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Our View: Bipartisanship

State Sen. Don Coram stubbornly models how to avoid polarization, work with others

One of the editorial topics we’ve been addressing this year as part of our FOCUS 2021 special series is “Healing the Rift,” referring to the challenge of bringing together factions of our very polarized nation and community.

It seems everyone is taking sides on everything these days. But there are some bright lights in the midst of all this darkness, some people who are managing to at least mitigate the polarizing tendencies within themselves and those in their orbits.

One of those is our state senator, Don Coram.

By the time the 2022 midterm elections roll around, Coram, a Republican from Montrose, will have served 12 years in the Colorado Assembly. He served in the House of Representatives six years before being tapped to fulfill two years of former Sen. Ellen Roberts’ term, and was re-elected to that seat in 2018.

Since his first day in office, Coram has collaborated with members of both parties to get legislation passed – and to block what he feels would make for bad laws.

During his first term in the House, he and Democrat Cheri Jahn (Wheat Ridge) made a deal: They would cast their votes together when needed to “stop the bad s---,” he said. At the time, the Republicans had 18 members in the House, Democrats 16 and independents 1. The two representatives could indeed call the shots occasionally – and they did.

“We probably voted together 85% to 90% of the time,” Coram said.

Jahn, who is now an independent and has a political consulting firm, said their philosophies were very similar, and that she admired Coram’s ability to cross the aisle and work out differences.

“He is the gentleman of gentlemen, as honest as the day is long, just the old school, let’s-get-this-done” kind of legislator, she said.

In the ensuing years, Coram has continued to work across the aisle with other Democrats. Why?

“I’ve never let the party dictate to me – either party,” he says. “When I think they’re right, I tell them. When I think they’re wrong, I tell them – but in a way that doesn’t create hostility.”

Could it be that simple? And where does a person acquire that kind of self-confidence and equanimity?

Coram grew up on a family-owned ranch with stockyards in Montrose and Grand Junction. As an adult, he spent a couple of decades in the petroleum industry. Then, as he says, “I got myself a midlife crisis job.” For seven years he trained thoroughbred horses in Arizona – until the day an unbroken horse kicked him in the head.

Coram couldn’t walk, talk or read afterward. He sold his barn and came back to Colorado for a long recovery.

In 1997, he began buying mining properties, reclaiming mines for the state and Department of Energy. He also ran a cow-calf operation and a trucking company with his older brother.

“I have to create jobs because no one who knows me would hire me,” he said, deadpan.

Did we mention that Coram does a good impersonation of a stand-up comic?

When he was promoting a bill to fund IUDs for teen birth control, he wore an IUD as a lapel pin. The bill passed.

By his own account, Coram can also play hardball. Once when a bill to outlaw coal-rolling (modifying a diesel engine to emit large amounts of smoke) passed the House 60-4, the governor’s chief of staff subsequently gave a “thumbs-down” signal to the committee, which killed the bill. So Coram added it as an amendment to the big annual budget bill. That bill, amendment intact, passed, too.

The Herald’s editorial board disagrees with Coram on some of the legislation he supports. But we know we always can have a respectful conversation with him – and a few laughs while we’re at it.

Honesty, respect, humor: Perhaps that’s a model we can all benefit from following – if we are indeed to heal the rift.