Jerry Kopel


What happened in the past will likely never happen again. Seven legislators who served between 1876 and 2004 passed the torch (with one exception) directly to another legislator they had served with.

All were Democrats beginning with Casimiro Barela and ending with Peggy Reeves. Five of the seven served in the Senate. Three of those served in the Senate and House. Only two served just in the House.

Two were Presidents Pro Tempore of the Senate. Three were Speakers of the House. Three were natives of Colorado and only one was an attorney. All were legislators a total of 165 years.

I'm indebted to former Rep. Jim Moore (R) for much information on the first legislator. Moore wrote a treatise on the 39 men (24 Republicans and 15 Democrats) elected in 1875 to write the Colorado constitution of 1876.

Colorado wasn't a state in 1872, but Casimiro Barela was elected to the territorial legislature in 1872 at age 25. The Las Animas Democrat was elected county sheriff in 1874. He was one of the 39 constitutional convention members of 1875 and one of 26 men elected to the first state Senate in 1876. (There were 49 House members.)

According to state legislative council records, Barela remained a senator for 41 consecutive years ending with retirement in 1916. Barela was Senate President Pro Tempore in 1893 and 1901. In the early years, he earned $4 a day for the 40 day sessions and "15 cents for each mile traveled to and from the seat of government". Other reimbursement was not allowed under the constitution.

The next three served as Speakers of the House, John Slattery (1914), Boon Best (1917-18), and D.E. Hunter (1931-32). Boon Best, a Colorado native, cattleman and banker, claimed to be a descendant of Daniel Boone. This House legislator represented Bent and Kiowa counties 1915-20, two of those years (1915-16) with Barela.

Banker and merchant John Slattery (D) from San Juan served two years in the Senate (1919-20) while Best was in the House. Slattery was elected to the House from 1911-1914 and to the Senate from 1919-1926. D.E. Hunter (D) from Manzanola, arrived as Slattery left. Hunter, a mortuary owner, served in the House 1927-32 and in the Senate for Otero County from 1933-40.

Sam Taylor (D) of Walsenburg served six years with Hunter in the Senate. Taylor, an attorney, was elected in 1934 and remained in the Senate for 40 years, serving consecutively longer than anyone except Sen. Barela. Taylor was Senate Majority or Minority Leader for 14 years and President Pro Tempore for two years. (His former law associate Al Tomsic of Walsenburg was House Speaker while Taylor was President Pro Tempore, 1961-62. This was the last time the House, Senate and governor's office were controlled by Democrats.)

Wayne Knox (D) of Denver served 10 years in the House while Taylor was in the Senate. Knox, a teacher, was elected to the House in 1960, lost the 1962 election, returned for 1965 through 1972 when he stepped aside to allow Dick Lamm to run unopposed for the House seat. Knox returned to the House in 1975 and served through 1996, a total of 32 years, longer than any other representative.

Peggy Reeves, Ft. Collins Democrat and real estate broker, was elected to the House, 1983-84, lost the 1984 election (only 18 House Democrats were elected in 1984) regained her seat in 1986, and served in the House through 1996. Elected to the Senate in 1996 her second term ends in 2004, a total of 20 years. She served 12 years in the House with Rep. Knox.

If you want oral history from a present legislator, you can't go back further than 1983, with Peggy Reeves and Lewis Entz. Former House members and now Sens. Norma Anderson, Ken Chlouber started in 1987, and David Owens in 1988.

(Jerry Kopel served 22 years in the Colordo House.)

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