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Paul Sandoval: A Rare Political Pioneer

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Colorado State Capitol (credit: CBS)

Colorado State Capitol (credit: CBS)

Written by Dominic Dezzutti

The Colorado community said goodbye to Paul Sandoval this weekend, after he passed away last week at 67.

To call Paul Sandoval a mover and shaker in Colorado politics would be a sincere understatement. While he was never elected to be Governor, Mayor or to the U.S. Senate, he directly influenced many of those very positions in Colorado.

Frankly, the political landscape in Colorado over the last few decades would have looked very different if it were not for Paul Sandoval.

We very likely would have never known Ken Salazar as a U.S. Senator, or perhaps even a former Colorado Attorney General. Michael Bennet might still be working in finance, instead of being a former DPS Superintendent and current U.S. Senator. In fact the careers of Wellington Webb, Federico Pena and Bill Ritter might all look very different if it were not for Paul Sandoval.

Sandoval had the unique gift of political strategic prowess, dedicated community involvement and the rare ability to put the political careers of others before his own.

That’s not to say that Sandoval sat on the political sidelines. He served in the Colorado legislature and indeed enjoyed success in the political trenches.

But like a battlefield veteran who moves on to become a war room strategist, Sandoval’s legacy will be what he was able to accomplish from the back room of his tamale shop in Northwest Denver.

Whether it was designing Ken Salazar’s political career, accurately, on a restaurant napkin, or figuring out how he would lobby for Michael Bennet to become the next superintendent of DPS, Sandoval was an influential mastermind when it came to crafting the political careers of others.

While there have been other influential political strategists like Sandoval in Colorado’s past, it’s hard to imagine that there will be others in the future. Not only did Sandoval have a unique blend of talent and influence, he also lived in a time where legitimate political influence can begin in a community.

For better or worse, the role of money in politics is greatly diminishing the ability for future leaders to truly grow out of any community. Less influence is held by community leaders and more by those who can bring in money from various sources, usually larger national groups.

For someone to rise through the ranks like Paul Sandoval did, and also be able to command the type of influence he had within the Colorado community, without millions of dollars at his or her disposal, would truly be a rare feat.

Hopefully, part of Paul Sandoval’s legacy in Colorado politics will be drawing the blueprint on how to influence politics from the community level, even in a more difficult financial environment. Knowing Sandoval, despite being a difficult task, he probably drew up a plan to make it happen, likely on one of his restaurant napkins.
About The Blogger

- Dominic Dezzutti, producer of the Colorado Decides debate series, a co-production of CBS4 and Colorado Public Television, looks at the local and national political scene in his CBSDenver.com blog. Read new entries here every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Dezzutti writes about federal, state and local matters and how our elected leaders are handling the issues important to Colorado. Dezzutti also produces the Emmy winning Colorado Inside Out, hosted by Raj Chohan, on Colorado Public Television.

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