Secretary Wayne Williams reflects on icons Bill Armstrong, Howard Gelt

Former Sen. Bill Armstrong backed Wayne Williams for county commission in a 1992 campaign flier.
Former Sen. Bill Armstrong backed Wayne Williams for county commission in a 2002 campaign flier.
Gov. Bill Owens and his El Paso County campaign chairman during Owens' 2002 re-election bid. Owens went on to win in a landslide and Williams won his first term as county commissioner. Williams now is Colorado secretary of state. (Williams photo)
Gov. Bill Owens and Wayne Williams in 2002. Williams was the El Paso County GOP chair when Owens won his first race for governor, in 1998. Williams took on the chair post after consulting a Democrat, Howard Gelt, who died last week. (Williams photo)

Colorado Secretary of State Wayne Williams crossed paths with Republican Bill Armstrong and Democrat Howard Gelt, political icons who died last week.

Armstrong died July 5, Gelt July 8. Colorado mourned the deaths of both men, who made such an impact on the state. (Check out the Secretary of State blog for separate stories on Armstrong, the guy who went from saying “no” to maybe,  and Gelt, an unsung force.)

What Williams had to say about each man:

HOWARD GELT:  In late 1996, I contemplated running for El Paso County Republican Party chairman. Howard was the former state chairman for the Colorado Democrats, but I knew he understood law and politics and he was in the Denver office of my law firm — Sherman & Howard. So I approached Howard about the possibility of my running for county chairman.

Howard Gelt at President Bill Clinton's first inauguration, in 1993. Gelt was the Colorado Democratic Party chairman at the time. (Family photo)
Howard Gelt at President Bill Clinton’s first inauguration, in 1993. Gelt was the Colorado Democratic Party chairman at the time. (Family photo)

He told me “You have a very divided Republican Party down there” and that if I could bring folks together it would be great for me but that if I failed it could be the end of me politically.

Well I ran and won, we pulled folks together, and we delivered the winning margin for Bill Owens — the only Republican governor elected by Colorado in the last 40 years. We also won every state legislative seat, capturing the only seat in the county held by a Democrat.

And while Howard might not have appreciated the election results, he was right. From being chairman I went on to serve the people of El Paso County as commissioner and clerk and recorder, and now have the opportunity to serve as Colorado’s 38th secretary of state.

BILL ARMSTRONG:  Colorado and America are both better places because of Sen. Armstrong.  Like so many in Colorado, Sen. Armstrong was one of my mentors. I was honored to have his public support in every campaign

Former Colorado U.S. Sen. Bill Armstrong seated to the right of President Reagan. (Family photo)
Former Colorado U.S. Sen. Bill Armstrong seated to the right of President Reagan. (Family photo)

He and I visited during my very first campaign in 2002, and I was privileged that he would provide a photograph and statement in my support. When I kicked off my campaign for secretary of state in 2013, Sen. Armstrong was one of my very first supporters and contributors.

When we last talked a couple months ago, we discussed how the laws we got passed through the 2016 legislature improve Colorado’s election process and its integrity.