Bo Callaway was a winner despite having lost Senate bid

The Colorado Statesman

Howard “Bo” Callaway, best remembered by most people as Georgia’s first Republican congressman since Reconstruction and later Secretary of the Army under President Richard Nixon, died in his native state last week at the age of 86. But his powerful presence in Colorado politics during the 1980s has left an indelible mark on the state’s political landscape.

As owner and CEO of the Crested Butte Mountain Resort from 1970 until 2003, Callaway was already familiar with Colorado’s emerging prominence in the ski industry back then. But when he became interested in politics in Colorado and became a candidate for the U.S. Senate against incumbent Democrat Gary Hart in 1980, Callaway was quickly labeled a carpetbagger, an image that was more pronounced with his still present Southern drawl at the time. But his leadership and political skills were apparent, and with the backing of William Armstrong, who was elected to the U.S. Senate himself two years earlier, Callaway gained support in a crowded field of Republicans that year that included attorney and former 1978 Senate hopeful John Cogswell, state Sen. Sam Zakhem, known for his patriotic speaking around the state, Secretary of State Mary Estill Buchanan, and Arapahoe County Republican Frank Lee. Buchanan missed the required 20 percent threshhold at the state assembly that year, and was forced to use the more unorthodox route (at the time) of petitioning on to the ballot. Her petitions were ultimately challenged in court by Callaway supporter Hal Shroyer, but the publicity surrounding the petition drive aided Buchanan, who narrowly won the primary. Callaway placed second, Zakhem third and Cogswell last. Buchanan went on to lose to Hart that year by about 19,000 votes.

Howard “Bo” Callaway, former Georgia congressman, Secretary of the Army and chairman of the Colorado GOP for six years, is pictured in Denver in 1980 when he was a candidate for the GOP nomination to challenge incumbent Democratic U.S. Sen. Gary Hart. Callaway died March 15 at the age of 86.

Callaway was elected state chairman in 1981 and served as the party’s figurehead for six years. Back then, the state parties were a lot more powerful. Campaign finance laws allowed the state parties to raise more money than today and the role of the state chairman loomed large back then.

Bo Callaway, pictured here at a Colorado fundraising dinner with former First Lady Barbara Bush, served as chairman of the Colorado Republican Party from 1981-1987.

Callaway took the Colorado Republican Party to greater heights, implementing new technologies that truly modernized the way elections were run by Republicans.

Bo Callaway and his wife Beth during the 1980 U.S. Senate campaign.

He also traveled the state and spoke at many events, sometimes appearing with his Democratic counterpart at the time, Buie Seawell, in order to promote participation in the political process and civic engagement.

U.S. Sen. Bill Armstrong and Bo Callaway, who ran for the GOP Senate nomination in 1980.
Photos by Jody Hope Strogoff/The Colorado Statesman

Bo was state chairman during the redistricting following the 1980 U.S. Census. At the time he was very supportive of having competitive congressional districts in the state, an idea that was dissed by many in the political establishment back then. He was ahead of the times in many ways.