Posted by on August 06, 2010 in Blog

The epithet “dedication to public service” is often overused by politicians to the point of cliché. Yet a recent conversation with District 38 Colorado State Representative Joe Rice (D) presented a rare and inspiring image of a public servant dedicated to his country and constituents.  At the age of 17, Rice signed up with the US Army Reserves and has since served on active duty in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Iraq. In public office, Rice first served as a Councilman, then Mayor of Glendale, Colorado, and finally as a State Representative since 2006.

In discussing his heritage, Rice explained that his father was originally from Palestine, though he had lived in Egypt prior to immigrating to America. While his siblings were born in Egypt, Rice was born and raised in New Castle, Indiana after his family moved to the United States. When asked if his Arab American heritage has influenced his political life, he explains that “virtually all Americans can trace their heritage to somewhere else… We forge an American identity…But we can maintain cultural affinity for [our] culture.” Rice appreciates his heritage and regards it as an important personal legacy, though he does not believe it necessarily influences his political beliefs or actions.  

When asked why he joined the military at such a young age, Rice explained that he felt a strong sense of obligation to serve and wanted to utilize the generous education benefits provided by the military. This dedication later translated into running for public office, first at the municipal level, and then later as a state legislator.

As a State Representative, Rice has worked quickly and efficiently to pass 18 bills in just his first session in office. The specific issues of public safety, the economy, and education are especially important to Rice. “Public safety is one of the chief reasons for society to team together” states Rice. In addition, he explains that Colorado has steadily climbed up the ranks in economic comparisons with other states, a result of Rice and his fellow legislators focusing on job creation and “working to improve the business climate.”   Rice also identified the importance of early age education, specifically at the pre-school and kindergarten level: “even though we’ve had to make cuts to education…we’ve put the priorities in order… and managed to keep [pre-school and full day kindergarten] open even through the budget cuts.” Even with the tough economic climate and slow recovery, Rice remains optimistic about the Colorado State Legislature’s ability to maintain a business friendly environment as well as encourage the critically important early education.  

Rice also discussed the Baghdad-Denver regional partnership, which is a program dedicated to cultivating professional relationships between the citizens of each city so as to share information and expose Baghdad to resources for cultivating a democratic civil society. Since 2003, more than 15 professional delegations have traveled back and forth between the two cities, breaking down stereotypes and providing useful professional training and collaboration. His enthusiasm for the flourishing relationship benefiting both cities is obvious, and Rice explains “It’s very useful and eye opening for many people.”  

Rice’s extensive service and dedication to his constituents may be best summed up by his actions while stationed in Iraq. While deployed, Rice would attempt to check his email as often as possible to keep in touch with his family, friends, and members of his district. At times, Rice would receive emails concerning requests or questions from these constituents, and often replied as quickly as possible-even while serving in a war zone. On several occasions, those questioning their representative would admonish Rice for the odd hours he would choose to respond, such as 3am Colorado time. Once they learned that their representative was in combat and answering emails during his limited free time on base, their opinion shifted drastically.  

Rice’s dedication to serving his constituents is evident, and his answering inquiries and addressing problems while in combat is just one of many clear examples of his exemplary commitment to public service.