We should perhaps do this weekly, even daily. That being to recognize and, yes, celebrate those among us who set a high standard for living life fully and for enriching the lives of their fellow citizens.
Around here, I have made this an annual tradition. As a relatively new columnist a few years back, I wrote a piece in this spirit that offered a shoutout to eight Colorado exemplars. The response was such that I have done something similar with each new year since.
This time, I am taking the liberty of doing this in pairs under the theory that there is added power in numbers. Herewith, five exemplary duos, so 10 people total, to serve as role models and guiding lights for the year ahead.
James Coleman and Don Coram
At face value, there would seem to be a gaping divide between Coleman, a Democratic state senator from northeast Denver, and a proud Black man to boot, and Coram, a bolo tie-wearing rancher and Republican state senator from deep southwestern Colorado. The better part of four decades separate them as well.
While their voting records have little in common, Coleman and Coram share more important characteristics. While one is an ardent Democrat and the other a committed Republican, they do not make partisanship all-consuming. Each has exhibited an admirable streak of independence when it mattered.
In Coleman’s case, he departs from party orthodoxy on a host of education issues. He champions the interests of children over those of adults. Imagine that.
Coram recognized the recent, dangerous excesses and fantasies in his own party. He defied standard practice to mount a primary election challenge against one of the torchbearers of that extremism, U.S. Rep. Lauren Boebert. When that came up short, he crossed party lines to endorse Boebert’s opponent. Here’s to placing principle, sound policy and good government above partisan allegiance.
Patty Calhoun and Ryan Warner
There is no shortage of media heroes across our state. But let me highlight these two longtime figures as representative of so many others who do yeoman’s work of cutting through the blather and keeping Colorado informed.
Calhoun was one of the founders of Westword and remains its editor and driving force all these years later. No one better understands the core of the city or the forces buffeting it. No one comparably knows and is known by all of the players, both the headline-makers and all those effecting change in their small circles. And no one has more fun in the process, being familiar with every dive restaurant and watering hole old and new.
Warner comes across as more refined, but similarly takes it upon himself to break down the canned talking points and tell the hidden stories of hidden figures. His unique voice defines Colorado Public Radio. His format gives him the luxury of going deeper and longer than much of radio journalism. He takes full advantage and regularly provides reports of insight and emotion.
Amy Slothower and Hanna Skandera
It is not enough that Skandera and Slothower are women of substantial professional accomplishment. Skandera heads the philanthropic Daniels Fund, having previously served as secretary of education in New Mexico and in senior education positions in Florida and California. Slothower was a prolific developer of successful charter schools across Colorado’s Front Range in addition to leading a training and development program for school leaders. She now runs a successful consulting practice.
Another distinguishing feature of the two is that they are both “single mothers by choice,” having opted to tackle parenthood solo, rocking it career-wise but with no mate in the offing. Parenthood is hard enough as a couple. To voluntarily walk into it alone is a particular act of dedication and determination. In a conversation when her kids were quite young, Slothower praised the simplicity and clear-cut nature of it. In her words, “When the kid is crying in the middle of the night, there is no looking across the bed or subtle negotiation. There is no question as to who is on duty.”
Here’s to you, Elliott and Babette Slothower and Harry Skandera. And to your courageous moms.
Ed Perlmutter and John Suthers
“Public servant” is often used as shorthand to describe most any elected official. Quite frequently, the “servant” part of that is misplaced. With respect to Permultter and Suthers, that description is well earned and fits perfectly as they wind down two substantial careers.
As a longtime Colorado congressperson, Perlmutter has set a very high bar for thoughtfulness, constituent service and never forgetting those who sent him to Washington and why.
Suthers, a district attorney, U.S. Attorney for Colorado and Colorado Attorney General prior to his current gig as the distinguished Mayor of Colorado Springs, will step away this spring from decades of service marked by common sense, moderation and an outreached hand.
If there is a single word that defines and unites these retiring servants, it is “class.” Colorado expresses its gratitude to both. We could use more of their bearing.
Hugh McKean and Pat Teegarden
Sadly, this deserved recognition is in memoriam as these two powerful presences around the Colorado Capitol passed from the scene suddenly and way prematurely over this past year.
McKean had been the Minority Leader in the State House, respected and even held in affection by those on both sides of the aisle. His tenure was marked by personal grace and pushing his party away from its fringes.
While McKean worked from inside the chamber, Teegarden toiled for countless years outside those glass doors as a preeminent public lobbyist and trouble-shooter. He was a prototype for all those who labor as problem-solvers away from the limelight. His calling card was that of disheveled humility and tenacity. And of putting a very high premium on friendship.
In the wake of Teegarden’s death in February, buttons reading “Be Like Pat” were omnipresent around the Capitol. Let me take the liberty of amending that to “Be Like Pat and Hugh.” Rest in peace, gentlemen.
There you go – another set of exemplars as we prepare to start another year. Let the tradition continue.
Eric Sondermann is a Colorado-based independent political commentator. He writes regularly for Colorado Politics and the Gazette newspapers. Reach him at [email protected]; follow him at @EricSondermann