I learned of Ted Strickland’s passing with genuine regret. He represented a generation of Republican leaders who still believed in the importance of government and the positive role it can and should play in all our lives. Unlike many in the current crop of Republican legislators, who would have Colorado voters believe government is our enemy — that a return to frontier anarchy would constitute a net social improvement, Ted understood that, when properly channeled, government significantly improves the quality of life in Colorado. That doesn’t mean he wasn’t a conservative.
Ted Strickland supported “right to work” and fiscal discipline while holding a jaundiced view of reform, particularly when it arrived in the costume of new programs or new spending. Nonetheless, and much to the consternation of many observers on the right, he remained active with the mainstream National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), serving as its chairman, and spurned overtures from the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). Ted was always on the watch for a constructive compromise that would strengthen Colorado’s economy. Consequently, he was willing to promote tourism, build roads and fund higher education because he recognized the direct connection between public investment and tax revenues.
Like anyone who spends a lifetime in politics, Ted took his share of bruisings. During his first campaign for governor, in 1978, a picture of his front lawn, complete with pink flamingos, was widely circulated. Admittedly a little unusual for Colorado, Ted found himself defending his wife against scurrilous whispers that she was a ‘cat lady’ nutball. Years later, they would open a shelter together for strays and Ted would lead the Colorado Humane Society. Their concern was both sincere and heartfelt.
My only personal interaction directly with Ted only confirms the widespread recollections of him as a gentle and decent man. In 1984, after leaving the Legislature, I was serving as Chair of the Denver Democratic party. As we approached our Assembly that spring, there was a full court press on to insure that the Colorado delegation would go to the national convention as a unanimous ‘favorite son’ delegation for Gary Hart, who had recently won the New Hampshire primary against Walter Mondale. The only chance that Mondale had of snagging a Colorado delegate would be in Denver, where a significant number of labor Democrats would be attending the Assembly.
We anticipated a lengthy and determined floor fight. There would be more than 2,000 attending the event at Currigan Hall and it occurred to me that the ten-inch gavel I used at Executive Committee meetings would not be up to the task ahead. I had no idea where I could find the kind of monster hammers that were used in the Colorado House and Senate. So, I trekked to the Capitol to see whether I could borrow one over the weekend. Speaker Carl (Bev) Bledose had left for the weekend, and, despite my recent service in the House, staffers were afraid to release the House sledge.
So, I went to visit Ted Strickland, Senate President, in the upper chamber, a man I barely knew. He graciously accommodated me, lent me his gavel and wished me luck. On Saturday, we experienced the donnybrook we expected. Party rules stated that a Presidential candidate needed to receive 15 percent of the delegate vote to earn a slot at the national convention. Mondale’s supporters only mustered 13.5 percent, but they did not surrender easily. Fourteen consecutive challenges to rulings from the chair were introduced over two hours of technical debate. Their basic argument consisted of an appeal to fairness, since they had come so close to the 15 percent threshold.
The parliamentary dueling finally ended when Judi Gold, captain-at-large, asked me when the Chair would respect the rights of the minority, and I replied that I was equally curious when she would recognize that the overwhelming majority would establish the rules. A deafening roar of agreement from the crowd, whose patience with the debate had worn exceedingly thin, finally silenced the Mondale dissent. In the meantime, Ted’s gavel was well exercised. I returned it early Monday morning, with my profuse thanks, before the Senate went back in to session.
Ted winked at me, and said, “It sounds like you gave her a good workout!” I agreed. Then he asked me with a wry smile, “Do you think she’d prefer to work for Democrats now?” Caught off guard, I replied, “No, I think she’s still a good Republican, but I’m pretty sure she enjoyed the slumming.” We both laughed and remained good friends in the years that followed.
I was not surprised that Ted decided to run for county commissioner after leaving the Legislature. Some might feel this was a step down for a two-time gubernatorial candidate. But, to the contrary, Ted saw it as an opportunity to take his experience and wisdom to strengthen Adams County government on behalf of his neighbors. I know several prominent Democrats who cast their ballots for him for that very reason. In short order, Ted was playing a leadership role with the National Association of County Commissioners. Ted Strickland was a public servant, in the very best sense, and he will be missed.
Miller Hudson served in the Legislature himself, as a Democratic state representative from Denver from 1979-1883. He is currently an independent government relations professional and keen observer of the political scene.