Randy Atkinson has been hanging around the Legislature for so many years it’s difficult to accept the fact he won’t be back for the next session. His death at 60 caught both friends and foes by surprise. President of the Colorado Professional Firefighters Association since 2006, Randy has been the lobbying voice of firefighters for more than thirty years. Outside of fire stations, there probably isn’t one Coloradan in a hundred who has ever heard of him. But, Atkinson was one of the most influential backroom politicians in our state. His agenda may have been narrow — decent salaries, pensions and safety for firefighters — but his humor, smarts and humanity endeared him to Colorado legislators on both sides of the aisle.
Three dozen of them attended funeral services for Randy at the Church of the Nazarene on Hampden Avenue. More than 500 firefighters with their trucks from across the state filled the parking lot. Randy dispensed wisdom, advice, campaign contributions and a sparkling wit in his conversations with legislators on behalf of his “brothers and sisters” who dedicate their lives to fire service and rescue. It was almost entirely due to his efforts that the Colorado Police and Fire Pension Fund bailout was approved by the Legislature, guaranteeing secure retirements for those who risk their lives to keep us safe.
A confidant of Governors, fellow lobbyists and journalists, he was a ‘go to’ guy for discovering what was happening at the Capitol. Little escaped his observant eye. Although a ‘dyed-in-the-wool’ Democrat, Randy appreciated Republican support for first responders and knew how to return their votes with a favor. Married and divorced three times, his eye for the girls was noted in remarks by his son-in-law, who observed that, “…we always knew he loved us more than anything except his women.” A knowing crowd chuckled in agreement.
As Vice-President of the International Association of Firefighters, officers from the national organization were in attendance. When they got their opportunity to speak, they noted that Governor Hickenlooper was there to acknowledge Randy’s work. Then they noted that Atkinson had managed to pass a collective bargaining bill through both houses a few years ago and Governor Ritter had chosen to veto it. “Randy dedicated himself to insuring that Bill Ritter would never serve a second term,” the speaker sternly intoned as he stared directly at our current Governor. It’s hard to tell whether it was a warning, but Democratic majorities in both houses may slap bills on the Governor’s desk that he would rather not contemplate.
Randy Atkinson could have retired from the Firefighters and made a killing as an independent lobbyist; or, he would have made an outstanding pick to run either the state Department of Labor or Personnel. But, he was never interested in anything other than serving his brothers and sisters, who had chosen careers as firefighters. He wasn’t chasing dollars for himself, but a fair deal for the men and women riding fire trucks. In that sense, he was pure of heart and something of an innocent. He will be missed!