In the near future, Rep. AOC will meet Rep. LOB — Mrs. Lauren Opal Boebert. Bystanders will watch to see if sparks fly.
It might be in the hallways of the U.S. Capitol, in the cafeteria of a congressional office building, or on a Capitol Hill sidewalk. Boebert, the congresswoman-elect from Colorado’s 3rd Congressional District, credits one person more than others — AOC — for her unlikely ascent from small-town mother, wife, and small-business owner to Washington politician.
AOC, New York Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, altered her party’s trajectory after defeating 10-term Democratic Caucus Chairman Joe Crowley in the 2018 primary. She also changed Boebert’s future. Few had heard of AOC, who lacked meaningful political experience. Even fewer knew of Boebert.
A bartender and waitress before her election, then 29-year-old AOC became the youngest woman to serve in Congress. She became the unofficial symbol of a Democratic Party marching to the left. A member of the Democratic Socialists of America, AOC grabbed headlines by demanding an end to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency. She proposed the revolutionary Green New Deal, which threatens conventional energy and the lifestyles and economies that depend on it.
Called by media pundits the “unofficial speaker of the House,” AOC established a powerful political clique known as “The Squad” and “AOC-plus-three.” It consists of Ocasio-Cortez and Democratic Reps. Ilhan Omar, Minnesota; Rashida Tlaib, Michigan; and Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts. They have disrupted and reshaped the Democratic Party to the point of marginalizing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, fellow California Democratic Rep. Maxine Waters, and other establishment Democrats.
The MAGA movement’s AOC
Until the rise of AOC, Boebert had never considered running for anything — not a seat on her rural school board or for county commissioner. Boebert, 33, was content on her small farmstead near Silt, working as a wife, mom and co-owner of Shooters Grill in nearby Rifle with her husband, Jayson. She had never stepped foot in Washington.
“I am the response to AOC,” Boebert said while rushing across Capitol Hill in high heels to one of a series of orientation sessions for incoming members of Congress.
Like AOC, election to Congress would take LOB from serving food and drinks to crafting the laws of the world’s most powerful country.
Just like AOC, LOB pulled off a major political upset. To make the November ballot, she won a primary against the established five-term Republican Rep. Scott Tipton — an outcome few politicos anticipated. A Colorado congressional incumbent had not lost a primary for the past 50 years.
The chances of congressional service, for AOC or LOB, were infinitesimal. Only 0.0001% of the American public serves in the House. More people win big money on the lottery, by far. House members typically make names for themselves as local, regional, or state elected officials before embarking on congressional campaigns.
Despite the odds, Boebert knew she had to run and win. She says God opened a door. She walked through it. If God did not want this, she opines, chance would have left her in the dust that blows through of the outskirts of Silt.
“Something is brewing in the hearts of American women,” Boebert said. “We feel the need to stand for freedom, to stand up and do our part to serve this country. We’ve been watching these other women — The Squad, Maxine Waters, Nancy Pelosi. Moms are saying ‘no, those women don’t represent me and they don’t represent this country and they aren’t looking out for our families.’ Women like me are saying I will step up and do my part to secure freedom for generations to come.”
Voters this month more than doubled the number of Republican women serving in the House, boosting the number of women in the next Congress to a record-setting 36. Boebert said the freshman class becomes like family as members endure days on end of orientation.
“We have a freshman class that actually looks like America,” Boebert said. “There are a lot of women and minorities. It shows the GOP is heading in the right direction and is connecting with average, ordinary citizens.”
The Trump factor
Boebert credits President Donald Trump entirely for the political wave that swept her and other political outsiders into Congress.
“Trump reached out to forgotten voters and said you are forgotten no more,” she said. “He set the tone for us to rise up and serve in the same capacity and make sure those forgotten voters will continue to be represented. I’m in this because of the MAGA agenda, and I will always fight for that agenda.”
Boebert saw an ethnically diverse crowd of “forgotten citizens” cramming the streets of Washington in a Nov. 14 march to the Supreme Court to show support for Trump. Boebert sat in an orientation class at the Capitol, during the march, when a fellow freshman Republican packed his briefcase and prepared to leave. Texas Republican Rep.-elect Pat Fallon told Boebert he was joining the MAGA rally between the Capitol and the Supreme Court’s grand west entrance. She chose to join him.
“We walked out there and saw this enormous crowd of MAGA people in all directions,” Boebert recalled. “The crowd was huge. My colleague said ‘these are my people.’ I said, ‘No. These are my people.’ We looked at each other and said, ‘let’s go find that microphone.’ ”
Boebert knows how to find cameras and mics, which is part of that whole AOC comparison.
