The most powerful Republican in El Paso County is Marcy Morrison.
That, my friends, is what we call a just dessert.
The self-described Rockefeller Republican, whose life has exemplified the term "public servant," whose community service spans decades and whose thanks have included members of her own party treating her like a mongrel for many years has been appointed Colorado's new insurance commissioner by newly elected Gov. Bill Ritter.
With Democrats controlling the governor's office, both houses of the Legislature and the U.S. Congress, it's an interesting position for Morrison, a past District 14 school board member (1973-84), El Paso County commissioner (1984-88), state representative (1988-2000) and mayor of Manitou Springs (since 2001). She is the sole Republican and from ultraconservative El Paso County, to boot among Ritter's announced administrative appointments.
Her new role, overseeing insurance regulation in Colorado, arguably gives her more clout than most local elected officials from the minority Republican Party. The more conservative wing of that party, the "rigid right," as Morrison calls it, launched "intense, well-funded opposition" in five of her six races for the state Legislature. She went on to win all of them. In 2000, when urged to run for the state Senate, she chose to retire from state government.
Her views may have rankled a vocal GOP minority, but Morrison hit upon the secret to her hard-fought success in a December 1999 letter to supporters.
"I prevailed not by compromising myself, but by being myself," she wrote. "My style has been one of openness, candor, responsiveness and, even in this era of increasing political polarization, unapologetic moderation."
Shortly thereafter, she fell off the political wagon, so to speak, and was elected mayor of Manitou, a position she has resigned to become an elephant in the mansion of the donkey.
This week, the ever-elegant Morrison laughed when asked how it all feels. "Weird. Not only am I the only Republican, I'm a woman and I'm the oldest, as far as I can tell," she says, grumbling a bit about how newspaper reports have listed her age, 71, but not those of Ritter's male cabinet members and commissioners.
She also, undoubtedly, has the wisdom to help the new governor overhaul the way health care is delivered in Colorado. Dating at least to her time in the Legislature, Morrison has been impassioned about the topic. For the past four years, she has chaired a statewide insurance consumer council. She was asked to apply for the commissioner job while serving as one of a handful of Republican advisers on Ritter's transition team. Her salary will be $105,000 a year a marked increase from the $75 a month she has earned as Manitou Springs mayor. The money more than she's ever made in her life isn't the motivation, she says.
"The governor-elect is very, very interested in looking at health-care reform, for the uninsured and underinsured particularly," Morrison says. "The problem is how to do it that will be a magical solution.
"I'd like to think I'm a moderate Republican who's recognized by the other party as being able to be effective. I'm an individual with a record in the House [of Representatives] as working across the aisle, working with Democrats and independent people and as many Republicans as I could..."
And yes, Morrison like many other Republicans, independents and Democrats supported Ritter's bid for governor.
"People are just tired and disillusioned about party politics when it gets in the way of solving some policy issues that are so distressing to them," Morrison says.
Then she uses the analogy of a burning fire: Are we going to stand around and ask, "Are you a Democrat, or a Republican?" before going inside to make the save? No.
"Maybe that sounds overly dramatic," she says, "but that's how I feel about it."