She's a lot like the student in your high school Key Club who did the heavy lifting to prepare for the next fundraiser — and not like the kid who joined just to pad a college application.
Now in her fourth term representing District 29 in the Colorado House, including parts of Arvada and Westminster, Democrat Tracy Kraft-Tharp has a well-established rep as a lawmaker who leaves the limelight to others as she methodically builds bipartisan coalitions for low-profile but high-yield bills — that actually get passed.
The bomb throwing and razzle-dazzle that grabs the attention of the press table and makes for endless blog fodder — not her style. She's more likely to invest her energy in poring over the fine points of legislation with a bill drafter than grabbing the mic at a news conference.
"Someone in my district once said that Tracy doesn’t do the sexy bills, but she gets important things done," Kraft-Tharp tells us in this week's Q&A. Read on for more.
Colorado Politics: Colorado Politics columnist and former state lawmaker Miller Hudson lauded you and Denver state Sen. Angela Williams earlier this year for being among the General Assembly’s “work horses” rather than its “show horses.” Meaning, as he put it, you “toil by choice well out of the spotlight, crafting 100- and 200-page statutes restructuring entire segments of the economy or redesigning existing tax and budget policies.”
Makes it sound like you were that rare child who did her homework without being told — but compliments like Hudson’s are about more than your work ethic. He means you’re in the General Assembly for the policy, not the politics; for lawmaking, not showboating.
Tracy Kraft-Tharp: I’ve known Miller Hudson for a long time, and he’s known me as someone who’s a hard worker. My work isn’t based on the front-page headlines. The majority of my bills aren’t controversial because I’ve worked on finding common ground and making them bipartisan. Close to 90% have passed! Reporters have told me that there isn’t a story on my bills because they aren’t controversial. I think that was Miller Hudson’s point in his article.
Someone in my district once said that Tracy doesn’t do the sexy bills, but she gets important things done. I’ve run legislation that will help make life better for people and make Colorado a better place to live, work and play. However, chances are you won’t see stories about my bills on "Next" or in Colorado Politics!
- Represents District 29 in the Colorado House, since January 2013. Chairs the Business Affairs & Labor Committee and the Sales & Use Tax Simplification Task Force.
- Consultant, Tharp Consulting Services, 2000-present.
- Former professor, Metropolitan State University, Saint Paul, Minnesota; former professor, Regis University in Denver.
- Served as manager of the Women in Crisis battered women’s shelter in Jefferson County.
- Received her law degree and a master's in social work from the University of Denver.
CP: You are seen as a political moderate who works well with both sides of the aisle in building coalitions for bipartisan bills. You are something of a champion of small business in Democratic ranks and collect plenty of plaques from advocacy groups across the spectrum for your work at the Capitol. Arguably, you’re what ordinary voters say they want to see more of in politics — but what they in fact see less and less, it seems. Many officeholders have told us politics has gotten intolerably acrimonious and polarized. How did it get that way, and how, at least at the state level, do you think we can move beyond it?
Kraft-Tharp: We need to remember that most bills — something like 95% — are bipartisan, meaning there get both Democratic and Republican votes. For the most part, inside the glass, we may have policy differences but we like each other. When I was a lobbyist, I would always be impressed seeing legislators greet each other with a hug.
That said, it does seem that both parties have moved more to the extreme. I think it’s because people vote for their elected to fight for policies that they agree with rather than voting for people who will compromise. In my district, I’ve heard over and over again that they want someone to represent them to go to the Capitol to get things done. That’s the type of legislator I’ve tried to be.
CP: How does your background in education and human services influence you as an officeholder — having been a middle-school teacher, a youth counselor and social worker, and the director of a women’s shelter?
Kraft-Tharp: My background brings my skills of communicating and building relationships to my work as a legislator. To be a good policy maker demands seeing different perspectives, and connecting with your colleagues and with the voters, and to listen to ideas whether you agree with them or not. It’s about understanding the unintended consequences of a policy. I’ve tried to govern on three principles: being accessible to the people in my district, finding common ground and getting things done. My background in education and human services certainly has helped in this regard.
CP: You have a law degree. Will you practice law at some point?
Kraft-Tharp: No. I loved law school and I believe that understanding the law has been beneficial in developing policy. Law school helped in my critical thinking process and, of course, in seeing different perspectives of the same issue.
CP: Highways in the metro area and up into the high country have been tied into a knot — paralyzed by gridlock. You have to thread that needle each time you go home to Arvada. Is there hope for the region’s transportation grid?
Kraft-Tharp: I’m fortunate that I have U.S. 36 and the toll road to Arvada and I’m more fortunate that my husband’s credit card is hooked up to my toll pass! I do send pictures to the Plenary Group (the tollway's private partner) when the toll road gets jammed by traffic.
Is there hope for the region’s transportation gridlock? I don’t know. If Proposition CC doesn’t pass, I don’t know where the state will get the resources to invest in transportation. People say they don’t like toll roads and have demonstrated that they don’t want their taxes raised. While 90,000 new people move into Colorado each year, the state is unable to use the revenue they bring in to help with our growth issues such as gridlock-because of TABOR. We need to invest in Colorado. There is new technology that could become available that could help with gridlock in the future.
CP: Name an elected Republican — whether in the legislature or some other post — you admire.
Kraft-Tharp: Wow, this is a hard question because there are so many. Most of my bills have been co-primed with a Republican. I’ve really appreciated working with people who will dig in and work hard on our bills, who listen to all perspectives while respecting that we may have policy differences and won’t expect either of us to work against those differences. That we’ll find that common ground.
Some of the people that I’ve appreciated working with are Chris Holbert, Lois Landgraf, my town meeting partner Lang Sias, Hugh McKean. I enjoyed sitting next to Perry Buck and Don Corum in Transportation Committee for four years. Jim Smallwood, Polly Lawrence, John Cooke, Brian Delgrosso, Cole Wist. ... Ugh! Who am I missing that I’ll get in trouble for forgetting?
CP: What inspired you to seek elected office in the first place?
Kraft-Tharp: I never thought I’d run for office. My husband ran for Congress and I always thought he would be the elected in our family. For me, it’s been about making a difference in whatever role I’ve been in — as a therapist or teacher or program manager or legislator.
I’ve been involved in politics since I was a teenager growing up in Minnesota. My dad has a picture of me at 12 years old doing envelopes for Hubert Humphrey! I’d share it however I wasn’t a cute teenager! I was involved in my own House district as a PCP [precinct committee person], captain, vice chair and chair.
I was introduced to the possibility of being an elected policy maker through participating in local community coalitions and some leadership programs, Bighorn and White House Project. When the HD 29 seat was coming open, as the House district chair, I started talking with people about what kind of representative we needed in the district. People started to suggest that I run! My husband encouraged me to run. I did, and won!
CP: How do you feel about ending your term as a legislator and what was your favorite bill?
Kraft-Tharp: It’s been such an honor to serve my district as a legislator. I’m very sad that it’s coming to an end. At the beginning, I said that I would value every day and I’ve tried to do that. My favorite bill is the development of the Behavioral Health Crisis System so everyone in Colorado has the mental health resources they need. No wait, my favorite bill might be Don’t Tax Grandma’s Meatloaf. Or, maybe it’s the bill developing a partnership with NCAR to build a computer software tool that could forecast the direction of wildfires 12-18 hours beforehand. I’ve had the opportunity to make a difference in the last seven years, and I’m grateful for that!