It’s somewhat rare to find Colorado’s typically stalwart Republican senate caucus with their guard let down, but that seemed to be the case Oct. 13 when the GOP state senators met at the Legislature to elect their new leadership team for the 2011-12 year. Minority Leader Sen. Mike Kopp, R-Littleton, was stepping down from his leadership post and resigning as a senator entirely so he could spend more time with his four children after the untimely death this summer of their mother and his wife, Kim, from cancer.
Before tending to the business at hand, however, Kopp took the unusual step of telling all 15 members of the caucus — 10 whom were right there with him in the third floor committee room at the Capitol — what he really thought of them. For the next 25 minutes or so, Kopp engaged in a sort of touchy-feely encounter-like session from the 1970s where the normally reserved state senator and former Army sergeant revealed his true feelings about his colleagues in endearing terms.
It was almost enough to make one cry — and it nearly did when Sen. Greg Brophy, a conservative farmer/legislator from the eastern plains, was observed dabbing at what looked to be a tear welling in his eye at one point.
After Kopp had finished, his Senate colleagues reversed the process and expressed their feelings about him aloud.
“Since I have an opportunity I wanted to say one little thing about each of you… just one thing that popped into my mind that I want to leave with you,” Kopp began as he sat at a chair around the table and settled first on Sen. Bill Cadman, Republican from Colorado Springs who later that morning would be elected as the new minority leader.
“Bill, I really think the world of you. I’m going to miss your incredible wit — you always had a joke lined up and ready to go,” Kopp began.
To Sen. Kevin Lundberg, R-Berthoud: “I always admired very much your persistence with the Constitution and I always admired that you didn’t care if it irritated anybody (laughter). You know, dedication to holding on to that document is never going to be questioned by anybody about you.”
As he looked over at Sen. Kent Lambert, Kopp said he is really going to miss “the way that you harness your incredible intellect for the good of the team. And there’s a lot more I can say about that, but that’s what comes to mind.”
To first year legislator Kevin Grantham, R-Canõn City: “Kevin, I like very much your gentle, quiet, confident, intelligent way. I think it’s pretty obvious (to our) caucus that as a freshman you distinguish yourself and you have a lot to offer.”
Glancing over at Shawn Mitchell, Republican from Broomfield, Kopp quipped, “Shawn, I truly hate you for how powerful your gifts of debate are.” When the chuckling subsided, Kopp added, “I was just sharing with somebody the other day the magnitude of what it is you bring in debate, it’s truly special, truly remarkable. I’m going to miss watching that unfold… I know other people hate him too for that same reason, so let’s just get the cards on the table. Just kidding. I love you, Shawn.”
“Keith,” Kopp began as he came to Sen. King from Colorado Springs, “I’ve always been amazed at your ability to grasp such a depth of detail and remember it and that it’s such a sign of just an amazing intellectual capacity and then to turn those details into amendments…”
Kopp’s message to Sen. Scott Renfroe was fraught with nostalgia.
“Scotty, I… (sighs)… I… I’m really going to miss you. You’re the only, I guess fellow freshman with me from our class, although we came in at the same time as Kent did when he came into the House. The thing I’ve always admired about you, Scott, is your humble drive toward principle and your unflagging and unwavering in that pursuit.”
To Sen. Brophy, Kopp’s words were equally as complimentary. “Greg, I have always been amazed at your knack for always seeming to be about three steps ahead of everybody else. And I’ve watched you and I’ve figured out how you do that, it’s not by accident. You are smart, very smart, but it’s because you prepare daily and it shows in everything that you do and your daily preparation is just something I admire very, very much.”
“Mark, I have always been so impressed by your humble, conservative and, I think, really powerful ability to analyze,” Kopp said to Sen. Scheffel of Parker. “Your gift of analysis is something that I think is kind of a natural, it’s a great gift.”
Even though a few of the caucus members couldn’t attend the hastily called meeting that day, Kopp didn’t leave them out in his assessments.
“I was going to say that I’d miss Ted for his gentle way at the microphone (laughter),” he stated about Ted Harvey, state senator from Highlands Ranch. “I’ll miss Ted for his fire.”
I’m going to miss Ellen (Roberts) for her just dogged determination to be her district’s safe sounder. She is going to represent her district and if you don’t like it, that’s just too bad. And I like that a lot about Ellen. I remember my first experience with her at the caucus retreat several years ago… she was the one voice out of 99, out of all the Republican legislators, she said, ‘I don’t want to go that direction.’ Everybody else in the Republican Party wanted to go that direction. I just liked that she was willing to do that.”
