What is your background? How did you become a lobbyist?

Johnson_J_017_46-300I came out of the higher education community.  As a Vice-President for Community Affairs at UNC in Greeley, I worked with all of the University’s “outside publics.”  Fundraising, alumni, the business community and the State Legislature.  I had a contract lobbyist who reported to me.  One day, the President decided that I would make a good lobbyist, and I took over that function, driving to the Capitol every morning and returning every evening during the session.

How and when did you become AIA Colorado’s lobbyist?

In 1980, I formed my own lobbying firm with another higher education lobbyist.  She and I worked together for 17 years before I sold my half of the company to our employees.  AIA Colorado hired us as its first lobby team in 1982 following a bad experience with the renewal of the Architects Practice Act.  It has been a great marriage ever since!  We were interviewed by three architects: D. A. Bertram, Phil Gerou and Marv Sparn and were chosen over a number of applicants.

Why does it matter that legislators hear from architects and understand what architects do?

During my entire tenure working with AIA Colorado, we have only had one architect who served in the Legislature, Cheri Gerou, AIA.  Most legislators have never worked with an architect and know little about the profession – its relationship to public safety, sustainability, affordable housing, city planning, the environment.  These issues, and many more, are subjects that our members can educate Legislators about.  So, from a legislator perspective, their own education about the built environment is important.  From the perspective of architects, the self-interest of the profession is at stake.   We don’t want anyone to be able to use the term “architect” who is not educated, trained and tested.  We want a licensing law that protects the practice, but also is dynamic and grows with the needs of the community.  An engaged group of architects can help us achieve that end.

What would you say to an architect who says that their voice doesn’t matter?

Legislators listen to experts.  They rely on experts.  If they get good information, they tend to avoid doing stupid stuff.  And a relationship between the designer and policy maker develops. If an architect has served the role of educating a legislator, they build a relationship that in turn serves them well on the self-protection front.  An example: during the Ritter administration, the staff at DORA wanted every professional to prove “competency” on a regular basis, ideally being tested and re-tested regularly to keep their license.  We met with the Director of DORA, but could not secure an agreement to abandon the idea.  So, we ran a bill to expressly declare that “continued competency” would not apply to Architects.  Architects throughout Colorado called and wrote their Legislator supporting the bill.  We hosted dozens of meetings.  Our bill passed the House 65-0 and the Senate 35-0.  While our bill applied only to Architects, DORA later abandoned the idea altogether.

What would you say to an architect who is interested in advocacy but doesn’t know where to start?

First of all, I am here to help.  I know every member of the General Assembly and would love to arrange a meeting for any architect with his Senator or Representative.  Secondly, it is so easy to get to know your Legislator – a cup of coffee or a breakfast or lunch is a perfect vehicle.  Third, volunteer to serve on an AIA Colorado committee or task force.  Once she has her “advocacy bearings” the architect can be the link between the Legislator and the profession.  There are many small things an architect can do to continue to build the relationship.  Call me!

How can an architect get involved at the state level? At the community level?

Specifically, start with AIA Colorado at the State level or its component at the community level.  The AIA Colorado Government Affairs Committee is always seeking new volunteers.  Attending meetings and absorbing information is a great way to start.  The work of our Advocacy Task Force – led by terrific volunteers – has just been endorsed by the AIA Colorado Board of Directors.  Many new volunteer opportunities will flow from its work product.

How can architects have the biggest impact and “have a seat at the table?”

Sometimes the smallest steps can ultimately lead to the biggest impact.  Relationships are at the heart of the advocacy business.  Building on the “introduction” idea above, an architect can continue to cultivate his Senator or Representative.  Inviting the Legislator to tour the office and meet colleagues over coffee.  Attending the Legislator’s town hall meetings.  Providing information about issues.  Volunteering on a campaign.  All of these “small steps” can result in the Legislator knowing the architect, the architect serving as a resource to the Legislator in crafting legislation and then testifying on the legislation before committees of the State Legislature.  When the legislation becomes law, the architect can host the Legislator at an AIA Colorado meeting to thank her or present an award in appreciation for the bill’s success and impact on the built environment.  An example, Senator Andy Kerr, an environmentalist and a teacher from Lakewood, was interested in sustainability in School design.  His go-to architect was Jared Minter, AIA who was always available to “consult with” the Senator on this and related issues.

