In 2008 Betsy Markey won election to the United States House of Representatives, having defeated a three-term incumbent in a traditionally Republican region. With her background as a successful entrepreneur and business owner, she advocated for a new approach to federal spending, including pay-as-you-go budget rules and earmark reform. “We have to start turning this country in a new direction with regard to our economy, our energy policy, and we need people with a fresh perspective to do it. People are tired of the same old politics of the past,” Markey stated.1
Betsy Markey was born in Cresskill, Bergen County, New Jersey, on April 27, 1956—one of seven children—to Thomas and Catherine Markey. Raised by a Democratic father and a Republican mother, politics was a part of her life from an early age. After high school, she earned a BS in political science at the University of Florida in 1978 and began working for Virginia Representative Herbert Eugene Harris II as a legislative assistant for the House Post Office and Civil Service Committee. She simultaneously earned a master of public administration from American University in Washington, DC, in 1983. She and her husband, Jim Kelley, raised three children: Katie, Erin, and Al.2
After receiving her degree, Markey completed a fellowship in the Treasury Department before joining the newly-formed Office of Information Systems Security in the State Department to develop computer security policies. After leaving the State Department, Markey and her husband founded a successful IT consulting business. In 1995 she moved to Colorado, where she became active in local politics and founded the Northern Colorado Democratic Business Coalition. From 2002 to 2005, Markey served as chair of the Larimer County Democratic Party. She became the regional director of northern and eastern Colorado for United States Senator Kenneth Lee Salazar, an area encompassing a large portion of the district she would later represent.3
After two years as regional director, Markey announced that she would challenge Marilyn N. Musgrave, a three-term incumbent, to represent rural eastern Colorado in the U.S. House. Musgrave’s re-election margins had been steadily declining with each race.4 Markey was a skilled fundraiser and faced no competition in the Democratic primary. She won endorsements from environmental and women rights groups and received support from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.5 Markey ran as a centrist in the general election, and after a rigorous, bitter campaign, she cruised to an unexpectedly large victory, winning 56 percent of the vote to Musgrave’s 44 percent.6
Upon entering the House, Markey was assigned to the Agriculture Committee and the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.7 She introduced legislation to withhold 15 percent of allocated highway funds to states that do not prohibit use of electronic devices while driving in a school zone. She sponsored legislation enabling veterans to more easily seek back and spinal treatment and worked to expand veterans’ access to educational scholarships.8 She also sponsored the Credit Rate Freeze Act of 2009 to prevent increases in credit card rates and fees.9 In early 2009, Markey backed the Barack Obama administration’s $787 billion stimulus package to help stabilize the economy after the financial collapse, emphasizing that the law would “begin putting Americans back to work and our country back on its feet.”10 Over the course of the 111th Congress (2009–2011), she proved a loyal supporter of her party’s domestic agenda, voting for the American Clean Energy and Security Act, and the Wall Street and Consumer Protection Act. She also voted for the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, describing it as “the culmination of decades of work to bring some sanity to our health care system.”11
Going into the 2010 midterm election cycle, Democrats everywhere faced serious challenges. In Colorado, Republicans poured resources into the district in support of Cory Gardner, Markey’s opponent in the general election. On Election Day, Republicans captured the House majority, and Markey lost to Gardner, who took 53 percent of the vote.12
In 2011 Markey was appointed the assistant secretary for intergovernmental affairs for the Homeland Security Department and served until 2013. She returned to Colorado and made an unsuccessful bid for state treasurer in 2014, followed by an appointment in 2016 as regional administrator for the United States Small Business Administration. Later, Colorado Governor Jared Polis appointed Markey as the executive director of the state’s office of economic development and international trade.13
1Daniel J. Chacon, “Competitive Streak at an Early Age, Markey’s Early Drive in Large Family Helps Shape Her for Contest,” 11 October 2008, Rocky Mountain News (Denver, CO): 22.
2Almanac of American Politics, 2010 (Washington, DC: National Journal Group, 2009): 288–289; Chacon, “Competitive Streak at an Early Age.”
3About Betsy,” official website of Representative Betsy Markey, 29 January 2009, https://web.archive.org/web/20090129231649/http://betsymarkey. house.gov/about/index.shtml; Robb Mandelbaum, “Talking Health Care With Two Entrepreneurs in Congress,” 16 December 2009, New York Times: n.p.; Monte Whaley, “Challenger’s Poll Predicts Tough Race for Musgrave,” 21 May 2008, Denver Post: B1; Nate Miller, “Markey to Join Department of Homeland Security,” 17 February 2011, Greeley Tribune (CO), n.p.; Loretta Sword, “New Congresswoman Targets Economic Recovery,” 26 November 2008, Pueblo Chieftain (CO): n.p.
4Almanac of American Politics, 2008 (Washington, DC: National Journal Group, 2007): 322.
5Almanac of American Politics, 2010: 289; Jessica Fender, “Fierce Attacks Mark Debate, Musgrave and Markey Trade Criticism Over Ethics, Alleged Flip- Flops and Contributors,” 22 October 2008, Denver Post: B4; Monte Whaley, “4th District Markey Unseats Musgrave, Democratic Challenger Thrashes Three-Term Incumbent in Evolving, Sprawling District,” 5 November 2008, Denver Post: A19; Mike Riley, Karen Auge, and Jessica Fender, “Campaigns Post Big Fund Gains, Financial Disclosures Show both Bob Schaffer and Mark Udall had the Best Fundraising Quarters of their Costly Race,” 16 October 2008, Denver Post: B1.
6Office of the Clerk, U.S. House of Representatives, “Election Statistics, 1920 to Present.”
7Congressional Directory, 111th Cong., 1st sess. (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 2009): 393, 443.
8Erica’s Law, H.R. 5097, 111th Cong. (2010); Veterans Back and Spinal Therapy Act, H.R. 6211, 111th Cong. (2010); Honor Act of 2009, H.R. 3368, 111th Cong. (2009).
9Credit Card Rate Freeze Act of 2009, H.R. 3959, 111th Cong. (2009).
10M.E. Sprengelmeyer, “All 7 Democrats in Delegation Put it on the Line for Package,” 14 February 2009, Rocky Mountain News: 25.
11Congressional Record, House, 111th Cong., 2nd sess. (25 March 2010): H2323.
12Rebecca Roberts, “Congressional Freshman Faces Tough Race in Colo.,” 10 October 2010, Weekend Edition Sunday, National Public Radio, https://www.npr.org/sections/itsallpolitics/2010/10/08/130437871/three-freshmen; Robert Moore, “Gardner Appears Headed to Win Over Markey,” 2 November 2010, Fort Collins Coloradoan: n.p.; Robert Moore, “Spending in 4th District Race Down,” 6 December 2010, Fort Collins Coloradoan: n.p.; “Election Statistics, 1920 to Present.”
13“Markey Tapped for Homeland Security Post in Washington,” 17 February 2011, Denver Post: n.p.; Nate Miller, “Markey to Join Department of Homeland Security,” 17 February 2011, Greeley Tribune: n.p.; “Leadership,” Colorado office of economic development & international trade, accessed 8 April 2020, https://choosecolorado.com/about-us/leadership; Tamara Chuang, “From Cleaning Toilets to Congress, Betsy Markey is Now Leading Colorado’s Renewed Focus on Small Business,” 6 June 2019, The Colorado Sun (Denver), https://coloradosun.com/2019/06/06/betsy-markey-colorado-oedit-small-business/.