Guest Columns

HUDSON: HE WAS A MAN WITH A BIG HEART AND GENEROUS SPIRIT

Bledsoe understood the Legislature better than anyone else at the Capitol

Contributing Columnist

Whenever politicians step into mud puddles of their own making, wags are quick to label them as “poster boys or girls” for term limits. Carl “Bev” Bledsoe, to his credit, was a poster boy for the advantages of seniority and lengthy legislative service. There simply aren’t adequate adjectives to characterize his political skills. Bev was a shrewd and wily partisan, to be sure, but he was also ready to craft a compromise when circumstances demanded. His decade as Speaker of the Colorado House earned him respect, if not exactly affection, along both sides of the aisle. In fact, while he was Speaker, it may have been tougher to serve in the House as a Republican than a Democrat. It was quite apparent that being summoned to the Speaker’s office for a little ‘coaching’ frightened the hell out of junior Republicans.

There were rumors that a tongue lashing from Bev produced welts on the ego of more than one legislator. Following a decade in the House, and long years before that as a lobbyist with the Cattleman’s Association, Bev Bledsoe understood the Colorado Legislature better than anyone else at the Capitol. Whether it was water law or the intricacies of school finance, he understood the mechanics of state government better than his committee chairs or state bureaucrats. And, absolutely nothing that might impact Colorado’s ranchers and farmers could pass the House without his blessing. The Speaker’s killing committees murdered bills on his command. The recently concluded “civil unions” fiasco would never have occurred with Bev at the helm.

A chain smoker, he had a way of speaking rapidly, from the side of his mouth, both while inhaling and exhaling. I had an eye-opening encounter with Bev shortly after he became Speaker that left me appreciative of both his keen mind and quick wit. I was seeking his approval for travel expenses to attend a national conference organized to examine strategies for legislating energy conservation incentives. He had denied my request. I knew many of my colleagues had already been approved for expenses to attend both NCSL and ALEC meetings, so I trudged over to his office to find out why he had rejected my voucher. Basically, mine was to be a “Why can’t I go?” inquiry.

Reps. Bev Bledsoe, R-Hugo, and Chuck Howe, D-Boulder, pose next to an amendment they sponsored — Bledsoe was the most conservative member of the House in the late 1970s, and Howe the most liberal. On this one occasion, they found a common bond.
Morgan Smith file photo

Bev took a long drag on his cigarette, and said, “Don’t you think you’ve caused me enough trouble by sticking me with Bob Kirscht?” It was true that I had played a principle role in rounding up the votes that dumped Kirscht as House Minority leader in favor of Federico Peña, but we had caught most Capitol observers by surprise, Kirscht included, so I was surprised by his query. He went on to add, “Now he’s busy funneling millions to the State Fair and God knows what else in Pueblo.” Bob promptly switched parties when Democrats removed him as leader, and the Speaker had rewarded him with a seat on the Joint Budget Committee.

Caught off guard, I responded with, “I’m not sure you can blame me for that Mr. Speaker. You’ve been helping Bob kill Democratic bills for years.”

“And, you’re the first Democrat to object,” he replied.

So, I took another run at him with the complaint that dozens of my colleagues would be attending conferences that summer, with his approval, and I couldn’t understand why he had singled mine out for a veto. He grinned at me and said, “Miller, most of them will go and drink too much, sleep around if they’re lucky, wake up late, miss most of the sessions and have a great time enjoying the bus tours. They’ll have a good time, and then they’ll return here and thank me for sending them. If I approve this damned thing, you’ll attend every meeting, come back to Denver with a dozen bright ideas and draft them into half a dozen bills that I’ll have to figure out how to kill! It’s too much work. You should pay your own way if you want to go.”

He winked, and it was obvious my appeal had just been denied.

Of course, I knew what he had said was true, and Bev knew I knew that what he had said was true. So, I shrugged my shoulders, and left his office without finding a pithy rejoinder. He had the power, knew when and how to use it, and was probably smart to do so. He was absolutely correct; if I attended, I probably would have returned as a burr under his saddle. But, there was no personal meanness in the man, and, unlike many politicians, he could laugh at himself. Each year during the Hummers, Don Eberle would offer a truly hilarious impersonation of the Speaker. Not only did Bev laugh right along with the rest of us, but years later he would invite Don to make an appearance at a roast held for him long after he left the House. That’s a man with a big heart and a generous spirit. It was a privilege to have served with him.

Miller Hudson served two terms in the Colorado General Assembly as a Democratic representative from northwest Denver. He has been an avid follower of state politics over the years and maintains many connections with current and former members of the Legislature.