establishing new reporting requirement for oil and gas spills.