On Nov. 5, 1950, at age 18, she bought a one-way bus ticket from her native Ohio to Colorado — a state she’d never visited before, and got onboard. She came, she said, because her father, an adventurous soul, had fallen in love with the state on a spur-of-the-moment road trip he’d once taken. It was the first of many new beginnings life had in store for her. And now, there’s a new, new beginning.
At 89-years-old, Norma Anderson, who doesn’t sound 89-years-old, recently started a new chapter in her political life. She’s now a registered independent, having left the Republican Party because she thought it left her first.
Anderson, a fixture in Colorado Republican politics for decades, served in the state legislature for nearly 20 years, first in the House, then moving on to the Senate. She says she was highly recruited to run for congress when Dan Schaefer left his seat in 1999, but just wasn’t feeling it.
“I didn’t want it,” she said. “Didn’t want the travel — didn’t want to be number 435 in the pecking order.”
So, she remained a state senator until 2006, retiring from that gig in the final year of her term. She was going to be term-limited soon after, a process she’s still not fond of today, and didn’t relish being treated like a lame duck on her way out.
But after all those years of service she wasn’t ready to just hang it up.
More new beginnings followed in the nonprofit sector. She’s had seats on numerous boards — too many to count, she said. The last being the DeAngelis Foundation Board of Directors. She recently stepped down from that seat, which was subsequently filled by ex-school board president, Ron Mitchell. She says she loved her time on the board, and the mission of the foundation.
So, what does she want to do now? Well, there are no concrete plans but judging by her opinion of modern-day politics, it’s safe to say it won’t be that.
“It’s a disaster,” she says. “I remember one day in the legislative body a Democrat and I were just going at it. That night we went to dinner. We were good friends.”
She says back in those days, that was pretty common. But now, even state politics have become a mirror of the gridlock you used to only see at the national level. She wonders if the deep divisions in our politics can ever be fixed.
No fan of the 45th president, she realized there was no place in today’s Republican Party for the type of Eisenhower Republican she started out as. The type of Republican who can speak with the utmost respect for Bill Clinton to this day, because of what he did when tragedy struck her district.
“After Columbine, when President Clinton came — a lot of people pick on him, but I never will,” she says. “He gave a speech and it brought unity and empathy and that ‘We are Columbine’ spirit to the community.”
She hasn’t forgotten. Things were a lot different back then, she says. And politics aren’t the only thing that’s changed a lot in her 89 years.
“I lived through the great depression, World War II — I remember them all,” Anderson says. “I landed in Colorado and went to the YWCA at 16th and Lincoln, rented a room and went looking for a job.”
It only took three days to find clerical work at the Singer Sewing Machine company downtown. Soon she’d moved on to a better gig at the Denver offices of Time, Inc., where they published Time, Life and a new magazine called Sports Illustrated. She still has a copy of the first SI.
A wedding and a daughter soon followed. Her husband had found work in the Wyoming oil fields so she headed north. The marriage didn’t pan out, so in 1958, she packed up her daughter and headed back to Denver as a single mom.
Anderson remarried in 1965. She and her new husband had two sons together and moved to a small farm near Kipling and Hampden Avenue where her political career took root.
“We were there for about six months and one night a lady came knocking on my door and asked if I wanted to host a caucus,” she said. “I held the caucus and got involved in the Republican Party.”
Years later, still involved, she ran in a three-way primary for a state house seat and lost. But not being the type to let that dissuade her, she says she ran again a few years later when a seat came up. She credits time spent in her community getting to know other families and running a youth soccer league with that victory.
The rest, as they say, is Colorado political history. Something she says she was happy to play a role in. Her positions at times were a bit paradoxical. She was a Republican who didn’t like TABOR, Colorado’s Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, and a moderate who supported uber right-wing, Tom Tancredo, but not his hardline immigration policies.
But she says she knew how to work across the aisle and get things done.
Of all the bills she helped usher through, she says three still stand out. The work she did to help create Colorado’s Department of Transportation tops the list. Other high points include a school finance act that created greater equality in funding and a Lifetime Parole and Probation law for sex offenders.
These days, like everyone, she’s looking forward to a return to normal and spending time with family. And about stepping down from the DeAngelis board…
“Well, I guess age caught up with me,” she says with a chuckle.
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