She drove three hours last spring to confront then-presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke at an Aurora campaign rally. She approached the podium and convinced O’Rourke to hand her the microphone. She used it to excoriate him for threatening to confiscate guns from law-abiding individuals. You will not, she told O’Rourke with a gun on her hip.
In that moment, Boebert became the right’s rhetorically gifted answer to AOC. The GOP suddenly had a young mother, wife, and small-business owner who could grab the public’s attention and hold it with clear and emotionally appealing rhetoric.
Never treat her like a dog
Boebert and her new fellow freshman friend pushed through a dense crowd of mostly unmasked Trump supporters that had the media and their other Democratic opponents apoplectic about another potential GOP superspreader event. Getting through the crowd was difficult for typical ralliers, but worse for Boebert. Trump supporters recognize her. They want selfies, autographs, side hugs.
Boebert made it to the stage, gave a rousing impromptu speech about liberty, then pushed her way back through the marchers to the next masks-required orientation session.
Mask lectures consumed most of the first two days of orientation, said Kristi Kirkpatrick, Boebert’s close friend and transition director.
“It was all mask education at first,” Kirkpatrick said.
“There was some very extensive mask training,” Boebert confirmed. “One woman corrected me and told me not to ever use the word ‘training’ again in regard to people learning about masks. She said you ‘train’ dogs, but ‘educate’ people. I said, ‘well, ma’am, the way we were being educated about masks made me feel like a dog.’ They spent a lot of time teaching us that masks make people feel better.” Like therapy dogs.
As much as AOC and The Squad loathe capitalism, Boebert loves it. She promotes the power of free will in the context of personal responsibility. She trusts individuals to protect themselves from COVID-19 and says those who worry more than others should take the strictest precautions to protect themselves and those they care about. Meanwhile, she will live on the terms she considers legal, reasonable, and fair to others. That’s why she opened Shooters grill in blatant defiance of business closures ordered by Gov. Jared Polis — orders she believes exceed the governor’s authority.
“Because I did that, we did not miss a single payroll,” Boebert said. “My employees cannot afford to lose income.” The state’s repercussions were a slap on the wrist, she said, far less harmful than laying off employees.
Aside from the waitress-to-Congress thing, the backgrounds of AOC and LOB are dissimilar. AOC grew up as “Sandy Ocasio,” the daughter of a successful architect in Yorktown, N.Y., where the median family income of $121,471 ranks the hamlet among the country’s wealthiest communities. Only 1.1% of Yorktown families live at or below the federal poverty line.
AOC graduated from Boston University — annual tuition exceeding $56,000 — serving as an intern for former U.S. Sen. Ted Kennedy during academic breaks.
LOB spent part of her childhood in Denver’s Montbello neighborhood, where 20% of families live at or below the poverty line. Her family, dependent on welfare, moved to Aurora where the poverty rate is 10 times higher than in AOC’s Yorktown.
Fast food, guns, and liberty
When Boebert was 15, her family moved to the rural Western Slope town of Rifle, with economic demographics nearly identical to those of Aurora. She says her first job, at McDonald’s, changed her life. She saw firsthand she could generate income without having to ask the government for money. She envisioned a life without public aid and pursued it. She thanks McDonald’s with such conviction one could mistake her as a company flack.
“The owners of that McDonald’s took a risk and hired me,” Boebert said. “They created an opportunity for me, and I did not have one before. Today, I know a lot of owners of McDonald’s franchises in my district, and they are great people.”
As a high school dropout with a GED, Boebert missed out on the anti-American, pro-socialist, anti-capitalist, pro-Marxist lectures that bombarded AOC and others educated by elite universities. Boebert attended the tuition-free and nonfashionable University of Hard Knocks, where life taught her how to provide for children and start a business from scratch at a young age.
Her business, Shooters, years ago emerged as an iconic eatery of the Western Slope — an establishment best known for traditional Western fare and waitresses who holster big pistols or revolvers on their hips.
To Boebert, a gun means personal empowerment. A short, petite woman of 100 pounds (on Mars with a heavy gun), Boebert insists on carrying a gun in the Capitol, in congressional office buildings, and nearly anywhere she goes in Washington.
Members of Congress are permitted to keep weapons and ammunition in their offices, but questions remain about Boebert’s ability to carry locked-and-loaded in the hallowed halls of Congress. She has made it a stressful subject in the 2020 orientation sessions, so much so the U.S. Capitol police want to speak with her in private.
