Allen Dines hasn’t slowed down a bit


Allen Dines
Colorado House of Representatives 1956-1966
Colorado Senate 1966-1974

“I’m up to my eyeballs in education,” former state Senator Allen Dines says to me. It has been almost forty years since we served together. Although he is now 90, he hasn’t slowed down a bit. In fact, he has the same enthusiasm he had in the summer of 1973 when we served together on an interim committee on education and came up with a brilliant new way to charge tuition, only to be told that our idea was “dead on arrival.”

Allen was born in Denver but his family had roots in the East so he went to Yale, graduated in December, 1942, got his diploma in the morning and his commission as a Navy Ensign in the afternoon through the Reserve Officer Training Program (ROTC) which has now, fortunately, been re-instituted on Ivy League campuses. Serving on a destroyer that was supporting the landings at Iwo Jima and Okinawa, his ship was hit by Japanese Kamikazes and lost 100 crew members.

After law school at Harvard, he served in the State Department and then the CIA, trying to get various US intelligence agencies to work together. In 1952, he worked in the Executive Office of the President, helping formulate the foreign aid program.

Having reached the top of the Civil Service scale, he returned to Denver to practice law, passed the Colorado Bar and was hired by Holme Roberts and Owen. He registered as a Democrat, “maybe subconsciously to show my Republican father my independence.”

In the spring of 1956, he received a call from a Denver Democratic District Captain who he had never met, asking if he wanted to run for office — the House, the Senate or the Superior Court bench. This was back when judges in Colorado were elected.

He opted for the House and was one of the fifteen Denver countywide winners. Then, as a freshman, he was appointed to be Chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, which also made him Chairman of the Joint House-Senate Subcommittee on Appropriations, the committee which prepared the budget and the Long Bill. “I thought it was amazing at the time,” he reflected.

He was Chairman for four years, then Majority Floor Leader, Minority Floor Leader and then Speaker.

Then he moved to the Senate for eight years.

Looking back, he says that, “I think my major accomplishment in the Legislature was to transform the Joint Appropriations Subcommittee into the freestanding statutory Joint Budget Committee. This small working group gave both sides a say in decisions and each an opportunity to listen to the other and to make modest concessions in private. The result was frequently that all six members supported the final bill and argued for it in their caucus as well as on the floor. Perhaps the Federal Congress could benefit from such an arrangement.”

As we spoke a few days ago, he mentioned Budgeting is the Answer, the book that former state Senator Joe Shoemaker published in 1977. “I think that Colorado is the only state that has such a committee. I might write House Speaker John Boehner and suggest that the Congress try such an approach. It’s an idea the Feds should at least consider.”

As for the concept of working together, Allen says that, “Even after I moved to the Senate, where I was in the minority, and without any leadership title, I felt my oath and obligation was to serve the State of Colorado to the best of my ability and not just to try to stack the cards so my party could perhaps win the next election. I was able quietly to suggest amendments to their (his Republican colleagues) bills which they frequently accepted without attribution to me. On my retirement, I received a unique award naming me the ‘Champion Minority Manipulator of the Majority.’ I was a little insulted when I got the award but now I’m very proud of it.”

Talking about today’s political climate, he says that politicians have to get beyond “the joy of knifing the other guy.”

After his political service, Alan became involved with the Donnell-Kay Foundation which, at the time, was based in Florida and involved in environmental activities. He eventually moved it to Colorado and began to focus on his passion, education. More than ten years ago, he had the foresight to recruit Tony Lewis, then the Director of Capital Planning and Director of Development for the Colorado Outward Bound School to be the Foundation’s executive director. Together they have aggressively pushed for reform in Colorado’s public education system. Allen supplies the ideas; Tony relates how he used to get a six-page memo from Allen about once a week. Allen would then say, “I have a million ideas but you’re on the ground and you have to tell me which will work. But we have to think big, take risks.”

Talking to Allen after all these years reminded me of Joe Shoemaker whom we both admired so much. They both served with distinction but their real goals — the South Platte in Joe’s case and education in Allen’s — were lifelong goals that they pursued long after holding political office. They were
interested in accomplishments for Colorado, not “the joy of knifing the other guy.”

Morgan Smith served in the Colorado General Assembly with both Allen Dines and Joe Shoemaker. He can be reached at:

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