Marcy Morrison is eating her just dessert.
The self-described Rockefeller Republican, whose community service spans decades – and whose thanks have included members of her own party treating her like a mongrel for many years – is Gov. Bill Ritter’s pick to be Colorado’s new insurance commissioner.
As detailed in the Colorado Springs Independent, Morrison is now, arguably, the most powerful Republican in conservative El Paso County.With Democrats controlling the governor’s office, both houses of the Legislature and the U.S. Congress, it’s an interesting position for Morrison, a past District 14 school board member from 1973 to ’84, El Paso County commissioner from ’84 to ’88, state representative from ’88 to 2000 and mayor of Manitou Springs since 2001. She is the sole Republican – and from El Paso County, to boot – among Ritter’s announced administrative appointments.
Her new role, overseeing insurance regulation in Colorado, arguably gives her more clout than most local elected officials from the minority Republican Party. Its more conservative wing, the “rigid right,” as Morrison calls it, launched “intense, well-funded opposition” in five of her six races for the state Legislature. She went on to win all of them. In 2000, when urged to run for the state Senate, she chose to retire instead.
Her views may have rankled a vocal GOP minority, but Morrison hit upon the secret to her hard-fought success in a December 1999 letter to supporters. The year before, as detailed in a November Colorado Confidential report, she had been challenged in the primary by Republican Dave Schultheis, who attacked her viciously, including during a floor speech at a Republican county assembly, where he inaccurately accused her of routinely voting with Democrats.
(Schultheis lost that race but has gone on to win seats in the House, and in November, in the Colorado Senate.)
“I prevailed not by compromising myself, but by being myself,” she wrote. “My style has been one of openness, candor, responsiveness and, even in this era of increasing political polarization, unapologetic moderation.”
Shortly thereafter, she fell off the political wagon, so to speak, and was elected mayor of Manitou, a position she has resigned to become an elephant in the mansion of the donkey.
The ever-elegant Morrison laughs when asked how it all feels. “Weird. Not only am I the only Republican, I’m a woman and I’m the oldest, as far as I can tell,” she says, grumbling a bit about how newspaper reports have listed her age, 71, but not those of Ritter’s male cabinet members and commissioners.
She also, undoubtedly, has the wisdom to help the new governor overhaul the way health care is delivered in Colorado. Dating at least to her time in the Legislature, Morrison has been impassioned about the topic. For the past four years, she has chaired a statewide insurance consumer council. She was asked to apply for the commissioner job while serving as one of a handful of Republican advisers on Ritter’s transition team. Her salary will be $105,000 a year – a marked increase from the $75 a month she has earned as Manitou Springs mayor. The money – more than she’s ever made in her life – isn’t the motivation, she says.
“The governor-elect is very, very interested in looking at health-care reform, for the uninsured and underinsured particularly,” Morrison says. “The problem is how to do it – that will be a magical solution.
“I’d like to think I’m a moderate Republican who’s recognized by the other party as being able to be effective. I’m an individual with a record in the House [of Representatives] as working across the aisle, working with Democrats and independent people and as many Republicans as I could…”
And yes, Morrison – like many other Republicans, independents and Democrats – supported Ritter’s bid for governor.
“People are just tired and disillusioned about party politics when it gets in the way of solving some policy issues that are so distressing to them,” Morrison says.
Cara DeGette is a longtime editor and columnist at the Colorado Springs Independent, where a version of this report originally appeared.