“I, like a lot of people, am not physically strong,” Beobert explains. “For people who are vulnerable to attack, guns are a matter of personal safety. That’s why I began to carry after a man was beaten to death outside my restaurant.”
She plans to apply for a hard-to-get concealment permit to carry her Glock around Washington. Without a gun, she worries about walking alone in the streets and alleys of a major American city.
During orientation class with the Capitol police, Boebert broached the subject of her gun. Officers leading the session strongly recommended members of Congress forgo carrying firearms in and around the Capitol.
“I said, ‘Well, your recommendation doesn’t prohibit me from doing it.’ I asked why they recommend against it and they said we would discuss it later,” Boebert said. “So, basically, I got ‘welcome to Congress we will not be answering any questions.’ But the chief of the Capitol police asked me to follow up with him and I will be doing so.”
If one thing seems clear as Boebert walks in and around the Capitol, it is her appeal to law enforcement officers. They stop her and thank her for running. Her relatively high-profile campaign, to represent a district Washington’s leading Democrats hoped they could flip, prioritized support for cops to counter the left’s “defund the police” mantra. She won the endorsement of her hometown sheriff, Lou Vallario of Colorado’s Garfield County.
Cops, cabbies, and Uber driversCapitol Hill — a small-town-like community in the center of a metroplex of 6.2 million souls — is like few other neighborhoods. Cops are ubiquitous, whether they work for the Capitol police, the D.C. metro police, the federal Parks Police, the Secret Service, the FBI, the Metro transportation system, or any other agencies unique to the nation’s capital. Cops and their cars grow increasingly omnipresent as one approaches the capitol building. This community of close-knit officers pays attention to politicians who support them and those who do not.
“Law enforcement has been very excited to meet me, and I’ve been even more excited to meet them,” Boebert said. “These people put their lives on the line every day. They are continuously on high alert. I just thank them for their support.”
Boebert expresses a similar appreciation for Uber drivers. Like cops, they seem delighted to meet her after she tells them who she is and why she ran for Congress.
“Every Uber driver I’ve had has been terrified by what we may see in a Biden administration,” Boebert said, standing near the east steps of the Capitol. “They fear Biden means more shutdowns. A lot of them are minorities and immigrants who came to America to live the American dream. That American dream is being killed by Democrats.”
In the moment she blasted Democrats, a masked man walked up to introduce himself. He almost certainly heard Boebert’s “American dream” comment. Aside from cops and Boebert’s small entourage, this man was the only person anywhere near the Capitol steps.
“I just wanted to introduce myself,” he said, followed by an awkward pause. The mask obscured his identity. “I’m Joe… Joe Neguse.”
“Oh, yes. What a pleasure,” Boebert said, trying unconvincingly to muster a tone of enthusiasm.
Democratic Rep. Neguse, who represents a district dominated by famously liberal Boulder, was no friend of Boebert’s when she campaigned. During a visit to Aspen, the 2nd District’s Neguse said the 3rd District needed “mainstream representation” not Boebert whom he described as an “extremist.” Boebert dismissed Neguse as a “Boulder liberal.”
“Congratulations,” Neguse said to Boebert. He had discussed Boebert on a plane the day before when seated next to U.S. Rep. Ken Buck, R-Colorado. Buck, who represents Colorado’s District 4, is chairman of the Colorado Republican Party.
The virus provided Boebert and Neguse a perfectly acceptable excuse for social distancing that might otherwise look anti-social and awkward. Neguse declined a photographer’s request for a mask-free picture with Boebert.
“No, no, I have to keep it on,” he said, turning his attention back to Boebert. “I always think my district is big with 10 counties, but your 28 counties is like a whole different level. That’s like half the state.”
Despite the past back-and-forth insults, and the support Neguse gave to Boebert’s Democratic opponent, the congressman pledged to work with the newest member of Colorado’s delegation.
“Sure, sure,” he said about working with Boebert. “I just congratulated her. It’s a big deal being elected to Congress. The delegation works really well together on water issues and other issues that affect all of our different counties. So, I’m looking forward to it.”
“Are you enjoying it so far?” Neguse asked of Boebert.
“Yes, it has been fantastic,” Boebert replied.