To Jean White of Hayden, who succeeded her husband Al White when he was appointed to a position in Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper’s administration a few months ago, “I like the fact that Jean is willing to buck the system. You know, she comes in as the new gal and she just stands up and says, ‘I’m going to do what I want to do.’”
As for Sen. Steve King from Grand Junction, Kopp noted, “I like the fact that Steve King is about as no nonsense and fair minded, I think, as you can get.”
And finally, about Sen. Nancy Spence, his colleague from Centennial. “We all love Nancy, I love… I’m going to miss Nancy for really the gracious and dignified way that she plays her role as elder statesman and I love that she’ll put her arm around you and encourage you on the one hand and then in the next instance she’ll just kick your butt… And I really have always liked that very much about Nancy.”
Kopp thanked members of the caucus for their friendship both in and out of the office and told them about his plans for the near future. “I’m going to do some races with my kids which will be a lot of fun and then I’m going to focus on a career in business and I’m going to do some things with my foundation that we’ve set up for Kim, the Kimmy’s Hope Foundation. Those things’ll bring a lot of joy and fulfillment to me,” Kopp said. “And I do envy you at the same time as I say that, for the incredible opportunity I think that you all have ahead of you to right Colorado… You’re going to gain next year electorally, we’re going to have a bigger influence in the state and I think that’ll be to the benefit of the citizens. I wish you God speed.”
Scheffel responded and looked at Kopp. “We gather together as a caucus, we don’t want to be here. We’re a team, Republican Senate Caucus and we’re a team because you put this team together in large part. We’ve got a leader at this second, his name’s Mike Kopp. Coming together to do what we’ve got to do today is hard.
“Thanks for your leadership, thanks for your confidence in each of us,” Scheffel continued. “Thanks for your faith, you’ve taught this group a lot and (we’ll) carry on the example, the direction that you’ve set… So colleagues, we’ve got some business to attend to.”
First, however, senators offered remarks about Kopp.
Sen. Mitchell: “We did not expect to be participating in a leadership election this season. It’s thrust on us because a good man who was also our leader and our friend has to make an important decision about what’s most important to him. And we’re sorry but we’re happy for Mike’s family that there’s no question what decision he would make.
“…We have been well led by Mike Kopp. We’ve been well led because we’ve been well served… He thought about and cared about each of the members that he served individually. Whoever sat down for a visit with Mike, he would say something about your issues or your struggles that you’d realize that’s not random, he’s thinking about the people that he leads by serving. He set an example of integrity and of devotion to his family and of being able to hold a firm purpose while using a gentle touch. That’s an example I would like to learn to emulate better.”
Sen. Cadman: “The last time I saw ten males crying like this was when I was in Park View Little League and I missed that last pitch taking us one more step to that world series.
“He (Kopp) shared one thing about all of us, I’m going to share four things about Mike quickly. Most of you know this, but it bears repeating. The four loves of Mike Kopp. Mike Kopp loves the Lord and if you didn’t know that, then you don’t know Mike Kopp. I think if that were his only epitaph, that would be enough, an epitaph we would all strive to have for our own.
“Mike loves Kim Kopp — how could you not love Kim Kopp?
“He loves his kids and the fourth thing is Mike Kopp loves being a senator.
“And how does a man give up two of the four things that he loves the most in the same year, one voluntarily? Because his love for his other things is greater. And my admiration for what you’ve been through and how you’ve handled it and how you’ve treated all of us and the leadership here is literally without bounds. I mean your passion and your drive and your commitment for excellence shows that you are a good leader, but what it did — and I think Senator Brophy nailed it — you made us leaders, you made your team a team of leadership. And it’s not just those of us with the titles now or the next caucus chair, you took a team of folks and did something that I haven’t seen, which has been articulated here in the time that I’ve been here.
Sen. King: “Well, I want to first of all thank Mike for his leadership that he’s had over the last several years… I first met him at a restaurant, looking to run for the Legislature. I was impressed with you then, Mike, and your commitment to your family has exceeded my expectations. So to you… what it means to your kids for you to do this, I think all of us can be impressed and inspired by the fact that you care about your kids more than you care about politics. And what you’ve gone through in the last couple of years with your family is a truly remarkable testament of stability and so I think it speaks highly of your Christian faith and what that brings to your life… God bless you.”