What do you see as being some of the biggest legislative wins for AIA Colorado over the years?

AIA Colorado has steered the Architect’s Practice Act (now combined with Engineers and Land Surveyors into a single practice act) successfully through many sunset reviews over three decades.  It is an “architect friendly” law and we have never lost a fight over its provisions.  Frankly, AIA Colorado took the lead during that process, almost always choosing the bill’s sponsors and being the “go to” organization behind it.  We contributed to the success of the historic preservation effort in Colorado, including the original tax credit passed in 1990 and its enhanced version in 2014.  We supported the BEST (Build Excellent Schools Today) program which provides funding for school construction.  We have defeated numerous initiatives that would have been adverse to the interest of architects, like a bill to allow homebuilders to construct complex structures (including hospitals – I am not making this up) and a misguided effort that would have shifted liability for the damage of “underground facilities” to architects.  We have successfully prevented interior designers from advancing a scope of practice outside their training.  Working with allied professions, we have successfully passed legislation prohibiting municipalities from including “duty to defend” clauses in public contracts.  We have been a major player in every construction defects bill.  And of course, we defeated the pesky “continued competence” initiative referenced earlier.

What was the biggest “win” of the 2018 legislative session and/or elections?

Our work during the election cycle stands out.  One of the challenges faced by every profession is the constant churn in the makeup of the Legislature.  This election saw a full one-third of the Legislature changing hands.  AIA Colorado did a great job meeting new candidates, hosting events for them with architects, hosting fundraisers, supporting those deemed future friends and generally cultivating and building relationships with an outstanding new group from both sides of the aisle.  Clearly, having the capability that ARCpac and ARCsdc provides is vital to that effort.

What do you anticipate as we head into the 2019 legislative session as it relates to architects?

We are going to be playing defense to protect the Colorado Supreme Court decision in “Villagio.”  The plaintiff’s bar in Colorado has been licking its chops in anticipation of a Legislature and executive controlled by Democrats.  They are rumored to have 10 or 11 bills teed up and ready to go.  Rolling back construction defects reform, including a binding arbitrations provision, is likely on that agenda.

As a side note, I am always amazed at the number of volunteer hours our AIA Colorado members provide to this organization.  I have been privileged to work with dozens of great architects who also are great people and great citizens.  When I talk to legislators about architects, I almost always tell them that “architects are problem solvers.”  It is such a defining quality that bleeds over into advocacy, the operation of the profession’s infrastructure and architect’s contribution to the community.  I can’t believe that we have been together this long and are still having this much fun!

How do you like to spend your time when you’re not working?

I have a great family including five Grandkids.  We are “it takes a village” kind of people and are actively engaged in the growth and education these kids.  One of the most fun things I do we call “Grandpa’s Saving and Investing Club.”  The grandkids earn money from their parents doing a variety of jobs and I match it dollar for dollar.  Then we discuss investment strategy and buy stocks.  Dividend reinvestment and the power of compound interest is at the heart of the strategy.  In a society where fewer than 50% of all Americans have ANY savings at all, these kids have portfolio’s ranging from $3,000 to $15,000 and are well on the way to financial independence.  We also structure learning experiences for them, around various topics.  For example, our oldest Grandson and I studied architecture and great architects one summer, he wrote a paper comparing Frank Lloyd Wright and Frank Gehry, we visited a construction project and toured two Denver firms, RNL (now Stantec) and Fentress and Associates.  I think he was nine or 10 years old at the time and could speak intelligently about the Prairie School and Deconstructivism.  We spent a terrific day with My Do, AIA.  I also bike and hike and have done all the trails in Rocky Mountain National Park.  And of course, we take every opportunity to cheer on the Colorado Buffaloes!