“This is a very amorphous undisciplined mass,” announced Frank Traylor of the Republican Party on August 22, 1982 in a Cabinet meeting of then-Governor Dick Lamm. Frank was a member of the Cabinet then, but as a Republican, he had previously served four years (1974-78) in the Colorado House of Representatives. In fact, he was part of a political dynasty, the likes of which we’ll never see again.
His father served on the Denver School Board for 17 years, and there is a school named for him in southwest Denver. Frank himself served on the Jefferson County School Board for almost six years. After he left the House, his wife Claire (who died in 2002) was elected to his seat, served in the House for four years and then in the Senate for twelve years, gaining a reputation as one of the finest legislators of her generation. Forty-three years of elected service!
Frank jumped into the 1974 race, had a primary and barely squeaked in. It was the Watergate year when we Democrats took the House. Looking back on that election, he says, “Going door to door, the only person I met who would admit to being a Republican was an old lady who told me in her creaky voice that she voted straight Republican and her first vote was for Calvin Coolidge.” It was actually Claire with her love of organization and her skills at getting out the vote who put him over the top.
He had hoped to focus on education but, being the only physician in either the House or Senate, he was quickly pushed into health and medical issues. His first major bill required school children to be vaccinated against common diseases before beginning school, one that resulted in an almost immediate reduction in the number of cases of measles.
Working with Jerry Kopel, Hank Brown, Chuck Howe, Fred Anderson and others, he also created the Hospital Rate Commission (later repealed) as well as legislation to permit pharmacists to substitute generic for a name-brand drugs for prescribed generic ones. This made Colorado one of the first states to do this; now all states have similar laws.
The bill that cooked his goose as a Republican was one to allow the state to appoint a new manager of a nursing home if the home had lost its license. The idea was avoid the process of transferring the elderly patients to a new home, a process that often increases their mortality via what is called “transfer trauma.” The bill passed the House with heavy Democratic support but was essentially gutted in the Senate. When it was returned to the House, Traylor refused to present the bill and then asked that his name be removed from it. “This was followed by a parade of legislators, there were 22 Democrats who also wanted their names removed.”
The defeat of the bill caused such an uproar that it passed easily the next session with Ted Strickland, who had initially opposed it, as the prime sponsor.
In 1976, the Republicans took control of the House again and would maintain that majority for 30 years. Frank was named caucus chairman and saw the birth of the “House Crazies.” At one point they even talked of trying to impeach him. “They thought I was a commie pinko running dog,” he says.
At the end of this first four years, he was ready for a change, accepted the appointment as executive director of the Health Department and inherited a host of problems, mostly environmental like ground water pollution at the Cotter Uranium mill in Canon City, the Lowry landfill, and spillage of toxic pollutants from the Yak Tunnel near Leadville. He also created an automobile exhaust emissions testing program after a year of contentious hearings and focused on nursing home issues.
By 1981 he was ready for another challenge and agreed to be the head of the Department of Institutions in addition to his Health Department job.
Through all this, Frank maintained his sense of humor. Part of it was the fact that we both truly loved working for Dick Lamm. He put together a Cabinet of “excellent, dedicated people who were fun to work with,” in Frank’s words. He refers to Lamm as someone who “was always trying to stretch our imagination to come up with the ‘Copernican’ solution to problems. Working with him and his cabinet was a happy and rewarding time of my life.” I would agree. Working for Dick Lamm and with his cabinet was a great honor.
Once when he was head of Institutions (at that time it included adult and juvenile corrections, which are now in a separate department), Frank says that he was just getting out of bed at 7 a.m. when Governor Lamm called. Frank describes the conversation as follows.
“His (Lamm’s) first words were, ‘Why did you let that guy out?’ My response was, ‘What guy?’ It turns out that the ‘guy’ was the subject of a story in the newspaper that morning describing a serious crime. His history included a sentence to juvenile corrections in his youth but he was now about forty and had been discharged years before.”
In today’s contentious political climate, neither Frank nor Claire could ever make it through the Republican process. It’s fortunate for all of us that they served when they did because they were great leaders for Colorado.
Morgan Smith served with Frank Traylor in the legislature and in the Lamm Cabinet. He can be reached at Morganfirstname.lastname@example.org.