There are, of course, plenty of people who have never held elected office yet wield considerable influence over policy making at the state Capitol. And one of them, Tiffani Lennon, tells us in this week's Q&A she is unlikely ever to toss her hat in the ring. It probably wouldn’t be as rewarding as the job she started in June, she says, as executive director of the Colorado Center on Law & Policy (CCLP).
When Lennon came aboard, the advocacy group — the mission of which is to advance the health, security, and well-being of low-income Coloradans through research, education, advocacy, and litigation — had just wrapped up what its website notes was “one of its most successful legislative sessions ever.” It did so under the leadership of veteran former state Rep. Claire Levy of Boulder, whom we profiled earlier this year.
We checked in with Lennon the other day to see how the organization is doing under new leadership.
Colorado Politics: You’re a veteran of academia as well as Colorado’s nonprofit world, but you’re relatively new to the political scene, which of course drives policy and undergirds a lot of CCLP’s work. Give us three words you think help define politics and policy-making in Colorado — perhaps, as opposed to some other states in which you’ve lived and worked.
Tiffani Lennon: I would describe Colorado's political and legislative culture as congenial, reasonable and collaborative. Describing politics and policy-making as congenial, ethical and collaborative in 2019 is significant, and something Colorado should be very proud of. While Colorado is far from perfect, we are approaching this work — more often than not — in the "right" way.
CP: What do you think are the biggest obstacles in Colorado’s political culture to implementing some of the changes you advocate?
Lennon: The biggest obstacle in passing legislation is finding and allocating adequate funding for the initiatives. One of the biggest obstacles in implementing and enforcing existing policies is that in many cases, Colorado is county-administered with state oversight. With 64 very diverse counties in the state, there are often 64 different approaches to enforcement and implementation.
- Executive director, Colorado Center on Law & Policy, since June.
- Former president and CEO of Ray of Hope Cancer Foundation in Denver, 2016 to 2019.
- Chair, law and society and community-based research at the Colorado Women's College of the University of Denver, 2007-2015.
- Attorney and analyst with the Education Commission of the States, 2005 - 2010.
- Holds a bachelor's degree in education and psychology from Rider University in Lawrenceville, New Jersey; an M.A. from the Korbel School for International Studies at the University of Denver; a J.D. from the University of Denver's Sturm College of Law; and an L.L.M. from the University of London's Birkbeck College of Law.
CP: Earlier in your career, you were a community-based attorney who litigated rights violations. You were a nonprofit exec with the Ray of Hope Cancer Foundation and Ability Connection Colorado. What influences in your life inspired you toward a career of community and public service?
Lennon: Like so many of my colleagues and peers, I want to positively contribute to a Colorado that works for everyone. I truly believe that when every Coloradan can be lifted up, we all benefit.
CP: Your research-intensive book, “Recognizing Women’s Leadership: Strategies and Best Practices for Employing Excellence,” examines women’s performance in leadership roles. How does Colorado rate in that regard, and what remaining hurdles do you see in our state to women’s advancement in leadership?
Lennon: Colorado reflects similar trends to what I have seen on a national scale regarding barriers to advancement for women, and even more concerning for women of color. Racism, classism and sexism perpetuate poverty creating — often unconsciously — institutionalized poverty. We can overcome barriers for advancement when our systems are intentional about overcoming racism, classism and sexism.
CP: CCLP is a decidedly left-leaning advocacy organization in a state that, until fairly recently, elected plenty of Republicans to office and — given how Colorado’s biggest voting bloc is unaffiliated — could conceivably swing back that way at some point. Presumably, your long-term approach to advocacy in the legislature and beyond isn’t to assume everyone is with you, even if Democrats do rule state government at present. What is your strategy in building coalitions in what many say is still an indelibly purple state?
Lennon: I respectfully disagree that CCLP is "decidedly left-leaning." We have enjoyed tremendous support from Republicans, Democrats and independents alike. In fact, last session, all 13 bills that our staff led or helped develop were approved with bipartisan support. Poverty transcends political affiliation. The issues that CCLP grapples with are issues facing all Coloradans from every corner of the state regardless of their politics. I refuse to consent and therefore perpetuate the notion that only left-leaning people would support providing life-saving medicine for children, affordable housing with fair eviction policies, or work opportunities that allow for self-sufficiency — to name just a few examples. Moreover, Colorado businesses are stronger when more people can adequately engage in the economy.
CP: Your immediate predecessor, former state Rep. Claire Levy of Boulder, had a successful run achieving a lot of CCLP’s policy goals. What will be the top priorities under your leadership, and will your agenda take the organization in any new directions?
Lennon: CCLP has one of the best teams in Colorado. Our people are the perfect combination of professional experts with the drive and tenacity to make Colorado the best state in the nation. We have a vision to ensure that all Coloradans have an opportunity for dignity, respect and a sense of belonging. Through legislation and law, CCLP will stand with diverse communities and work for a Colorado where food, adequate income, health, and housing is available and accessible for all.
CP: Would you ever run for political office in Colorado? Why or why not?
Lennon: I was drawn to CCLP because of its multiprong approach to the work. Since its inception, CCLP has recognized it was not just going to be lawmaking or legal tools such as implementation, enforcement and/or litigation that will advance the anti-poverty movement. It will be the use of several tools that help to move the dial. The CCLP team utilizes these tools, and these combined tools will help to address the issues. In short, I do not see myself running for office. I am uncertain that any one political office would be as rewarding as the work of CCLP.