Neil Westergaard

Neil Westergaard.

Colorado Politics presents eight contributed essays offering guidance to Colorado’s next chief executive from some of the state’s best political minds. CLICK HERE for more.

When the political ads mercifully end on Nov. 7, and the winning candidates turn to the task of governing, I will be relieved.

That’s because the sleazy political commercials — for me the most unseemly aspect of modern politics — will be over. Until the next campaign.

But somehow, the dishonest political advertising of the campaign often gets replaced by bone-headed decisions and ill-advised policies that set the stage for the next campaign and the battle lines become even more entrenched.

The result? Very little gets done.

So, in the hope this year’s political follies have made everyone sick of politics as usual, I offer these words of advice for whomever comes out on top Nov. 6 in the race for Colorado governor (even though I’m not naive enough to think they’ll listen.)


Once you’re in office, don’t pay too much attention to the extreme wing of your party. The vast majority of voters are somewhere closer the middle, and they are paying attention to what you accomplish, not who funded your campaign. Face it, campaign money is used to persuade people who aren’t paying attention anyway.

Act appropriately, and they will reward you.

Don’t worry so much about being re-elected. Compromising what you know is the right thing to do because it might anger the extreme left or right is not a long-term strategy anyway.

Listen to people’s arguments. Then decide. Even your political opponents just want to be heard. If you consider sincerely their views and go a different direction, they’ll respect you.

Hire the best people. Look across the state, too. Don’t assume that because someone comes from the Front Range, they know better.

Be honest with news reporters. Talk to the ones who are fair; be very cautious with those who aren’t. But never, ever tell a lie or shade the truth by omitting important facts. And make sure your cabinet adheres to the same principle. Lying gets you into bigger trouble than telling the truth, even if it may piss some people off.

Don’t have too many inviolate principles, so that it’s impossible to compromise. The only people who act this way are ideologues on the extreme ends of political thought.

Remember what George Bernard Shaw said: “Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.”

Don’t get too caught up in the trappings of being governor. Get out and talk to ordinary people earnestly, and learn about their daily lives. Listen. Dick Lamm used to have “Capitol for a Day” programs where he and a few members of the cabinet went out and met folks away from Denver. They didn’t always go great, but people appreciated the effort.

He was elected to three terms, by the way.

Develop personal friendships with people on the other side. Bill Owens and John Hickenlooper shared a great love of baseball, and it enabled them to talk about issues on which they disagreed.

Just like employers have learned that having best friends work together increases employee longevity and minimizes turnover, having a personal relationship with someone — or lots of people — on the other side will reduce vindictiveness or knee-jerk reactions.

Have political advisers around you who err on the side of being transparent, instead of the ones that think they can manipulate reality with clever “messaging” that isn’t truthful. Those people are too cute by half most of the time, and their behavior will come back to bite you.

Empathy is the most important attribute of every great leader. So, recognize that the men and women in expensive suits that gather around you aren’t representative of the people who get up in the morning and go to work in overalls or flannel shirts and hardhats.

People who are flooded out, burned out, and priced out of their neighborhoods deserve your serious attention as much as the bankers and lawyers on 17th Street.

Recognize that your decisions affect people way beyond the ones that can afford expensive lobbyists and donate heavily to campaigns.

And when you have a political victory, leave something on the table for the defeated. Politics shouldn’t be about destroying the opposition.

Someday, the American people are going to wake up to the fact that the politics of annihilation, which is how many politicians conduct themselves during campaigns, and after, is not in their best interests.

Be part of the change.

Neil Westergaard was editor of The Denver Post and the Denver Business Journal.

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