A reliably liberal friend sent an instant message last week and wondered whether I knew U.S. Rep. Joe Neguse and flatly declared “falling in love” with the Democratic impeachment manager from Colorado.
I suspect that my friend is not alone, in this state or across the country.
Neguse already is one of the breakout stars of former President Donald Trump’s second impeachment trial. He is smart, confident and eloquent. He speaks from a lectern with an Obama-esque cadence.
His relentless, measured style helped pace the prosecution. While conviction was out of reach in a Senate where Republicans control half the seats, Neguse will likely be remembered for the lasting impression he left on anyone who saw him speak.
Of course, that is not surprising for anyone who followed him over the past decade.
I first met Neguse in 2006. He had the good sense to attend the University of Colorado not once, but twice. Too young to overlap my time as an undergrad, he entered law school just before I graduated. It takes someone special to waltz into a law school as 1L (first year student) and make jaded 3L’s take note.
The talents he displayed before the country were evident in mock trials more than a decade before. More than just a delivery system for rote speeches, he always knew how to listen and analyze on the fly, adapting his arguments to those raised by others.
He did not need to yell or scream or resort to bloodlust rhetoric to capture the attention of his audience. Instead he relied on a keen intellect, a clear, direct style and genuine grace.
Those character traits served him well in the years after when he became a CU Regent and member of then Gov. John Hickenlooper’s cabinet.
And his viral optimism and humble nature served him well when he lost an election for Colorado Secretary of State. A loss that may have humbled other public servants merely acted as a bump in the road for Neguse, caused a slight slowdown and then got left behind him as he ran for Congress.
As he hit the campaign trail, I had the opportunity to give Neguse a tour through a health care facility where I served as general counsel. As we walked and caught up on our lives during the years since we had last seen each other, Neguse continued to pepper me with questions about the care provided and the needs of patients. He legitimately wanted to know about the intricacies of Medicaid reimbursement — maybe the most convoluted, dry subject matter I can imagine.
He shifted easily between personal interaction and policy questions because so much of his core character is forged around public policies to benefit others. He is a policy wonk who cares about his constituents’ life stories.
Neguse entered Congress in the same class as New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Consequently, while she sucked up much of the limelight and social media buzz, he began working with fellow members to implement actual policy.
It would not shock me if 10 years from now Neguse is one of the most powerful members of Congress while AOC is relegated to a back bench reserved for has-beens whose time in the spotlight came and went before they learned to work with others.
As his time before a national audience demonstrated, that is not the fate in store for Neguse. His presentation augmented and amplified those from his fellow impeachment managers. He drove home the most damning evidence against Trump in his signature even-keel style.
In the aftermath of the impeachment proceedings, there will surely be many lists of winners and losers. High up on those lists should be the people of Colorado and the constituents of its Second Congressional District.
In Joe Neguse they have a true servant of the people.
Mario Nicolais is an attorney and columnist who writes on law enforcement, the legal system, health care and public policy. Follow him on Twitter: @MarioNicolaiEsq