An end of an era for old time politicos
By Jody Hope Strogoff
For longtime politicos — or those of us old enough to have covered their comings and goings over the years, myself included — it was an end to an era last month when Adams County Republican activist Hal Shroyer died in a Commerce City care facility at the age of 88.
I wrote about his passing a couple weeks ago and do so again this week because for those who knew him, his role in Colorado politics had import, was sometimes zany, often times controversial, and from a journalist’s perspective, usually worth writing about.
The file I have on Hal is literally several inches thick, and inside are ragged and now yellowed newspaper clippings, 30 years of interview notes dating back from the late 1970s, a copy of the 1998 Denver Police report in which Hal was accused of violating a restraining order levied by the state GOP chairman at the time, a column from former Rocky Mountain News political scribe Peter Blake about the Arapahoe County Republican Men’s Club, at the behest of Mort Marks, unanimously approving a resolution calling on Gov. Bill Owens to pardon him for the incident, letters containing comments about Hal from friends and detractors alike (which Hal had supplied to us over the years), a multi-page document titled “Hal Shroyer Made Colorado a Republican State” which he himself authored, copies of articles he wrote in his own handwriting on lined paper that were published in this newspaper, including the only article of his that we didn’t print — a treatise on former GOP?Chairman Phil Winn that gave our libel lawyer the jitters — and a collection of political trivia and assorted historical documents that will always remain unrivaled in my many drawers of files from over the years.
Also included in the massive collection of paperwork are excerpts from old Congressional Records in which several Colorado Republicans added their thoughts over the years.
Former U.S. Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell, in a 1997 tribute, recognized Shroyer for his work in bringing the Jack Swigert statue to Washington and Statuary Hall.
In 2004, as Shroyer was winding down his political career, former U.S. Sen. Wayne Allard had the following inserted into the Congressional Record: “Hal was instrumental in the addition of photographs to Colorado’s driver licenses, helping to make the State the second in the nation to include a picture. More recently Hal Shroyer led the fight for a motor voter program, allowing for voters to register to vote at their local Department of Motor Vehicles. Each of these programs represent the norm today across the United States. Hal Shroyer’s tireless dedication to the betterment of Colorado cannot be simply summed up by these examples, but I am pleased to offer them as illustrations of this man’s tremendous contributions.”
That same year, Congressman Bob Beauprez, in whose district Shroyer resided, offered his tribute to Shroyer, who he said represented the ideals and philosophy of the GOP “with civility, grace and patriotism.” Beauprez went on to call Shroyer a “shrewd strategist, a motivating leader and an appropriate role model for all who relish the thrill of partisan battle yet respect the integrity of the local opposition.
“We unfortunately live in an age where honest differences about principles and policy too often give way to petty and personal attacks,” Beauprez continued. “Hal Shroyer may be the last of a dying breed.”
Former Rocky Mountain News political editor Charlie Roos penned one of his beautifully crafted columns about Shroyer in the early 1980s. “His brand of politics isn’t smooth or cool. It’s gritty. It doesn’t come out of country clubs. It comes out of precincts,” Roos wrote.
Writing about Shroyer’s resignation back then as Adams County Republican chairman after nine turbulent years in that party office, Roos said he wasn’t celebrating Shroyer’s departure from politics, however temporary that may be. (And it was just temporary.)
“I miss him already. Not just as a provocative news source (though he is that), but as a genuine iron-jawed, brass-mounted, copper-riveted political original.
“As a friend. As a genuinely honest man. One you can bank on,” Roos wrote.
Not all comments about Shroyer, of course, were so tender in nature. Gov. Dick Lamm told the Rocky Mountain News back in 1982 in the midst of attacks from Shroyer during his reelection bid, “Whereas Alferd Packer ate his victims after they were dead, Hal Shroyer eats you alive.”
At his memorial service, numerous Republicans remembered Shroyer as a gallant political warrior.
