The Creation of the Colorado Senior Lobby

Prepared by Bill Hanna

The origins of the Colorado Senior Lobby began in the late summer and fall of 1979. At the time, there were two major models in the country for legislative advocacy by and for seniors: Silver Haired Legislatures, and the Senior Lobby. A number of states had established Silver Haired Legislatures, and there was interest in Colorado among several senior leaders to create such a program in Colorado. Under the Silver Haired Legislature model, seniors around the state elected other seniors to be “mock” state senators and representatives who met for several days in a legislative session in the state capitol at a time when the official state legislature was not meeting. The senior legislators elected leaders, were assigned to committees, drafted and voted on “bills” of interest to seniors, and presented those bills to real elected officials to consider during the real legislative session.

The Senior Lobby model had been developed in the states of Washington and Idaho under the leadership of a former lobbyist for public employees, Norm Schut. Under this model, seniors met around the state during the off-session, studied issues, were trained in legislative advocacy (lobbying), developed issue papers and legislative proposals, and prioritized the issues they agreed to pursue during the next state legislative session. Several senior leaders in Colorado were more interested in the Senior Lobby model, especially because it was “real lobbying” in the “real legislature,” rather than a “mock” legislative session without a mechanism for follow-through during the regular legislative session.

Bob Robinson, who was the leading force behind the founding of the Colorado Senior Lobby, had been hired in the late ‘70’s as the “Legislative Liaison” for a statewide senior advocacy organization (the Colorado Congress of Senior Organizations – CCSO – no longer in existence). In that role, Bob produced a bi-weekly legislative report, and created the first “scorecard” – originally called “Robinson’s Senior Scorecard.” Bob was known and respected throughout the state, as he had been the first director of the State Division of Services for the Aging and the Colorado Commission on Aging. Because of issues with his heart, Bob had to resign from that state position in the mid-‘70’s. But his energy and commitment were still strong, and Bob was eager to continue serving seniors through the Legislative Liaison role. With support from CCSO, in the summer of 1979 Bob travelled to the state of Washington to meet with Norm Schut to learn as much as he could on how to create and operate a Senior Lobby.

Bob came back with information and enthusiasm about the possibility of creating a Senior Lobby organization in Colorado. Bob recruited a few additional senior leaders, and they held preliminary discussion meetings around the state in the summer and fall. Consensus quickly built that a Senior Lobby should be tried. Following the discussion meetings in the counties and regions, a major statewide organizational meeting was held on December 18, 1979 at the then “Davis Institute for the Care and Study of the Aging,” a new care and research facility in Denver. Representatives from over fifty organizations met in an all day brainstorming session. The group was both geographically and ethnically diverse, with representatives coming from all areas of the state and most senior organizations.

At the end of the day’s discussions, the group decided to form an “Ad Hoc Organizational Committee” of ten members, with two representatives from Colorado’s then five Congressional Districts. The Ad Hoc Organizational Committee met again on January 16, February 20, and March 19, 1980. Purposes, principles, membership and board criteria, finances, office location, bylaws, etc. were worked on. Additional meetings were held to select a name, elect a board, finalize the bylaws and articles of incorporation, and – as they say – the rest is history. The Colorado Senior Lobby became an official nonprofit corporation in Colorado with the filing of the original Articles of Incorporation with the Secretary of State on July 2, 1980.

The first President was Bob Hubbard, and the first Vice President was Ted Rice – both were very thoughtful, committed and selfless individuals. Bob Robinson never wanted to be an officer of the Lobby, preferring to be its legislative liaison and consultant – but no one would question that his role was immense and essential. Of the original fifty individuals who met in December 1979, only ten or fewer are still alive. But that early leadership set a solid base that has enabled the Colorado Senior Lobby to continue for 35 years to be an influential force on behalf of older persons at the state capitol. Having been part of that original group, I am confident that those who created the Lobby would be very proud of the commitment and accomplishments of the leaders and volunteers over the past 35 years, and would be especially grateful and offer their best wishes for those who continue serve on the board and all the other roles that makes the Lobby the respected organization it is.

Posted March 2016