Bipartisan support for a former House colleague

Legislators, lobbyists turn out to help former Rep. Ken Summers recover from his illness
The Colorado Statesman

It isn’t often [never!] when the two major party’s legislative campaign fundraising organizations rally together on a joint project. But that’s what happened on Wednesday, August 7, when a large bipartisan group of state lawmakers and lobbyists gathered across the street from the Capitol to help former state Rep. Ken Summers, who remains hospitalized in serious condition after being stricken with encephalitis caused by the West Nile virus.

The fundraiser was sponsored by about 30 lobbyists as well as lawmakers from both aides of the aisle.

When former Speaker of the House Frank McNulty — Republican — called his successor, Speaker Mark Ferrandino — Democrat — and asked him to co-sponsor the fundraiser for the well-liked Summers, “it was a no brainer,” Ferrandino recalled at the onset of the event at the Capstone Group’s office.

Christian Summers, right, provides guests with an optimistic update about his dad, former state Rep. Ken Summers, who is recovering from a serious illness. State Rep. Frank McNulty, at left, listens to the improving news.

“Not quite,” interjected McNulty.

“You want me to host a fundraiser to retire Ken Summers’ campaign debt?” McNulty gently teased about Ferrandino’s first words.

“Because I hadn’t heard what was going on!” Ferrandino quickly retorted to the amusement of Republicans and Democrats alike.

The Capstone Group provided its offices across the street from the state Capitol for the benefit for Ken Summers on Aug. 7. Pictured are the Capstone Group’s Public Affairs Associate Jeannie Vanderburg with Capstone Group partners Christine Staberg and Mary Marchun.

“But once I figured out what was going on, it was a no brainer and I’m glad to be able to help out with this,” Ferrandino continued.

Colorado Speaker of the House Mark Ferrandino, D-Denver, and former Speaker Frank McNulty, R-Highlands Ranch, enjoy each other’s remarks at an uplifting bipartisan legislative/lobbyist fundraiser this week for former state Rep. Ken Summers, who is recovering from a serious illness.

“State legislators, lobbying corp members, staff, we fight a lot in our caucuses and across the aisle, but we are one big family and when something like this happens we come together and make sure our family member is taken care of,” Ferrandino said.

Legislative aide Julie Herrmann, seen here in front of the Colorado state flag at the Capstone Group’s office, worked with Rep. Frank McNulty on the fundraiser for former Rep. Ken Summers.

“Ken is one of those legislators, one of the nicest guys, such a statesman, who really works well across the aisle, beloved by everyone,” the Denver Democrat added before telling a little story about his friendly relationship with Summers.

Partisan politics were temporarily put aside as state Sen. Andy Kerr, D-SD 22, embraces attorney Mario Nicolais, right, a Republican who is running against Kerr in 2014 for the Lakewood and south Jefferson County legislative seat.
Photos by John Schoenwalter/The Colorado Statesman

“When he was chair of the Health [committee] and I was minority leader, hoping to be in the position I am in now, a bill we ran died in his committee.

“Next year,” Ferrandino recounted Summers telling him, the two would bring it back and Summers was already volunteering to be his senate sponsor.

“I thought it was great,” Ferrandino acknowledged, until he thought about it for a while.

“You’re not going to be in the senate next year!” he shot back.

Summers was running against one of Ferrandino’s Democratic colleagues, Rep. Andy Kerr, for the Jefferson County seat in the upper chamber.

Kerr went on to narrowly defeat Summers last November, but has always retained his respect for his onetime political foe. He tweeted about the fundraiser to encourage constituents to attend or send donations to the Summers family, and was seen Wednesday signing a large get well card for Summers at the event. He shared similar sentiments expressed by the current House Speaker.

“Ken is a statesman and great person. We’re all pushing for him and really want him to have a full recovery, we want to see him back at the capitol soon to visit with us,” stated Ferrandino before turning the microphone over to Christian Summers, son of the former legislator.

A spitting image of his Dad, the younger Summers began by assuring everyone that they were gathered that day not for a funeral or sad occasion. “It’s actually a celebration,” he said as he related news about his father’s improving condition.

“Yesterday they did a procedure to actually take out his ventilator and put in a tracheotomy,” Christian explained. “It can sound bad, but that’s a good sign.”

The West Nile virus causes long term disability, he continued. But the good news is that his father is “cognitively and completely mentally sharp and aware.” There is no prognosis of permanent damage, he said gratefully.

Christian acknowledged that it has probably been frustrating for his dad to be “kind of trapped in his own body,” especially because he is used to talking so much in his lifetime. Summers is a former pastor and through his work at Teen Challenge of the Rocky Mountains, he has touched the lives of countless individuals.

“He is relieved at having the ventilator out of his throat,” his son related, and has begun the process of long term recovery.

Summers was scheduled to be transferred the next day to a long term rehabilitation center where he will begin to take those incremental steps of recovery.

His dad, Christian emphasized, is in good spirits.

In looking around, Christian said, it had occurred to him that his father was really not a politician, but a representative.

“He loves Colorado. He’s a native of this state. This is so representative of his relationship with you and the state.

“This is about people of Colorado rallying around someone in their own family,” Christian continued. “That’s why it’s so impactful, significant and special.”

The articulate son explained that his mother had always been the primary income earner for the family, which was reflective upon his father’s spirit and desire to serve others.

“This is an opportunity to come full circle, to now bless the whole family by helping out with expenses,” he added, since his mother has stopped working and taken family leave in order to be by her husband’s side fulltime.

Christian paid tribute to his mother, who he described as an amazing and incredibly strong woman.

“She doesn’t freak out, no emotional meltdowns, she holds firm in trusting God in every step of the way that he’ll bring back and restore full health to Dad.”

McNulty suggested that Summers would probably be somewhat embarrassed by all the expression of love and concern in that room.

“I am certain of it,” McNulty said.

“I didn’t expect the type of response that we got, the outpouring of support, the prayers... it has been awesome,” McNulty said.

“Keep Ken in your prayers. Think about him, pray for him,” McNulty added.

That was something that Republicans and Democrats could surely agree upon that day.

Jody@coloradostatesman.com

See the Aug. 9 print edition for full photo coverage.