Freda Poundstone, who was described by Mort Marks that day as the female Hal Shroyer, talked about the 1976 presidential race in which she favored Ronald Reagan and Shroyer was for Jerry Ford.
After the Kansas City convention at which Ford won the nomination, Poundstone recalled, Shroyer knew that Reagan would probably run again. He called Poundstone to help set up an appearance by Reagan in Adams County, which at the time was controlled by Democrats. Four years later, Shroyer delivered Adams County to the Republican column.
“He was the power of one,” Poundstone remembered.
“And it says to you what people can do when they make up their mind to do something. He was very positive. He was dynamic, and sure, he was a pain in the posterior on occasion,” Poundstone said.
Dick Wadhams, current chairman of the Colorado Republican Party, spoke about first meeting Shroyer in the mid-1970’s.
“I first met Hal when I was 19 years old. I’d just gotten elected to county chairman down in Southern Colorado because nobody wanted to be county chairman in 1975. I think it’s kind of ironic that Hal left us during this time of rebuilding not only of the National Republican Party, but here in Colorado, because when I met Hal Shroyer it was in the aftermath of the Watergate scandal and the horrible beatings that we took in ’72 and ’74 here in Colorado.”
At the time Shroyer was running for National Committeeman. Wadhams said he voted for Shroyer that year “because I thought we needed passion in that office in the aftermath of Watergate.
“Hal did not win that office that year,” Wadhams continued, “but he didn’t go away, as we all know. I think if anybody could look back and see what was accomplished in 1976, 1978, 1980, in getting back control of the state Legislature, winning that U.S. Senate Seat in 1978 with Bill Armstrong, all those things that happened, Hal Shroyer was a big part of that and I think we owe him a great deal of gratitude.”
Wadhams finished his remarks by adding a bit of history to the story about Jack Swigert being chosen as the honoree in Statuary Hall.
Senators Armstrong and (Tim) Wirth had set up a commission of prominent historians around the state to come up with a recommendation for the second statue, Wadhams recalled.
The commission met over a couple years in the late ‘80s and they came up with the name of William Bent, who built the trading fort in the 1830s.
“Hal Shroyer really did play hardball and played for keeps because he wanted Jack Swigert... He did not like the recommendation of William Bent from this commission, and so he proceeded to give his own version of history which was that William Bent had spread syphilis to the Indians.
“It must have worked because as Mort points out, Jack Swigert’s statue is now in the U.S. Capitol,” Wadhams said.
Tributes were also offered by Duane Woodard, former Colorado Attorney General who had a bevy of tales about Shroyer’s clever political manipulations in the 4th Congressional District race in the early 1970s when Jim Johnson was running for Congress.
Mike Norton, who was appointed U.S. Attorney by President Reagan, shared some of his favorite memories of Shroyer, including the time he ventured over to the Federal Building to pay Norton a visit.
On display on the bulletin board were pictures of the governors of the six states in the Rocky Mountain region, including some pictures of the Democratic governors.
Shroyer wanted Norton to launch a federal investigation as to why photos of the Democratic officeholders were allowed to hang in the building during a Republican administration.
Naturally, Norton couldn’t do anything about it and told Shroyer that the General Services Administration had jurisdiction of the building.
A week later, Norton said, the pictures were gone.
Jefferson County Republican Dick Sargent, a longtime friend, related that Shroyer knew early on that negativity in political campaigns works. “It wasn’t dirty, it was just hardball and he always came to play. He’d either be your best friend or your worst enemy. That’s the best way I can define the guy. He put his money where his mouth is,” Sargent said.
Mike Stratton, a well known Democratic political consultant, attended the service for Shroyer and talked about battling him ever since he was a young man in politics about the same time Republican Wadhams was cutting his political teeth in the early 1970s.
Stratton got to observe Shroyer more closely in the 1986 governor’s race. Stratton was managing Democrat Roy Romer’s campaign against Ted Strickland then.
