“Hey, Morgan. It’s Paul and we’re in Santa Fe.” What a surprise to hear this voice from the past. Paul Brown and I served together in the Colorado House of Representatives for two terms — 1975-1978 — but I hadn’t seen him or his wife, Sue, for decades.
Paul first became involved in politics in 1970, joined the “Vietnam Veterans Against the War” and was an alternate delegate to the Democratic National Convention in Miami Beach for George McGovern in 1972. In 1974, the Watergate year, he was one of those gutsy candidates like Nancy Flett and Dorothy Witherspoon who were willing to run in traditionally Republican districts (Grand Junction in his case) and, by winning, gave Democrats the first House majority in many years. (Little did we know then that it would only last two years and would be followed by nearly 30 unbroken years of Republican majorities.)
That year, Paul ran against the then-Mayor of Grand Junction and, to quote him, “was probably the only person in the county who didn’t have enough sense to know that I did not have a chance to win the race.” He won by over 14 percent that year and 6 percent in 1976, a lower margin because of a gun control bill he had co-sponsored. Those were unique times. As he says, “Regardless of political bent, we were able to talk to each other and even disagree as friends.”
When he cites the legislators he remembers best, as many Republicans as Democrats appear on the list. Republicans like Sandy Arnold, Joe Shoemaker, Frank Traylor, Ann Gorsuch and Betty Ann Dittemore, most of whom would probably be unelectable today, given current conservative litmus tests. He also cites Democrats like Jim Lloyd, Arie Taylor and Ruben Valdez. He describes serving on the Judiciary Committee as his most interesting experience as a legislator, as well as having to go before the Joint Budget Committee for issues like making the case for a new sewer system for the town of DeBeque.
He then decided not to run for a third term. “Serving in Denver while Sue and our daughter were in Grand Junction was proving pretty rough on our family life, especially on the salary that we got at that time. “ (It was $7,600 a year.)
Paul later worked for the Division of Property Taxation, as community impact coordinator on the Colony Oil Shale Project and as chief of staff for U.S. Rep. Ray Kogovsek from 1983-84.
However, what Paul described as his most intense political experience occurred fairly recently. In 2006, he ran for Mesa County assessor and lost to Barbara Brewer. “Over the course of the campaign we became friends,” Paul says. “There was no mudslinging.” In fact, Brewer suggested that Brown apply for the position of Mesa County public trustee and offered to write a letter in support. In 2007, Gov. Bill Ritter appointed him to the post and in 2011, Gov. John Hickenlooper re-appointed him.
One of his jobs was to have legal notices published in a legal newspaper. Initially, he used the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel. This was highly lucrative for the paper; Mike Moran, the current Mesa County public trustee has said that the Sentinel was paid more than $500,000 for foreclosure notices in 2010.
Finding repeated mistakes in the Daily Sentinel’s notices, Brown began looking for other options. There were two other papers in the county at the time, the Fruita Times and the Palisade Tribune (the Daily Sentinel eventually bought both papers). After going through a bidding process, Paul entered into a contract with them in 2012.
This unleashed the fury of the Daily Sentinel’s publisher, and Paul was subjected to an unending cascade of negative articles and editorials. As a result, Gov. Hickenlooper declined to reappoint him in 2012, not even giving Paul the opportunity to tell his side of the story. Staffers at the governor’s office told him that he was “too controversial” and that he had made the largest newspaper on the Western Slope very angry.
Notwithstanding this treatment, Paul and Sue remain very involved in local Democratic politics. Sue is on the State Central Committee as one of Mesa County’s representatives. She is also the CEO and founder of Home Care of the Grand Valley, a non-profit providing care for a wide range of the ill in Mesa County.
Despite the Daily Sentinel issue, Paul continues to be optimistic about the need to work together and about the quality of people who run for office from both parties.
“Sometimes differences of opinions are the best vehicle for making sound decisions,” he says. “I have never met anyone who got into politics for anything other than honorable reasons. We all truly wanted to do the best for our constituents.” Congratulations to him and Sue for their service.
Morgan Smith is a former state legislator and served as commissioner of Agriculture and executive director of the Colorado Department of Local Affairs. He can be reached at Morganfirstname.lastname@example.org