Jerry Kopel

The news stories kept referring to former U.S. Sen. Floyd Haskell, who recently died at age 82, as a "gentleman". That may give readers a passive opinion about someone they never had a chance to know. If someone had asked me to describe Floyd, I would have replied "a fighter with courage".

This was a man who entered the military as a private and came out of the Pacific Theatre of World War II a major. He also took on the leadership of his Republican party in the Colorado House. Floyd Haskell learned about interest rates being charged Colorado consumers during his first term beginning in 1965. He had two mentors on the subject, Ralph Cole (R) who sat next to him in the third row on the Republican side of the House, and me. (Our row had Wayne Knox (D), Lou Rinaldo (D), Jerry Kopel (D), Tom Jordan (R), Ralph Cole (R), and Floyd Haskell (R).)

Floyd was outraged over the high interest rates and in 1967 he took on his Speaker, Johnny Vanderhoof, who owned an industrial bank, and his Majority Leader, John Mackie, who represented industrial banks. Industrial banks and small loan companies were notorious in the 1960's for squeezing whatever they could out of consumer loans.

Haskell was assistant majority leader in 1967-68. That would normally guarantee a hearing for a bill. He introduced HB 1165, Concerning Truth In Lending In Disclosure of Finance Charges. The bill meant lenders would have to tell consumers what they were being charged. Vanderhoof sent the bill to Business Affairs. HB 1165 had a very large number of bipartisan co-sponsors, but the bill died in committee late in the session without a hearing.

Floyd had a thriving law practice. Key to it was representation of Detroit automobile firms. He was told to get off his consumer adventures, or else. Floyd, the "fighter", refused to back down, and lost his clients. That may have been one reason why he left the Colorado House in 1968 after serving only four years: To make a living.

Floyd Haskell was graduated from Harvard College in 1937 and from Harvard Law School in 1941. He had a close friendship with Peter Dominick, another now deceased Colorado U.S. Senator who also served four years in the Colorado House, but not at the same time as Floyd. Both of them represented Arapahoe County.

Dominick was a "Yale Man", but prior to college, he and Floyd were private high school dormitory roommates. At least that's what a photo of two very young men sitting on bunk beds alleged which appeared in either the Denver Post or Rocky Mountain News. The picture was published while Floyd and Peter were both U.S. Senators in 1972 and 1973.

As a private citizen, Floyd did become a Democrat, primarily in protest of President Nixon's handling of the Vietnam War, but also because as a state legislator, he discovered that Democrats were the ones who supported his legislative issues.

In 1972 he entered the Democratic primary for U.S. Senator. His opponent was then-State Sen. Tony Vollack (who in later life became chief justice of the state Supreme Court). At the state assembly, Haskell was expected to win top line by several hundred votes, but at the last minute, before voting actually began, Vollack's people passed out a "fact sheet" on 14 public policy areas showing how Haskell had voted as a state legislator.

Of course the fact sheet was skewed to show Haskell in as bad a light as possible. I took offense to the "fact sheet" portraying Haskell as anti-consumer, and addressed the state convention on the absurdity of that "claim". But votes had been changed, including some who had already left the hall without hearing any rebuttal. Vollack won top line, 1,524 to 1,397.

Marty Miller, a key player in the Haskell campaign, held a press conference several days later. According to a news story by Robert Burns, then a Rocky Mountain News reporter (and presently in charge of the weekly Capitol Reporter), Miller said Vollack's alleged tactics were "evil, they're sinful, they're corrupting and they destroy the process. They fool the voters. There's no opportunity to respond. They stink, they're gutter-like politics, and I don't like them."

That is how the primary began and how it would end.

A RMN pre-general election section Oct. 29, 1972, summed up what happened next between Vollack and Haskell. "(School) busing didn't become an issue in the primary until Vollack said he regarded it as one legitimate tool to be used to foster integration.

"In the last days of the campaign, Haskell blanketed suburban newspapers with antibusing ads, adding a blast at Vollack for advocating unconditional amnesty for draft evaders...Vollack is convinced the last-minute Haskell push cost him the election."

In the November, 1972 election, eighty percent of the registered voters in Colorado VOTED (wouldn't that be nice in 1998!). Haskell beat three-term incumbent U.S. Sen. Gordon Allott, 457,454 to 447,957.

Allott, according to the Denver Post "sought to ignore his opponent as he was able to do in earlier campaigns." But Haskell became quite aggressive as the time to vote neared, forcing Allott to respond to charges. "(Haskell) brought suit seeking to force the Allott committee to disclose contributions made before the effective date of a new federal campaign reporting act....(He) hammered away at what he called the extreme right-wing conservatism of Allott..."

The 1978 election for U.S. Senator was quite different. I saw Floyd Haskell at various times during the campaign, and it was obvious to me that the "fire in the belly" wasn't there. He went through the motions only, and lost badly to Bill Armstrong.

It was a rough campaign. According to Peter Blake, writing in the RMN, "(Armstrong) accused Haskell of accepting the offer of a government jet costing $890 an hour to fly back to Washington for a vote, comparing that with his own use of a commercial jet to vote for a tax cut." And the Denver Post reported "One of Armstrong's most effective pieces of advertising noted that it would take 13 Colorado families' income taxes for one year to pay for the Haskell air trip."

Blake continues. "Armstrong also accused the senator...of getting around a rule prohibiting his use of the franking privilege by having the Small Business Administration mail out a brochure on his behalf."

"Armstrong's campaign budget," wrote Blake, "of $1 million was by far the largest ever raised and spent by a Colorado politician. Haskell raised slightly over $600,000."

Along with wife Nina Totenberg, Floyd is survived by three children from his first marriage, Ione, Evelyn, and Pamela and two grandchildren.

Under Colorado House rules there will be a memorial for Floyd in 1999, and the gathering of Floyd's bipartisan political friends.

I hope to be there,

Jerry Kopel writes a column for the Statesman based on 22 years past experience as a state legislator.

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