CO Democrats lead GOP heading into election for first time in 32 years

U.S. President Ronald Reagan, left, and Democratic candidate Walter Mondale shake hands at the start of their second 1984 presidential debate in Kansas City. (AP Photo/Ron Edmonds/Denver Public Library)
U.S. President Ronald Reagan, left, and Democratic candidate Walter Mondale shake hands at the start of their second 1984 presidential debate in Kansas City. (AP Photo/Ron Edmonds/Denver Public Library)

A CNN reporter who had been tracking Colorado’s voter registration correctly surmised that by September’s end Democrats would outnumber Republicans but he wondered: When was the last time that happened going into a general election?

Reporter Marshall Cohen called with that question in mid-September. A search through voter abstracts and binders — filled with monthly registration stats —  revealed it was 1984. Despite the lead, President Reagan still carried Colorado.

The research turned up some other interesting factoids on Colorado’s voter history: Fifty years ago, more than one-fourth of Colorado voters lived in Denver County, and unaffiliated voters over the decades have often been the largest voting block in the state, just as they are right now.

The next monthly report from Colorado Secretary of State’s office on voter registration is due this week  now available at the SoS website.  (Unaffiliated voters are still the largest voting block, despite an earlier report in this blog that Democrats had taken the lead. It’s so tough when Curis Hubbard is right.) When last month’s report was issued, the state had 3.1 million active voters, including 998,845 Democrats and 992,944 Republicans.

Cohen and colleague Jeff Simon visited Colorado to talk to them.

“Whether it’s because of the mountains, the microbreweries or the legal marijuana, Colorado is an attractive place to live,” they wrote.

The CNN piece was titled, “Colorado is not a battleground this year; Is it the next blue state?”

Read moreCO Democrats lead GOP heading into election for first time in 32 years

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.

Read moreSecretary Wayne Williams reflects on icons Bill Armstrong, Howard Gelt

Howard Gelt, 1943-2016: The go-to guy, the unsung force

Howard Gelt, in this family photo, circa 1988, died Friday after decades of making his mark on Denver and Colorado.
Howard Gelt, in this family photo, circa 1988, died Friday after decades of making a difference in Denver.

Howard Gelt, the kid who got kicked out of military school and continued a rebellious streak for years, left his mark on Colorado in a number of ways, from politics to transportation to the arts.

A pioneer for women’s rights, he helped found the Colorado NARAL chapter.

At 6-foot-5, he appeared like a giant when he crashed an IOC meeting in Japan in 1972 to let members know Colorado wasn’t that excited about hosting the Olympics.

He once faked a southern drawl to get an environmental bill through the North Carolina legislature.

Gelt died Friday after battling with esophageal cancer. Gelt was 73, although he always let out his trademark big grin when people commented he looked younger.

“He had such a will to live. He had so much grit,” his son, 35-year-old Ben Gelt, said Saturday. “He was a character and just a great guy.”

The family is holding a private funeral Wednesday, but will later announce a public memorial service for Gelt, who was chairman of the Colorado Democratic Party in the early 1990s. Before that, he was key to Dick Lamm and Roy Roy Romer’s elections for governor.

Gelt and his wife, Sandy Vanghagen Gelt, had just celebrated their 16th wedding anniversary on June 1.

His death comes the same week as Republican Bill Armstrong, a former U.S. senator from Colorado. “An era is coming to an end,” said Mary Alice Mandarich, a lobbyist who visited Gelt in the hospital last week.

The thing about Gelt, she said, is he had an enormous impact on Colorado but in a behind-the-scenes, give-someone-else-the-credit way.

That sentiment was echoed by Gelt’s former wife, Susan Barnes-Gelt, who served on the Denver City Council.

“Howard’s impact on the civic and political life of this city was as big as the great outdoors,” she said. “It was entirely unsung, but he was such a force.”

Read moreHoward Gelt, 1943-2016: The go-to guy, the unsung force

Former Sen. Bill Armstrong: The guy who went from saying “no” to saying “maybe”

U.S. Rep. Jack Kemp of New York and and U.S. Bill Armstrong of Colorado in 1984. (Armstrong family photo)
U.S. Rep. Jack Kemp of New York and and U.S. Bill Armstrong of Colorado in 1984. (Armstrong family photo)

As Congress was fighting the debt ceiling in 2013, Dick Wadhams, Colorado’s political historian, passed on a New York Times story he knew I would enjoy: a 1983 feature on U.S. Sen. Bill Armstrong and his brand of conservatism.

“In one sense the Senator is a missionary, preaching the gospel of fiscal rectitude to the heathens on Capitol Hill. But, in another sense, he is a pragmatist who knows how to count votes and when to accept a deal,” the newspaper wrote.

“I’m relatively inflexible on principles,” the Colorado senator told the Times, “but I’m flexible on the details.”

I reprinted the articled in the Denver Post’s award-winning political blog, The Spot, and it’s worth rereading. Armstrong died Tuesday at the age of 79.

“Have I changed in my inner self?” he said in the 1983 Times article.

“The answer is yes. Some. I’m very comfortable now with people whose political views are very different from my own, and that was hard for me 10 years ago. Until you’ve had some of the rough edges knocked off, it’s awfully easy to be brash, and feel like you’ve got all the answers. But as you gain more experience, you realize nobody has all the answers, and that fosters a degree of intellectual humility.”

Read moreFormer Sen. Bill Armstrong: The guy who went from saying “no” to saying “maybe”