Richard Alonso Holtorf never sought political office. It sought him.

The Akron-based representative for House District 64 was content to work on his Buffalo Springs ranch, until Rep. Kimmi Lewis, R-Kim, passed away in December 2019 from breast cancer.

Even though he had no elected experience and wasn't particularly active in the Republican Party, several people sought him out to apply for the vacancy left by Lewis' passing. He was one of five – and not even close to being the favorite for the seat. 

But that election brought the rough-and-tumble and often controversial lawmaker to the state Capitol, where he's viewed by some in a league of his own. One person recently told Colorado Politics that there are the Democrats, Republicans and Rep. Holtorf. 

FAST FACTS:

Born: Feb. 1, 1965 in Akron, Colorado; third generation rancher, operates the Buffalo Springs Ranch north of Akron; raises cattle, grows wheat and millet. 

Education: Graduated from Akron High School; earned bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering from Colorado State University; MBA from Boston University and a master's in strategic studies from the U.S. Army War College.

Military experience: U.S. Army, five overseas tours, including two combat tours in support of Operation Enduring Freedom; deployed with the 10th Mountain Division on his first combat deployment to Afghanistan; returned to Akron in 1994.

Family: Wife Mary – Holtorf notes on his website he's still married to his "first wife"; five daughters, two grandchildren (so far); he hopes one of his single daughters marries a guy who will take an interest in ranching.

District: House District 64, by geography the largest in the state with nine counties – Baca, Bent, Crowley, Elbert, Kiowa, Las Animas, Lincoln, Prowers and Washington, which is the furthest north county in the district. 

Nickname (sort of): Bard of Akron, a title originally developed by Colorado Politics' Joey Bunch, but one that Holtorf says he can live with, since a bard is historically a poet, although he prefers "Cowboy" Bard of Akron. 

Colorado Politics: Why did you decide to run for House District 64?

Holtorf: I knew Kimmi Clark Lewis personally. Gerald Schreiber is a cattle rancher near Last Chance. He's been a member of the Washington County Stockmen's Association for decades. I've been a member of the Washington County Stockmen's Association, including past president. So, anytime that Kimmi would come to Washington County, Gar Schreiber was with her and I was always there to shake her hand. I respected her. 

[When she died], it really struck me. I was very saddened, not only for the family, but for her. And I knew that we had a huge hole in representation for rural Colorado, and it is no secret that many of the urban legislators don't even understand what happens outside of the urban corridor and the concrete jungles that are the Denver Metro area. I was approached by several friends who asked me to get more involved, both from southeast and northeast Colorado.

I was very reluctant to get in state politics. I wasn't very involved in the state party. I had drifted away from activities in the county Republican party, which I had been involved in – in the 1990s and 2000s – but due to my military obligations, I just was unable to fulfill those obligations.

I had a discussion with Senator [Jerry] Sonnenberg about the idea, and he also encouraged me to get involved. He said, "We're losing up there at the state Capitol. We need people that'll fight for rural Colorado." He knew I was a fighter and a scrapper.

What really made my decision is when I went to speak with my mother at breakfast on our family ranch. I told her all these folks are calling me and asking me about this. I fully expecting my mother to say, "No, there's no way you can take that call. There's no way that you need to do that. Richard, we have a family ranch to run. We have a feedlot. We have a farm. You need to take care of what we do here at home."

Instead, she said, "All those people are probably right. What's going to happen to rural Colorado in five years or 10 years, if people don't stand up for who we are, what we are and how we make our living?"

I just was floored that my mother would say that. So, I went to the vacancy committee, fully expecting not to be selected. There were five candidates, [including] Mack Louden, a friend of the Lewis family and the heir apparent. There was over a hundred delegates that day, Dec. 28, a day with winter storm warnings all across Eastern Colorado. 

We had six rounds of voting. It was like a good horse race. I wasn't the first horse coming out the gate, but as we ran around that track and I came around the back turn, I started gaining. I came around the three-quarter turn and I was No. 2 and the lead horse was getting tired. And then on the final turn, that's when I turned it on and I crossed the finish line by a large leap.

