Amid what many United States citizens have been characterizing as a highly partisan and divisive time, the Westminster Chamber of Commerce and Colorado Women’s Alliance tried to change the conversation - at least in Colorado.
The two organizations hosted a panel of bi-partisan women who had served in public office to discuss how they managed to run for office and still maintain a work/life balance.
The larger takeaway for audience members was that things are all right, after all.
“The partisanship we hear so much about and the fighting isn’t really as bad as we think,” said CWA Executive Director Joni Inman.
It was part of the regular luncheon series the chamber hosts on the third Friday of each month for the Westminster Chamber’s 300-plus members. This was the first time the Westminster Chamber has hosted this kind of panel, and Chamber President Juliet Abdel said she expects it will be back.
The first one of these panels hosted by the CWA in Grand Junction last fall started with a conversation about civility. The women responsible for hosting the event wanted to highlight how their elected officials get along so well and encourage others to get involved.
Inman said she often sees people on social media attacking one side or the other.
“It wasn’t reality in my eyes or the advisory council’s. There’s something missing. The elected officials we know get along so well,” said Inman.
This doesn’t mean Colorado politicians are any less partisan than the rest of the country, according to Rep. Tracy Kraft-Tharp, D-Arvada and Westminster.
“We are as partisan as partisan can be,” Kraft-Tharp said. “We’re not changing our beliefs or giving up our beliefs. We respect the areas where we disagree and find our common ground.”
Relationships a bridge
The four women on Westminster’s panel said that for them, common ground comes from networking and building relationships with their colleagues.
Jefferson County Commissioner Libby Szabo (R-Arvada and Westminster) and Kraft-Tharp said when state legislators aren’t debating policy issues on the floor, they’re asking each other what their plans are for the weekend and asking about each other’s children. They go out together and get lunch together.
When they’re struggling with serious issues and in disagreement with one another, Kraft-Tharp said it helps to have those relationships.
When they are in agreement about an issue, Sen. Cheri Jahn, I-Wheat Ridge, said she’s not concerned with who gets credit for passing a bill.
“If it’s good policy, it’s good policy. And I don’t really care if I get it through and it’s somebody else’s bill. It’s to the good of the citizens of the state of Colorado,” said Jahn.
To Jahn, a politician’s job is not about her party or the ideology she represents: It’s about representing the people of Colorado and doing what’s right.
When it came to talking about party affiliation during the panel though, Szabo wanted to convey that her party, the Republican Party, is all-inclusive. She said the people she knows in her party come from every gender, every ethnicity and every orientation.
“Not everybody in the Republican Party is a Libby Szabo or not everybody is a Donald Trump. We all are free thinkers. We know who we are. We know what we believe. Because one person says something does not mean we all say it,” said Szabo.
Kraft-Tharp said she thinks both Democrats and Republicans want the same things: a safe home, good education for their children and food on the table. How both sides achieve those things is different, but she thinks that’s where people can come together and find mutual respect.
“In this time, there is so much animosity between people of different political agendas that it was refreshing to see four women act professional and listen to each other’s thoughts. You could tell that they sincerely liked each other,” said event attendee Shari Shiffer-Krieger, field director for Americans for Prosperity Colorado.