Boebert seems all in, unlike a genre of conservatives who consider congressional work a “somebody’s-gotta-do-it” sacrifice. Days after her Nov. 3 election, Boebert secured a modest home on Washington’s Capitol Hill within walking distance of the Capitol. Some seasoned members of Congress, including Colorado Springs Republican Rep. Doug Lamborn of Colorado’s 5th District, sleep in their offices and avoid the pricey D.C. housing market.
Boebert cannot wait to get started and seems to believe one member of Congress can save the republic from socialism and other visions of fundamental change. She converses with fellow freshman Republicans on bills they might introduce, and how they should defend American exceptionalism and free markets.
“Energy is a huge topic most of us are talking about,” Boebert said. “We want to protect oil and gas. Health care and education are big. As a mom of four boys, I understand that a one-size-fits-all approach to education does not work.”
Though unwaveringly conservative economically and socially, Boebert resides nowhere in the universe of Republicans who exude callous disregard for people who cannot afford health insurance. She pledges to protect coverage for preexisting conditions and wants to liberate the market from regulations that continue raising the costs of insurance and care.
“I haven’t had health insurance for years because we can’t afford it,” Boebert said. “That is absolutely a problem, and Congress made it a problem. We all knew we were being lied to when they told us we could keep our doctors and prices would stay low. Prices have increased, and many of us have lost our doctors.”
She wants the market to provide health care that is “personal and portable,” with price transparency and health care providers who compete for patients by lowering prices.
“Look at Lasik eye surgery,” Boebert said. “That’s a small segment of the health care industry that works as it should. The cost keeps coming down, the quality improves, the market is expanding and providers compete for customers. We need to figure out how to do this with other elements of our health care industry.”
People well acquainted with Boebert expect her to never think, act, or speak like a politician. She will never fit the mold, they insist.
“She’s among a group of new congressional members who have the heart of servants,” said Kirkpatrick, who met Boebert 11 years ago at their nondenominational “full-gospel” church. Boebert surrounds herself with people of faith, building a campaign team mostly out of close friends from her community, business, and church. Meetings, fundraisers and other campaign events often began with prayer.
“This is not something she wanted to do — ever,” Kirkpatrick said. “God put this in her heart. She is first and foremost grounded on the word of God.”
The absence of political experience and higher education raises questions about Boebert’s ability to legislate. Maybe she’s so removed from Washington, so backwoods bumpkin, she has no relevant frame of reference. In conversations, Boebert quickly puts such concern to rest. She talks about the issues as well, if not better than average Washington policy geeks.
As Boebert walked past the Supreme Court, it was time for a possible Sarah Palin moment. Inquiring minds needed to know what, if anything, this outsider knows about the court. Probably not much, right?
Question: “Name a Supreme Court case, recent or past, that you consider important?”
A similar question had Palin speechless shortly after then-Republican presidential nominee John McCain chose the little-known Alaska governor as his running mate. Palin could not name a case. Not one.
“Heller v. District of Columbia,” Boebert said instantly, ready to discuss in detail how the 12-year-old ruling protects the Second Amendment rights of people to possess guns in cities, such as Washington, that outlaw them. She understands the court, the justices, and was eager to discuss other landmark rulings, including Brown v. Board of Education in the context of school choice, and the ramifications of Justice Amy Coney Barret’s recent confirmation. Wonk factor: check.
An LOB-plus-three squad
Time will tell whether Boebert can form and lead a clique of freshman legislators with the influential messaging prowess of The Squad. For now, her mentors are seasoned members of Congress. They include Republican Reps. Thomas Massie, Kentucky; Jim Jordan, Ohio; and — to the surprise of no one — the former Texas judge and always flamboyant Louie Gohmert.
Boebert looks forward to meeting AOC, her fellow Hill resident and member of Congress. AOC isn’t a fan of guns. When they meet, Boebert might be packing one — openly or concealed. Boebert hopes the two can develop a constructive relationship despite their starkly divergent sociopolitical perspectives. Building a better world is all that should matter.
“I’m sure we’ll be seeing a lot of each other,” Boebert said. “When you’re in the darkness, all it takes is a flick of the switch to turn the light on and bring revelation and understanding to your surroundings. So, maybe I could enlighten AOC.”
If Boebert can market only one message, it will draw on that moment she learned the value of a paycheck earned by serving fast food. She will share a conviction that “freedom is motivating.” So motivating, in fact, it landed a small-town mom and wife, with conventional political credentials, in a position of power few achieve.
Expect Mrs. Boebert to take on Washington for the sake of the forgotten. She will do so with a fervor driven by faith in freedom and God.
Wayne Laugesen is the editorial page editor of The Gazette.