Speakers of the House pay tribute to one of their own

Carl ‘Bev’ Bledsoe respected by both sides of the aisle
The Colorado Statesman

Eight former speakers of the Colorado House of Representatives and current Speaker Mark Ferrandino, D-Denver, on Monday paid tribute to late Speaker Carl Beverly “Bev” Bledsoe during a heartwarming tribute in the House chamber, in which Bledsoe — the longest serving speaker in state history — was remembered as being a tough conservative who held the utmost respect for the democratic process.

It was a historic homage to line up the current and former speakers of the House, with only two legislative leaders missing. Former Gov. John Vanderhoof — a Republican who served as Speaker from 1963-64, and from 1967-70 — was unable to attend due to health complications. Former Speaker Russell George — a Republican from Rifle who served from 1999-2000 — was unable to attend because poor weather kept him home.

Current and former speakers of the Colorado House of Representatives lined up for a photo March 4 in the House chamber at a memorial for the late Speaker Carl Beverly Bledsoe. From left, former Chief Clerk Lee Bahrich, Speakers John Fuhr, Ruben Valdez, Chuck Berry, Doug Dean, Lola Spradley, Andrew Romanoff, Terrance Carroll, Rep. Frank McNulty, Speaker Mark Ferrandino and Chief Clerk Marilyn Eddins.
Photo Courtesy of Pat Worley

But a literal who’s who of local political superstars lined up to pay their respects to Bledsoe, a Republican rural lawmaker and rancher from Hugo who served as Speaker from 1981-1990. He died on June 5, 2012 at the age of 88.

His wife, Alice, and his sons Robert Bledsoe, Thomas Bledsoe and Christopher Bledsoe survive the former speaker. Much of his family attended the House memorial.

Former Gov. Roy Romer, former Denver Mayor Federico Pena and former House Speaker Terrance Carroll posed for a photo at a memorial for the late former Speaker Carl Beverly Bledsoe March 4 in the House chamber.
Photo by Peter Marcus/The Colorado Statesman

In addition to Ferrandino, the speakers who offered remarks included:

• Rep. Frank McNulty, R-Highlands Ranch (2011-12);
• Terrance Carroll, D-Denver (2009-10);
• Andrew Romanoff, D-Denver (2005-08);
• Lola Spradley, R-Beulah (2003-04);
• Doug Dean, R-Colorado Springs (2001-02);
• Chuck Berry, R-Colorado Springs (1991-98);
• Ruben Valdez, D-Denver (1975-76); and
• John Fuhr, R-Aurora (1971-74).

Appearances were also made by former Democratic Gov. Roy Romer — who served as governor from 1987-98, thereby coinciding with Bledsoe’s term — and former Denver mayors Federico Peña — who served in the House from 1979-82 before becoming mayor — and Wellington Webb — who served in the House from 1973-77 before becoming mayor in 1991. Webb’s wife, former Rep. Wilma Webb, D-Denver — who served from 1980-92 — also spoke at the memorial.

Bledsoe left an impressive legacy for rural Colorado, often saying that he represented the minority as the more populated Front Range began to explode in growth.

His term did not come without its share of controversy. Wilma Webb saw that firsthand when she introduced legislation to establish a statewide holiday on Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday. On four separate occasions she presented her bill, and four times Bledsoe fought it. But despite the political wrangling, Webb said she felt Bledsoe respected the legislative process.

“I was happily surprised two years ago when I read in one of our daily newspapers that Bev said that he had let the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday become law in this state. And perhaps he did because, as I said, he was really a strategic statesman,” said Wilma Webb. “And he really fought for what he believed in. I also want to feel that perhaps some of the influence of this body really persuaded Bev that Dr. King really did deserve the holiday that he fought for.”

Romer — who from 1987-1990 served as Democratic governor while Bledsoe led the Republican majority in the House — acknowledged the often-stubborn nature to which Bledsoe stuck to his conservative interests. But he said there was a mutual respect for sticking to those values, while looking ahead to compromise.

“He says, ‘At the end of the day, we’ve got a problem here we need to solve. Let’s look beyond this particular period of time and see if we can find a solution,’” Romer recalled his conversations with Bledsoe.

“Bev Bledsoe represents that kind of democracy,” continued Romer. “And without that, this country will not survive.”

Peña remembered Bledsoe for being a “quiet, but strong leader.” Having served with the former House speaker as a freshman legislator, and then as Democratic minority leader when Bledsoe was Speaker in 1981, Peña said his impressions of Bledsoe helped to shape his political career. After serving as mayor of Denver, Peña went on to serve under former President Bill Clinton as secretary of transportation and secretary of energy.

“My fond memories of Bev Bledsoe are, however, as clear as if they had been molded just yesterday,” said a sentimental Peña.

