Sen. Ray Powers: a gentleman and a leader

By Leslie Jorgensen
THE COLORADO STATESMAN

COLORADO SPRINGS — In 1978, Ray Powers launched his first campaign for the Legislature in “the barn” on the Powers Ranch. Three decades later, on Tuesday, Sept. 23, his wife Dorothy, family and friends bid farewell in the same political landmark.


Photo by Tatianna Gruen/The Colorado Statesman

Sen. Ray Powers' favorite memorabilia was on display at his memorial service this week; the former Senate president's gavel, the Top Choice Award from the Colorado Livestock Association and a photo from Arizona Sen. John McCain and his wife Cindy.

Powers died Sept. 19 at the family ranch. He was 79. He served 22 years in the Colorado Legislature, ending with two years as Senate president.

Sen. Powers was praised as a true conservative leader who understood the value of extending goodwill — even to Democrats. He worked cooperatively to improve the lives of Coloradans, from cutting taxes to improving roads, as the author of Senate Bill 1.

Just as she had during her husband’s first campaign, Dorothy Powers greeted the hundreds of friends who came to share memories of Sen. Powers in the metal building ringed with political stickers from past Republican campaigns: Powers, Reagan-Bush, Tebedo, Schuck, Kramer, McElhany, Epps, Kirscht, Hughes and more.

This day was a celebration of Sen. Powers’ life and legacy as a straight-shooting, old-fashioned gentlemanly leader — a man who loved his family above all else and next, his friends, community and country.

“His biggest regret is leaving his lady, but she knows he has work on the other side of the river,” said former state Sen. Ken Chlouber at the memorial service earlier at Springs First Church of the Nazarene. “He’ll be waiting for her.”

The service was true to Sen. Powers’ native Colorado roots, with the Flying W Wranglers playing “Down by the River” as peers from the Legislature and younger politicos he had mentored recalled his influence and diplomacy.

Pastor Cindy Lamb read Ecclesiastes 3:1: “There is a time for every purpose under heaven,” and a slide show evoked fond memories of Powers, including a photo of him holding a grandbaby in one arm and his beloved Yorkie, Cinamon, in the other.

The ups and downs of politics might have been a rough ride for some, but not Sen. Powers. Born June 27, 1929, to Cora and Guy Powers, the boy endured the loss of his father in a tragic accident and quit school in 9th grade to run the family’s El Paso County dairy. He was a businessman who couldn’t have imagined what was in store for his future when he married Dorothy on December 14, 1975.

It was a marriage destined for grand adventures and great happiness. The Powers were literally a “power couple” in Republican politics — and El Paso County has long been fertile GOP ground. After winning election to the state House in 1978, he served 20 years in the state Senate. In 2000, he was forced to retire the seat by term limits.

After that, the couple spent summers in Colorado and winters in Green Valley, Ariz. They also continued to travel, taking Mediterranean and Alaskan cruises and road trips around the Southwest.

Former state Senator and Minority Leader Mike Feeley, a Democrat, recalled that Sen. Powers had a desk on the back row and by the door of the Senate floor. From there, “he’d talk to anybody and everybody.”

“He was a man of great courtesy and respect,” said Feeley, adding that the “minority caucus always got a fair shake from Ray.”

When the Columbine High School shooting shocked Coloradans and the nation, Sen. Powers was serving his first year as Senate president.

“The tragedy was beyond anyone’s comprehension,” Feeley recalled, “But Ray walked that fine line between our responsibility as elected leaders and our personal need to grieve.”

When Sen. Powers served as national chairman of the American Legislative Exchange Council, he had to deal with a director who had misused funds, and he did it with aplomb.

In the Legislature and around El Paso County, Sen. Powers was known as “Mister Transportation,” recalled Minority Leader Andy McElhany, a Republican. Sen. Powers, for whom Powers Boulevard in Colorado Springs is named, understood the importance of infrastructure to the economy.

To that end, he passed a resolution to “buy Colorado” products and fought unfunded federal mandates.

Sen. Powers also served as mentor to aspiring political leaders. El Paso County Commissioner Jim Bensberg recalled serving as a legislative intern and developing a friendship with the senator. But, when it came to political advice, the senator deferred to or credited his wife Dorothy.

“He made it known that she was a force to be reckoned with if you crossed him or his family,” recalled El Paso County Sheriff Terry Maketa with a grin. “And God help you if you crossed her!”

Maketa recalled bringing his son over to the Powers Ranch to see the senator’s pet llama, Black-eyed Susan. “I asked him what are you doing with a pet llama. He said, ‘I don’t know but I like her.’”

While others adjusted their saddles when the county GOP reins were handed to Tom Minnery, a vice president of Focus on the Family in the late 1990s, Ray and Dorothy Powers were already riding the new Republican range.

El Paso County Commissioner Wayne Williams remembered serving as vice chair under Minnery, and then being elected party chair.

“Do you know who stepped in and organized my first Lincoln Day dinner? Dorothy Powers. She was great!” said Williams, adding, “It was successful, too.”

Just as in old times in “the barn,” folks enjoyed barbecue and salads at tables — each adorned with a photo of Sen. Powers flanked by the Colorado and United States flags and sprays of white mums and lilies, red roses and carnations and blue bells.

Not only was it a patriotic tribute, it was political — from the handheld McCain for President fans to the photos of the Powers with President Reagan, President Bush, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and U.S. Sen. Jack Kemp. On a table of Powers’ awards and treasures was a photo of presidential candidate John McCain and his wife Cindy.

The memorial service and luncheon drew legislative friends including Senators Andy McElhany and Bill Cadman; and former Senators Norma Anderson, Mark Hillman, Dennis Gallagher, Steve Durham, John Andrews, Tom Blickensderfer, Ron May, Ken Gordon, Ed Jones and MaryAnne Tebedo. Mourners also included former Representatives Chuck Berry, Bob Kirscht, Martha Kreutz, Dorothy Gotlieb, Paul Schauer, Frank De Filippo, Bill Sinclair, Bob Stephenson and Mary Ellen Epps.

Sen. Powers’ political friends included Carol Beam, Jeff Crank, Peggy Littleton, former El Paso County Treasurer Ken Kile and his wife Kate, Fountain Mayor Geri Howells, Suzanne Brannon, Flo Mendez-Beatty, Andy Merrick, Mark Waller, Clyde and Jo Mitchell, Loren and Judy Whittemore, Terry Storm and El Paso County Commissioners Amy Lathen, Sallie Clark and Dennis Hisey.

As one friend said, “You can almost feel Ray grinning as he’s looking down on this celebration of his life. Most of these people he helped in life and
politics.”