By Jody Hope Strogoff
THE COLORADO STATESMAN
Two local attorneys with a decided penchant for politics and public policy are now back at work in the Denver law office of Holland & Hart after spending a couple months late last year into January working as part of President-elect Barack Obama’s transition team.
Dan Pabon, of north Denver, and Scott Martinez, of Lakewood, were invited to join Obama’s transition effort soon after last year’s historic presidential election. Both had worked on the campaign and viewed the post-election gig as a once in a lifetime opportunity to experience the transference of power firsthand.
Holland & Hart graciously allowed the two young attorneys to take a leave of absence from their Denver jobs, and even made available resources through their D.C. branch. The law firm, which encourages public service, viewed this temporary respite for their two attorneys as an opportunity for them to play a role in the highest levels of government.
Both Pabon, 31, and Martinez, 30, had to first undergo rigorous security clearance. They relocated to the nation’s capitol and joined 400 others in the transition offices. There was no real hierarchy where they worked, they explained. Their office was in close proximity to that of Gen. Petraeus. And around the corner, former Sen. Tom Daschle was working on health care issues in another nearby office.
“We interacted with the best minds of the country,” Pabon said excitedly as he recalled his time in Washington.
Martinez, who regularly represents clients before the Colorado Secretary of State’s office, began transition work in the Department of Justice’s civil rights office, and Pabon worked with the Department of State team. Martinez met with outgoing political appointees and helped set the groundwork for new replacements in government service.
Pabon helped prep Dr. Susan Rice, who was in the process of moving over to the State Department, for Senate confirmation hearings.
Martinez soon moved over to the office of White House counsel, working to draft legal documents for Obama’s executive order which called for transparency and ethics in government.
It became their 18-hour-a-day, seven days a week job until mid-January, when the new president was sworn in and the transition team disassembled.
Martinez and Pabon took copies of the executive order to political designees and ethics officers and explained what it all meant for the new administration, including such things as hiring qualifications, elements of honest leadership, and details such as the mandatory waiting periods for former lobbyists or those who want to lobby after their government career. The information was contained in a one-page document, accompanied by two pages of enabling legislation and a one-page letter explaining the purpose of the executive order. The Denver duo met personally with scores of incoming appointees to explain it all.
Martinez has a background in election law and campaign finance as well as data and electronic security measures, so his background in technology came in handy
“People were cognizant of the new administration coming in,” Pabon explained. “It was a lot like (what transpired) eight years before.”
Pabon, who has a background in mechanical engineering, also got to do some work with voter rights issues.
The two lawyers from Colorado saw President-elect Obama in Washington, although they didn’t have the chance to talk to him personally. But they did attend the Inauguration on Jan. 20.
Moreover, Pabon was able to convince soon-to-be First Lady Michelle Obama to record a thank you message to north Denver supporters. Martinez, who came prepared with his video camera, taped it for replay on Inauguration night in Denver, where many supporters had gathered at the Oriental Theater for a celebratory party. The message was recorded the same day that Sen. Ken Salazar underwent his confirmation hearings for Interior secretary, so it was a doubly exciting time, both explained.
Reflecting on their heady experience in Washington, Martinez said he walked into the transition office starry-eyed a few months ago, and is grateful he was able to do something meaningful that could change the world. “We helped usher in a new era,” he beamed.
Pabon had an optimistic view at the start, and left the experience even more convinced of the importance of public service.
The attorneys returned to Denver a couple days after the Inauguration and are back to work at their downtown Denver offices. Pabon, who serves on the board for the Auraria Higher Education Center, says going back to D.C. as a transition team member showed him that governmental promises could truly lead to change. He is planning to run for the legislative seat currently occupied by Rep. Jerry Frangas, who is term limited in 2010.
Likewise, Martinez, who received the Colorado Democratic Party’s “Rising Star” award in 2002, is content to remain involved on the legal side.
“Very few of us get an inside look, how it works and functions on a personal level,” he said about the workings of government. “I hope to use that insight for Coloradans.”
Martinez created and managed the Hispanic Vote Project in Colorado, and ic currently a member of the Board for the Bell Policy Center.