They picked me probably because I was not a politician. I was not politically connected. I spoke their language because I come from rural Colorado. I've gotten the mud and cow manure on my boots. I've been in the fields turning dirt and I know how hard it is to make a living. I know the effects that urban politics and Boulder County politics has on the families in rural Colorado.

We just can't take it. They can't keep doing that to us. It hurts us and they know not what they do when they promote their ideological politics through the Capitol and then impose their will on all of Colorado. If the folks in Boulder County want to live that way, go ahead. But don't try to force all the rest of us to have those ideals and have those norms and rules and, and that way of living, it doesn't work in rural Colorado.

CP: How has Eastern Colorado changed during your lifetime?

Holtorf: Our part of the state has had population growth, as has the whole state. Second, more rules, regulations and controls, and things that control what we do and how we make a living.

It's harder to make a living out there. The ag economy and the markets don't support small producers anymore. The little farmers, ranchers and dairymen have all dried up and blown away. There's a big move to consolidate, to leverage economies of scale, to survive out there. Small, multi-generational farms and ranches are going away. That is a result of economic policy, rules and regulations coming out of Denver that doesn't support micro economies or our small towns either. It's not all about just giving grant money away, which is a big theme in this administration. We want vibrant, rural economies that support themselves where the money stays home. The farmers raise their crops and they bring their money to town and they buy their pickups and their parts and their fuel, and they grocery-shop and they put that money back in their community.

Agri services and the commerce in our small towns is vibrant because the money stays at home and we're able to make money. And when you have more people in the economy, there's more consumers and there's more money. And that's a problem as we have, you know, the drying up of rural Colorado.

And the people that we see moving out. A lot of times they're commuters, they're commuting back to work ... and that takes away from your economic base to some degree.

CP: Tell me about Buffalo Springs

Holtorf: My granddaddy was out there, worked for the homesteader, AJ Funk. He took over the ranch after AJ passed and his widow moved to Sterling. My dad raised his family there and then I raised my family on the same ranch. We run commercial cattle, top shelf cattle, very high quality. We also have a small feedlot where we grow cattle from 500 pounds to up to a thousand pounds.

CP: Tell me about the history of Buffalo Springs. I've heard you mention it before.

Holtorf: the Buffalo Springs ranch was named because it was the last sighting of wild free roaming native buffalo in the state of Colorado. We have five springs on the ranch and buffalo would come from miles around to water at Buffalo Springs.

It's very close to the Battle of Summit Springs (1869), which is the last major Indian battle [between the US Army] and the Cheyenne [Dog Soldiers] and their chief, Tall Bull, who would not follow the agreements made by the United States government in resettling the Cheyenne to the reservation. There was a skirmish called the Battle of Buffalo Springs against the Cheyenne. What people don't want to admit to is the Cheyenne were ruthless. They were very ferocious and they would not cooperate with the rules that were promulgated by the United States government during the Indian war. They violated their treaties repeatedly in the Battle of the Buffalo Springs. There were cattle, horses and property taken from settlers by the Cheyenne. There were also slaves, white slaves, with the Cheyenne.

People don't want to talk about that part of history.

CP: If there was one thing that you could do for Eastern Colorado, what would that be?

Holtorf: It would be to convince the governor and convince my very progressively liberal Democrat colleagues that they stop hurting the fabric of rural Colorado with very bad legislation. We try to be more empathetic, sympathetic and understanding of how important rural Colorado is. 

CP: Is there one piece of legislation that you've thought was particularly bad? 

Holtorf: How about the ag labor bill? [Senate Bill 21-087] That's a really bad idea. The amendments we sought and obtained, even the Holtorf amendment that I obtained wasn't enough. I always say one glove doesn't fit every hand and one boot doesn't fit every foot. So, you've got to understand that the rules that work for big union and manufacturing and labor doesn't work in agriculture, and it's been tried before and failed. There's many more, but I don't want to take all and talk about 'em all day. My blood pressure will go up.