“As you know, no one was more devoted to Senator Strickland than he was,” Stratton said about Shroyer.
“And that was when I was really sort of coming of age and being a more serious player, and so I was always at these Romer versus Strickland events.”
Shroyer was always the first guy there, Stratton recalled. “My guys would go out to these events and I’d say, ‘Get the best positions out there, put your yard signs up, et cetera, et cetera.’ And they would call back and say, ‘Well there’s no place to put our yard signs up.’
Shroyer was the first guy there with his yard signs, with his banners, Stratton said. “He was in the back of the room operating and making things happen and whispering in people’s ears.”
Former Denver Post editorial writer Bob Ewegen offered his own memories.
“Do I miss my friend? I miss him terribly,” Ewegen began. “But am I sad today? No, because I could only think of the wonderful joy and the wonderful times we had with this man.
“Franklin D. Roosevelt, in nominating Al Smith in 1928, described Hal Shroyer to a tee,” Ewegen continued. “He said, Al Smith was a happy warrior. Hal Shroyer might have been the last happy warrior. We fought on a lot of things, but you know what? In 36 years, I can’t ever remember catching him in an error of fact. We might disagree on some conclusions, but Hal was sedulous in his research and his facts. You might not have liked them, but there they were, in black and white.
“His vice chairman once told me that he was the kind of man you could love and hate in the same 15 seconds.”
The former Post columnist told a favorite story about Shroyer when he accompanied him down to Colorado Springs to cover a meeting of the Colorado Federation of Republican Women.
“Coming back this side of Castle Rock, this deer bounded across the highway and Hal hit it. I don’t remember what story he was telling me, but he was telling me a story — of course, this was Hal Shroyer and it was in great detail. And he hit the deer and stopped the car and he got out.
“The deer was okay,” Ewegen said. “And Hal had this little bang up on his fender and checked it all out. Finally it was safe to go on and we got back in and we drove off. The point is, he never missed a beat. He never stopped the story. There was never a pause in the conversation. The story kept going on.”
“There’s an old saying he was fond of that if you get into a spitting contest with a skunk, people are going to lose respect for both sides. He used a little more colorful language than that. And it’s true, but here’s the interesting thing: Hal would get into a spitting contest but his name wouldn’t be on the ballot. The Democrat’s name would be. So here would be Hal Shroyer attacking Dick Lamm, or Hal Shroyer attacking one of the Democratic commissioner candidates, or Hal Shroyer attacking such-and-such. People might get mad at them both, but when you walk into that voting booth, it was the Democrat’s name on the ballot.”
“He threw a lot of hard punches into the solar plexus, let me tell you,” Ewegen continued. “But he was a happy warrior. It says in the Bible, ‘If the trumpet sounds an uncertain call, then who shall go forth to battle?’ Hal Shroyer never, never sounded an uncertain call.”
Shroyer’s daughter, Indy Blaney-Brown of Westminster, remembered her father as a true inspiration.
“Someone mentioned that my dad was somebody you could love and hate in the same 15 seconds. And that extended to his family sometimes, too,” she said with a laugh.
“I don’t think he ever inspired indifference in anybody. You either loved him or you hated him. I loved him a lot.”
She recalled that around 1997, she got up one morning, opened the Rocky Mountain News and read Peter Blake’s column. “Much to my surprise, I found out my dad was running for congress. He was on the ballot.
“What?! I called him up and said, ‘Dad, you kind of need to let me know these things.’ He had gotten on the ballot to keep someone else off, and so he didn’t stay on the ballot very long. He withdrew. But as I hung up that phone, I thought, I hope that someday I have, when I’m his age, 77 at the time, that same energy and that same zest for life and that same commitment to everything.
“A lot of times he was the only one standing up on his side of the issue, but that’s what he taught me to do and that’s what he taught everybody, in one way or another. There’s a little piece of him with all of us today.”