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  • Writer's pictureHollis Robbins

Ben Nighthorse Campbell (1992)

After working on Mel Levine's U.S. Senate campaign (lost in the 1992 California primary) and having a baby in the middle of the Landers earthquake (June 1992), my then husband and I moved to Denver in September so that he could work for Governor Roy Romer. We did not know anyone in Colorado and my father-in-law suggested we make a sizable contribution to the state Democratic Party to get ourselves involved before the November elections. So we did and we were.

It turned out that there were some schisms in the party between the Clinton (Bill) people and the Ben Nighthorse Campbell people. Campbell had beaten two popular candidates in the primary, former Governor Dick Lamm and Colorado activist Josie Heath. We arrived after this and didn't then know the players or the hurt feelings. Because I was new to town and knew my way around campaigns, I was asked to broker a peace deal and organize a joint fundraiser for Clinton and Campbell. The venue was Swanee Hunt, a Denver philanthropist who was later appointed Clinton's Ambassador to Austria. And so I did -- the Clinton people gave me a very valuable donor mailing list (on a floppy disk) and I made calls to get the proper people on the host list and was directed to a stationary store for the invitations

I had a 4 month old so all of this was being done with a baby on my hip. So it was easy, after I got the box of invitations and envelopes printed with the valuable mailing labels, to put them on the top of my car while I put the baby in the car seat, then get in the car, and drive off.

We didn't have cell phones back then but when I got home, maybe 15 minutes later, the house phone was ringing when I walked through the door with the sleeping baby (in the car seat). "Are you the young lady who just got invitations from our store? They are scattered all up and down the street!" I died. I raced back, waking the baby. If I am recalling correctly the shop manager assumed I would want another batch and was printing them off while I went up and down the street like in a comedy, screaming wet baby in one arm, gathering up scattered dusty invitations, dodging cars. (It was a busy street.)

Somehow I got the invitations out that night. We hadn't asked for a specific amount for the Campbell campaign but this was a high donor list at Swanee Hunt's house and we hoped for a good turnout and maybe even a respectable sum of money. Over the next few weeks I learned who I'd sent invitations too. It was a very respectable list. But some of the Party volunteers were irritated about the event and at me for marching into town into this role.

Fast forward to the night of the event, some time in late October. I found something fairly attractive to wear -- still carrying the baby around with me -- and arrived at Swanee's house early. I met some of the Party volunteers who seemed worried about the turnout. But luckily it was a beautiful night, the right people were on the host list, and everyone showed up. There was a basked near the front door for checks and the basket was in fact filling.

Toward the end of the evening, one of the Party volunteers told me very specifically: Representative Campbell likes to have the checks handed to him immediately after the event is over. Make sure you do that. Gather them up and go over to him and hand them to him. Okay, I said. I'd worked in politics long enough to know that politicians all have their preferences when it came to money.

So when just about everyone had left I gathered up the checks and walked over to Campbell. Hi, I said. Looks like we did pretty well -- and with two hands (I don't know where the baby was at the moment) I held out a bit stack of checks.

Campbell jumped back as if I'd held out a snake. Get those away from me! he hissed. What are you doing??

It turns out he hated handling money. He found it degrading. His staff generally whisked the checks out of his sight. The Party volunteers knew this of course. The joke was on me. That's what I deserved sweeping into town and organizing an event with people I didn't know. Campbell never spoke to me again. A few months later he changed political parties and served out his term (and a second term) as a Republican.


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