CP: What's one thing about you that most people don't know.

Holtorf: I'm probably one of the most compassionate people you'll ever meet. I care more about humanity than most people will ever know. Everything you do is done to serve humanity. Always put people over policy and people over politics and people over your ideology. I've said that before on the House floor that you can't pose legislation that helps one group of people, but then hurts another group of people. We're all members of the human race. There's nothing worse than dividing, segregating, classifying people and causing division. We're all Americans first.

I am very distraught and disappointed when people attack our country, they talk about how bad we are, how we need to reimagine ourselves, reinvent ourselves. Absolutely not ... We are not a failed experiment.

CP: What kind of music do you like?

Holtorf: All music. They say there's two kind of music, country and Western, but I actually like all kinds of music with a few exceptions. I like pop music. I like rock and roll. I like country. I like Western. I even like classical music – Mozart and Tchaikovsky. When you get in this job, you've got to decompress.

CP: Do you dance?

Holtorf: I got bucked off a horse in August and broke my pelvis. So, I guarantee you, I do not dance. I have a hard time walking stairs anymore, as you know, from the little situation we had last month. (That's a reference to Holtorf dropping a gun in the lobby of the House. One of his ranch hands now rides that horse and says, "What's the problem, boss? I get along with him just fine." Holtorf says he tells him, "I think that horse is a Democrat.")

CP: What about before that?

Holtorf: I have danced and I thought I was a good dancer back in the day. Although I think I was humbled by people that can really dance. I can really cut it up with country swing.

CP: How do you deal with the criticism? 

Holtorf: Just like a duck deals with water. It rolls right off my back. I don't think people understand how strong my character is. When you've been a combat veteran and you've been to a combat zone, if people aren't shooting at me and if things aren't blowing up around me, I'm not getting very worried. 

CP: How many miles you figure you've put on your truck since you became a representative?

Holtorf: I know exactly. I bought a Chevy Silverado spring of 2020 after I was selected. It had 13,000 miles on it. Two years later it has 75,000 miles on it. 

I've got a lot of windshield time. I've been to Trinidad many times. I've been to Kim and Pritchard, Springfield, Walsh, Holly; Lamar, many times; Hasty, Sugar City, Crowley, Limon and Hugo, Eads. I've been to all the places in the district and I know people in those places and they're my people, small rural communities that have the fiber of rural Colorado. They want the same things to raise their families, send their kids to school, give them opportunities, preserve what is ours in rural Colorado, our schools, our sports teams, our communities. We want our main streets to thrive.

Here's what we don't want. We don't want another grant program from the Governor's Office. We want to thrive from the inside out and we don't want to just survive.  

CP: Tell me about your family

Holtorf: I actually have five daughters, one in Kansas City who teaches elementary school and a lovely little grandson. Another daughter lives in Sterling, married to a hometown boy there, and a lovely little granddaughter. Another daughter is a nurse who works in Fort Morgan. Another daughter who ironically went to CU of all places – and I'm a CSU graduate. I'm not big on the CU list as a Ram. She works at a bank in Denver. My youngest daughter goes to University of Colorado, Colorado Springs, and she's studying anthropology and she's going on a study-abroad-program to study in London.

They're all beautiful people. They're good people. They're living their lives and, and being successful, productive citizens who are making their way and providing and contributing to society. 

CP: What will happen to the ranch? 

Holtorf: I've got to get one of my daughters to find a guy that wants to come and ranch. He doesn't have to be very smart. He just needs to work hard. I'll teach him everything he needs to know about ranching. I've got a few prospects (laughs).

I've got two brothers who are part of the family business. My mother still lives on the ranch. We're very happy to still be running cattle. The brand is an open A Lazy F, for AJ Funk. That brand has been on cattle, on our ranch, for well over 130 years. That's the legacy of Buffalo Springs Ranch. We continue to put that brand on cattle, every branding season. We'll do it again this May. That is something that makes me very happy.

 

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