Three of the most important requisites for a good life are: insatiable curiosity, paying close attention to what’s around you and seizing opportunities as they arise.
State Sen. Lucia Guzman is a master at all three. It’s why she has such a rich life that she generously shares with all of Colorado.
If you think you don’t know Lucia, you do. Finishing eight years in the state Senate this week, Lucia was previously the executive director of the Colorado Council of Churches, held a seat on the Denver Public Schools board and was appointed by then Mayor John Hickenlooper as executive director of Denver’s Agency for Human Rights and Community Partnerships.
As full disclosure, Lucia is one of my most treasured friends. For the purpose of appraising her tenure as a public leader, however, that doesn’t matter. Friends and foes easily agree on Lucia’s character, passion and determination to help both every individual, and everyone collectively.
By chance, we moved next door to each other in 1996 into a poor, unsettled neighborhood. We were instantly friends. We shared a passion for social justice, good tamales and snark.
In my career as a journalist, I’ve met hundreds of people who rose through the ranks to lead communities and the state. I’ve never known anyone like Lucia, and neither have you.
She wasn’t granted power as an activist, lawmaker and statewide Democratic Party leader via an entitlement from a wealthy family, the best schools, or a reserved place in the network of things. She earned it.
Lucia survived a hard Texas childhood filled with poverty, dysfunction and some of the tragedies that beset millions of Americans and prevent them from doing everything Lucia has.
She parlayed her personal experience and life as an ordained minister for struggling church populations into a deep understanding of how hard everyday life is for poor and middle-class Coloradans.
Then she engineered her activism into a school board seat in Denver. There, she worked to push the school district into recognizing that a one-size-fits-all school district fit virtually no one. She left the school district empowering parents and students to bend the district to them, rather than the other way around.
Along the way, Lucia and her then-partner, now-wife, Martha Eubanks, decided to open a coffee shop a few houses down from us. My wife, Melody, and I were the bakers for the shop. It was an endeavor that nearly killed all of us. But for the few years Lucia’s Coffee Shop was open, it became a neighborhood nexus for discussing and solving problems. It served as the capitol of North Denver, and home to protests and rallies that included Hickenlooper, Wellington Web, Elizabeth Edwards and much of the legislature. Lucia embodied the spirit of the shop, which served fair-trade coffee, Lik’s ice cream and the best Belgian waffles in the city.
For years, Lucia was the conscience of immigrant and human rights in Denver. It was a job that cemented her drive for social and humane justice for everyone. It helped launch her into the state Senate, where she soon became her party’s leader in the upper house.
With wit, wisdom and dogged determination, she has got up every day around 4 a.m. for eight years and shouldered a bevy of proposed and enacted changes, including a dignity in death law, a repeal of the death penalty, a change in how wrongfully accused convicts are repaid, civil unions, a way to increase competition among internet providers, a wide range of issues critical to rural Colorado, and meaningful health care proposals. Lucia has been a leader in the struggle for gay rights, an issue, like many, that’s never defined her.
Each of Lucia’s quests have a common thread: looking for a way to right a wrong against a single person, or millions of people, that only the government can fix. Each time, Lucia championed people whose cause wasn’t very celebre.
She did all this while repairing the Colorado Trail, climbing fourteeners and embracing Colorado’s nascent wine industry, forgotten farms and crops.
She single-handedly promotes the state’s budding whiskey industry, pouring out sips to political friends and foes alike. Her limitless curiosity has allowed her to make flawless pâte feuilletée, grow the damnedest garlic anywhere, imitate nearly anyone, perfectly sing “Auld Lang Sine” and with all the words, chase wild horses and be the sole person in the house who can successfully turn the music up and down remotely on the bluetooth system. Well, for the most part.
Lucia has walked, scootered and biked all over the city and the state, taking her case on the road in her Senate District 34-licensed “lesbian assault vehicle” only when she had to. She handles every victory and challenge with steady confidence, grace and self-deprecating humor.
Lucia learned to downhill ski in her 60s. Not long after, I took her to Loveland Basin to step up her mastery of the “aqua-marine” runs she conquered at flashier, but lesser Colorado ski resorts. We ran an infamous “blue” tree run that would be classified expert-only at most resorts. She was laughing, mostly, in the face of very real danger. After getting down, she said the run was “interesting” but that she would probably keep to her blue-green favorites elsewhere.
At a time when Colorado has become just as polarized as Washington, Lucia has traveled the state as Senate Dem leader, collecting friends and allies everywhere, for all our benefit. Her diplomatic work from Pueblo to Paonia and inside the state Capitol has repeatedly helped us all to understand that we have far more in common than in difference from each other.
Lucia is already mapping out new adventures and ways to bring social justice and progress to the state’s downtrodden and vulnerable environment.
New voices at the Capitol would do well to imitate Lucia’s gently biting voice of reason.
I’m selfishly hoping for more time with her to help support Colorado’s whiskey industry, especially efforts from Palisade and Buena Vista. And we have a date with a certain aquamarine tree run at Loveland.
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