Q&A with Sandra Hagen Solin | A Capitol insider talks transportation, #MeToo

Sandra Hagen Solin, a transportation lobbyist working for the Northern Colorado Legislative Alliance. (Colorado Politics file)

Sandra Hagen Solin is among those lobbyists who are pretty much at the top of their game at the Capitol and beyond — having recently brought the 25-year-old firm she founded and owns, Capitol Solutions, under the umbrella of the national law firm Kutak Rock to head up and build its government-relations practice.

“I have the same clients, same approach, but a new, larger platform in which to represent new and existing clients at the local state and federal level,” she tells us.

She didn’t get there without a lot of sweat equity, of course, and Hagen Solin is indeed known as one of the Capitol lobby’s hardest workers. Yet, you wouldn’t know it to hear her enthuse about her work, the wide-ranging issues she handles and how it all fits into her life — in today’s Q&A.

Colorado Politics: You’ve been in the middle of Colorado’s great transportation debate for years — serving as a convener-at-large in bringing together stakeholders on successive attempts at hammering out highway funding solutions. Despite epic efforts by you and others, a substantial, long-term funding mechanism still eludes us. The latest legislative session at best was able to come up with what many are calling a good first step.

What stands in the way? Is it the partisan divide at the statehouse, disagreement over how to apportion the proceeds, or Coloradans’ general disaffection for statewide revenue proposals? And does a statewide solution have to involve a tax hike?

Sandra Hagen Solin: While funding transportation in Colorado is a bipartisan priority, unfortunately, bipartisanship falls apart when you start to talk solutions. In a split legislative majority environment, the philosophical divide between the parties on the priority of transportation within the state budget and the if and how additional new dollars should be sought from voters interfered with a substantial solution that was more than a “good first step.”

The success for transportation in 2018 was built on a restoring a too small but long-term General Fund commitment and established a path for TRANS bonding as a means to cost-effectively and concurrently build large-scale and regionally significant projects across the state.

Voters haven’t supported a statewide tax increase for anything since the passage of TABOR, with the exception of “sin” taxes on marijuana and cigarettes. What we know from polling is that before voters will even consider a tax hike for transportation, they need to know, with confidence, that as much funding as possible has been committed out of existing revenues to address the problem.

$1.3 billion in new base budget building revenue was projected for the state next year which provided a path to make a meaningful, ongoing investment in transportation from existing General Fund resources without compromising other state priorities. With a question to raise taxes for transportation on the fall ballot, the voters will answer whether they feel the legislature’s contribution to the problem in (the last session’s) Senate Bill 1 was enough.


Sandra Hagen Solin


CP: Earlier this month, Colorado Politics published the views of Colorado’s gubernatorial candidates regarding transportation funding, with each detailing what he or she thinks must be done to move the ball. Their input spanned the known spectrum on the issue.

What role does — or should — the governor play on the quest for transportation funding, and how important is it for the governor to take the lead?

Hagen Solin: A governor can — and should — play the critical leadership role in the transportation funding debate. (Former) Gov. Bill Owens led and made transportation a cornerstone issue — and legacy — in his time as governor with the passage of the 1999 TRANS Bonds referendum that built the I-25 T-REX project and 28 other projects throughout the state.

(Former) Gov. Bill Ritter took the mantle from there to convene a Blue Ribbon Panel on Transportation that ultimately led to the legislative passage of FASTER, which allowed the state to address additional critical projects across Colorado as well as the state’s crumbling bridge infrastructure.

Senate Bill 1 was a step in the right direction, but there is a tremendous opportunity for the next governor to build upon SB 1 to use his leadership position to champion the next chapter in tackling funding transportation.

CP: You and your firm are, in a sense, part of the new establishment of the lobbying corps at the Capitol. Which is to say you’ve spent a couple of decades at it, you’ve racked up your share of combat decorations, and you probably have accumulated plenty of battle scars, so now you are among Colorado’s go-to lobbyists on bread-and-butter, big-ticket issues.

How has lobbying changed since you started in the early 1990s, and what lies ahead for the profession?

Hagen Solin: The profession has changed markedly. I began my career before term limits came into full effect and before Amendment 41 limitations. I also began my career when Republicans had control of both bodies for decades and Bill Owens was elected as the first Republican governor in decades. There was a certain stability in the political landscape that allowed for a more pragmatic discourse, consideration of different sensibilities, and a high level of trust between legislator and lobbyist, legislator and legislator and lobbyist and lobbyist than exists today. I still lobby and interact with my colleagues and legislators with that foundation in mind.

What lies ahead? While I can’t predict what will happen, I will share this: I am hopeful and optimistic that, despite the pendulum swings of party control, despite the partisan divides and political posturing, the lobby corps — as stewards of the institutional knowledge in the era of term limits — will rebuild the trust and stability fundamental to good policy making.

CP: Given some of the dramatic #MeToo-related developments at the Capitol this past session — against the backdrop of that same issue nationwide — we have to ask for your Colorado-specific take on it.

Could this turn out to be that rare national crisis of conscience that actually has staying power? Or, will it fade, followed by a return to business as usual? Did the uproar unfairly reflect on those legislators who manage to go about their business while keeping their behavior in check and their hands to themselves? On the other hand, is the culture of harassment so deeply ingrained in institutions like the legislature that it can’t be eradicated?

Hagen Solin: Mutual respect and trust in our interactions with one another is vital to the business of legislating. While a “culture of harassment” is too strong a representation of the environment in which we work, I believe raising the level of consciousness about how we interact with one another has been a positive benefit and one that can be sustained over time.

While a “culture of harassment” is too strong a representation of the environment in which we work, I believe raising the level of consciousness about how we interact with one another has been a positive benefit and one that can be sustained over time.

CP: As a lobbyist, you must play the role of bipartisan bridge builder at the legislature or the nation’s Capitol in order to get your bills through the pipeline. Yet, on a separate track, you also wear another hat as a partisan Republican who has worked closely with the state’s GOP headliners over the years. So, you know that battlefield well.

Handicap the upcoming gubernatorial primary for us: Who will win the nomination for each party?

Hagen Solin: An easy one! Walker Stapleton will win the Republican primary and Jared Polis will win the Democrat primary. I have a great deal of respect for, and know, most of the candidates for governor — on both sides of the aisle. I have been honored to advise many of them through this cycle. It has been a fascinating election cycle thus far with so much great talent vying to lead our state along with a lot of drama, speculation and candidates jumping in and out of the race. I anxiously await the general election cycle – and ALL the ads that come with it!

CP: You have a family and a family life, so here’s a question we try to ask in one way or another of all Q&A subjects: Can the world of politics and policy be family-friendly for those who work in it?

Hagen Solin: Yep! It’s a great industry in which to find a good family — work balance. It’s intense for five months, mellow for a couple of months in the summer when my son is out of school (a little less mellow in an election year), and then, just when school gets going, you’re ready to begin engaging and building for the next legislative session and, in an election year, ramping up more intensely for November. What it’s not good for is a winter ski trip to the Swiss Alps!

CP: If you could do something for a living entirely unrelated to politics, what would it be?

Hagen Solin: I would love to be an interior designer. I love the notion of creating beautiful, creative and loving spaces for people. I find an outlet for that in planning parties and events in my personal life but, in my next life, I’d be an interior designer.

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