“He had core values and conservative principles, which were shaped by his experiences in rural America…” added Peña. “I always respected and understood their foundational roots. His notions of right and wrong, of fairness, of ethics, and doing what was best for Colorado and our nation were never muddied by the sometimes-petty business of politics. They were clear.”

Wellington Webb, a Democrat, called the memorial a celebration. He first met Bledsoe when the two came to the legislature in 1973. Later, they worked on reapportionment together.

“That’s when I got to see another Bev Bledsoe,” Webb joked to laughter in the chamber, pointing out that Bledsoe knew more about districting than anyone, and was fair about reaching agreements between Republicans and Democrats.

“I think that Bev does and is much of what this institution is about, because there were two things that were guaranteed: If he gave his word, he kept it, and he could disagree with you and fight you tooth and nail on something that he did not agree with you on. But then life went on the next day,” remarked Webb.

Berry affirmed Bledsoe’s commitment to his word, pointing out, “[It] was his insistence on an ethics of honesty and commitment in this process. You’ve heard it before… if you make a commitment to vote a certain way on a bill, he expected you to keep that commitment. Your word was your bond.”

Berry also joked about Bledsoe’s matchmaking abilities. Bledsoe and his wife arranged for Berry and Maria Garcia Berry, who previously lobbied at the Capitol and is now chief executive of CRL Associates, to go out on a date in 1987. She and Chuck Berry were married the next year.

“Twenty-five years later, I can attest that he was pretty good at that,” Chuck Berry said of Bledsoe’s gig moonlighting as Cupid.

Fuhr said it had been 40 years since he walked through the doors to the House chamber. But he said he couldn’t think of a better reason to return than to pay tribute to Bledsoe, who Fuhr considered to be one of his protégées, despite learning many lessons from Bledsoe himself.

“It brought back a lot of memories, and I must say, most of them are really good,” Fuhr said to lawmakers of returning to the chamber. “I hope that when you leave… that you can say that. Because I firmly mean that.

“I’d like to say that it was under my tutelage that Bev learned everything he knew,” continued Fuhr. “But he taught me so much. So much, so quickly that it was unbelievable. A man of that stature… you don’t run across them every day.”

Valdez said he had several opportunities over the years to work with Bledsoe on various projects. Throughout all their interactions, he realized, “I always knew that Bev was honest, straightforward and really cared about this process and this institution. He really respected the process, and we also respected each other.”

Dean had missed Bledsoe’s tenure at the legislature, but he said the legacy that Bledsoe left behind was a reason to aim for high standards.

“I hope that we all… aspire to, that when it is your time to leave this body, to attempt to leave this body with the same kind of respect that Speaker Bledsoe received from his colleagues,” Dean suggested.

Similarly, Spradley agreed that legislative duties go beyond governing, also including fostering relationships between colleagues.

“Issues come and go, but relationships are forever,” she declared. “And he understood that.”

Romanoff also only knew Bledsoe through reputation. But he said the quiet force of his leadership and his strict commitment to issues was a guiding force for him. He said it was a “towering example” that Bledsoe set.

“Speaker Bledsoe led this chamber with dignity,” commented Romanoff. “He respected the rules of the House and the rule of law, and he recognized the most important lesson any law-maker can learn — a lesson too often forgotten by those who serve here … While we may be part-time politicians, we are all of us full-time citizens.”

Carroll closed remarks for the former speakers, once again pointing to Bledsoe’s respect for the process. As Carroll spoke, outside on the street opponents of proposals to increase gun control in Colorado circled the legislature in their vehicles, blasting car and air horns to express their disapproval.

“As I pulled up today and… I approached the west steps, and I heard all the horns honking and all the protesters out there… the first thing I thought was this is going to be loud inside the chamber today,” he said. “Then it struck me, what better way than to honor the memory of Speaker Bledsoe than to have citizens of this state outside this body exercising their rights and participating fully in the process.”

Former Rep. Frank DeFilippo — a Republican from Golden who served from 1979-84 — called the tribute a final farewell.

“The day has come, the time… we didn’t want, because it is a time that we are all going to face. And that’s the final House farewell. And folks, this is it…” he addressed the chamber. “I’ll see you soon, Bev.”

Ferrandino, who became speaker this year after Democrats took control of the House, remarked how difficult the position can be. He said it is appropriate that Bledsoe will be honored with a memorial statue in the lobby of the House chamber.

“In just two months I have learned how difficult this job is, and to see Speaker Bledsoe hold this position for 10 years and to be so beloved by both sides of the aisle… I think it’s fitting that as a chamber we honor Speaker Bledsoe both today with a memorial and with a statue out in the lobby, so that Speaker Bledsoe can look over the work that we do,” commented Ferrandino.

McNulty agreed with the appropriateness: “It wasn’t the fact that he served 10 years and will always be the longest serving speaker in our state’s history. It was the impact he had; the people that he touched; and the legacy that he left from his time here at the legislature.”

Peter@coloradostatesman.com