Loren Furman is one of the Colorado business community’s most influential voices. Not the kind of voice that publicly trumpets business interests from the tops of Denver’s tallest skyscrapers; she’s the kind who quietly promotes those interests deep in the corridors of power at Colorado’s Capitol and beyond. As senior vice president of the Colorado Association of Commerce and Industry — the state’s chamber of commerce — Furman is also its chief lobbyist. Ah, there’s the L-word. Everyone thinks they know what it means to be a lobbyist, but they’re often wrong. Furman enlightens us in today’s Q&A.
First, a little more on her background: Before joining CACI in 2008, she served as legislative director for the Colorado Department of Personnel and Administration and worked with the Governor’s Office and General Assembly on state workforce issues. She previously lobbied wide-ranging policy issues at the legislature in her native Florida, where prior to that she worked for the Majority Office of the Florida House of Representatives. Furman, who holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in political science from Florida State University, was named one of “Colorado’s Most Influential Women: Up and Coming“ by the Denver Post in 2012
Colorado Politics: Your duties include serving as the chief lobbyist for the state’s largest, most wide-ranging business association — representing, as CACI’s mission statement puts it, “all sizes of business from a statewide, multi-industry perspective.” What are some of the challenges representing such diverse interests that sometimes may conflict with one another?
Loren Furman: You’ve identified one of the biggest but most fulfilling challenges in my role. I truly enjoy managing the priorities of our diverse members, and found that where there is conflict, it can often be resolved. Over the years, we have developed long-standing legislative and regulatory policy solutions that would not have evolved without our members’ expertise and willingness to talk to each other.
CP: Especially outside politics, “lobbyist” carries a stigma as well as an aura of extraordinary influence. Are both fair? Do both miss the mark?
LF: Just last week my dentist asked me what I did for a living and subsequently said, “Wow, that must mean that you attend a lot of dinners and parties!” My colleagues would empathize with my curt response to someone gouging my mouth with steel instruments while undermining our profession. I believe there is still a great deal of misunderstanding and ignorance about the role of a lobbyist. Unfortunately, I don’t believe that will change much over time.
CP: As a voice for business, CACI is perceived as leaning right of center, and its leadership is more red than blue by background. Yet, you obviously have to work both sides of the aisle and with governors of both parties. What is your message to Democrats as to why they should value your input on legislation as well as broader policy initiatives?
LF: Over the years, we’ve seen legislation introduced by certain legislators that would have driven up huge costs and administrative burdens on our state’s economic producers. Those proposals have an adverse impact on the very people — the workers — that those legislators want to protect. It has taken years, but we’ve been successful in reinforcing the message that Colorado businesses need to thrive so that their workers can thrive. Adopting policies that increase costs or create a wedge in the worker-employer relationship are counterintuitive. That’s a message we’ll continue to reinforce with legislators on both sides of the aisle.
CP: Where did you grow up, and what do you miss most about it?
LF: As a 70’s offspring of hippie parents who raised me in the Florida Keys, you can imagine my wacky and weird childhood experiences. What do I miss? The crystal-clear, beautiful blue water of the Keys and the quirky, laid-back personalities that you’ll only find in the Conch Republic! What don’t I miss? The snakes, flying bugs, humidity and various other creatures that invade the Florida Keys — all of which helped me develop my lobbying survival skills! Despite my strong Florida roots and love for southern food, Colorado is a beautiful place to live and a state I proudly call my home.
CP: As a college freshman, did you think you eventually would become a power lobbyist or be involved in politics at all? If not, what did you envision at that age?
LF: Ha! As a college freshman at Florida State University, my only focus was finding the next house party and surviving on $20 a week! I certainly didn’t know what I wanted to do when I grew up. My involvement in politics came from living in Tallahassee (Florida’s capital) and being exposed to the Florida political scene. As a staffer in the Florida Legislature in one of the most political offices, I immediately loved the process and the ability to influence the outcome of a bill. That was the start that I needed, and one that prepared me for a career that is the most fun imaginable!
CP: What do you like most about working in politics in Colorado?
LF: Many things! Having a role in how legislation ultimately becomes law and working with state leaders and my colleagues in that process is an exceptional experience. There is a huge misperception that politics is conducted in smoke-filled back rooms. This job involves incredibly hard work and very talented people. Working in the political process and with those individuals make this business beyond rewarding.
CP: Do you see our perennially purple state staying that way — or trending eventually toward one end of the political spectrum?
LF: Since moving to Colorado in 2005, I’m fascinated by the significant change in the state’s political spectrum from deep red to now purple, and the little-to-no-change over the last 10 years. Unless we see a surge of new residents move to Colorado from more conservative states, I expect Colorado will stay in the purplish hue or could potentially see a shift to a blue state depending on the next presidential election.