POLLY B. BACA – State Senator
I am a Hardcore Democrat because of the values and principles that first drew me to the Democratic Party. It was the dual pain of poverty and bigotry that I experience as a child that shaped my journey to becoming a Democrat. It was the Democratic Party that held out the promise for eradicating poverty and changing the hearts of those who discriminated against others, that focused on giving voice to those who had no voice. We are the party of Civil Rights — the Party that has always worked on behalf of the least among us. Democrats are committed to those in the dawn of life, the children, those in the twilight of life, the elderly, and those in the shadows of life – the poor, the disabled, the immigrants – both those documented and undocumented. That is why I am a hard core Democrat.
In 1958 when Polly Baca graduated from College High School in Greeley, Colorado, she was awarded a joint honor scholarship that paid tuition and fees at any state supported college or university. That enabled her to attend Colorado State University (CSU) in Fort Collins. It was at CSU that her interest in politics surfaced and she changed her major from physics to political science. On campus, she was elected Secretary of her Freshman class, then Secretary of her Sophomore class, and finally Secretary of the CSU Student Body. She also served as President of the CSU Young Democrats. As a sophomore student in 1960, Polly was one of six students state-wide to be awarded an internship to work with their state political parties. She was assigned to the State Democratic Party to work during the John F. Kennedy campaign. In her senior year, Polly was named a Pacemaker, the first Mexican American woman to receive this award.
Upon graduation from CSU, Polly began her career as the editor of The Pulp & Paper Worker, an international labor union newspaper. She then worked for President Lyndon Johnson as a public information officer for the White House InterAgency Committee on Mexican Americans. Later, she was the National Deputy Director of the 1968 Viva Robert Kennedy Presidential Campaign. After the campaign, Polly joined with other Latino leaders who founded the National Council of La Raza and served as the first staff director of the Research Services and Information Office.
In 1971-72, Polly worked for the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and organized the first Hispanic Caucus of a major political party. Later, she was the first Latina to co-chair two National Democratic Party Conventions (1980 and 1984). She was then elected Vice Chair of the Democratic National Committee (1981-89). In this position, she carried (1) an amendment to the national party bylaws that required equal division between men and women at all levels of the Democratic Party and (2) an amendment that authorized the chairs of the DNC Hispanic Caucus and the DNC Black Caucus to serve on the DNC Executive Committee, guaranteeing diversity at the highest levels of the party. Returning to Colorado in 1972, Polly founded the Colorado Democratic Chicano Caucus that preceded the Colorado Democratic Latino Initiative. Polly has attended every Democratic National Convention since 1964.
A member of the Colorado State Legislature for 12 years, Polly was first elected to the Colorado House of Representatives in 1974 and to the Colorado Senate in 1978. A woman of many first, she was the:
– first woman elected to chair the Democratic Caucus of the Colorado House of Representatives (1977),
– first minority woman and first Hispanic woman elected to the Colorado State Senate (1978-1986),
– first Hispanic woman in the nation to serve in both the House and Senate of her state legislature (1975-86),
– first Hispanic woman to be nominated by a major political party for the United States Congress (1980 Democratic Party Congressional nominee),
– first Hispanic woman to co-chair a National Democratic Convention (1980 and 1984),
– first Hispanic woman to serve in leadership in a State House and in a State Senate in the U.S. (Chair, Colorado House Democratic Caucus (1977-78) and Chair, Senate Democratic Caucus, 1985-1986),
– first woman and the first minority to serve as Rocky Mountain Region VIII Regional Administrator of the General Services Administration (1994-1999),
– first Hispanic woman to head a six-state federal agency in Rocky Mountain Region VIII (GSA 1994-1999).
– first Latina to serve as an election night analyst for an English-language commercial TV station (Parity Project partner KCNC-TV CBS 4 in 2006).
After leaving the state legislature, Polly served as the Executive Director of the Colorado Hispanic Institute, a nonprofit institute whose mission was to promote multicultural leadership. Among her primary responsibilities was the development of Visiones, a statewide multicultural leadership enhancement program aimed at assisting community leaders from different ethnic and racial groups to broaden their leadership potential by becoming skilled in cultural competence.
During 1994, Polly served as Special Assistant to President Bill Clinton and Director of the United States Office of Consumer Affairs (SES 5) in Washington, D.C. As the chief consumer advocate for the Clinton Administration, Ms. Baca served as the Chair of the Consumer Affairs Council that consisted of representatives of 41 different federal agencies, chaired the U.S. delegation to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s Committee on Consumer Policy, and represented consumers on the federal Information Infrastructure Task Force.
Polly then returned to Colorado as the Regional Administrator of the General Services Administration (GSA), Rocky Mountain Region VIII (SES 6), with a staff of 476 employees. As Regional Administrator, Polly supervised a six-state region that supported 48,000 government employees who worked for 43 federal agencies in 601 GSA owned and leased buildings. The operating budget was $161 million with oversight of an additional $246 million in construction and repairs of Federal facilities. The Region included the states of Colorado, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Utah and Wyoming.
From 2002-2008, Polly served as President and CEO of the Latin American Research and Service Agency (LARASA). LARASA is a non-profit organization created in 1964 to lead and influence change to improve the quality of life for Latinos throughout Colorado with the belief that when you improve the lives of Latinos in Colorado, you improve the lives of all Coloradoans.
Polly served as a National Co-Chair of Catholics for Obama in 2012; Colorado Co-Chair of the Clinton/Gore Presidential Campaign in 1991 and 1992, Rocky Mountain States Coordinator for President Jimmy Carter’s 1980 Presidential campaign, Vice Chair of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) from 1981 to 1989, and as a member of the DNC from 1973 to 1989. Other national Democratic Party positions held by Polly include serving as a Vice President of the 1988 National Democratic Presidential Nominating Convention, Co-Chair of the 1985 National Democratic Fairness Commission, Co-Chair of the 1980 and 1984 National Democratic Presidential Nominating Conventions, and Chair of the Colorado Delegation to the 1978 National Democratic Mid-Term Conference.
Nationally known for her leadership skills and motivational presentations, Polly has appeared on numerous TV and radio programs including ABC’s Nightline and MacNeil/Lehrer News-Hour. She has been interviewed and featured in the following books: It’s All in the Frijoles by Yolanda Nava, Simon & Schuster, Inc., New York, 2000; True to Ourselves by Nancy M. Neuman, Jossey-Bass Inc., San Francisco, 1998; Breaking Ground and Barriers by Gloria Bonilla-Santiago, Ph.D., Marin Publications, San Diego, 1992; The Lives of Ethnic Americans by Juan L. Gonzales, Jr., Kendall/Hunt Publishing Company, Dubuque, Iowa, 1991; When Smart People Fail by Carole Hyatt and Linda Gottlieb, Simon and Schuster, New York, 1987; In the Running by Ruth B. Mandel, Ticknor & Fields, New Haven and New York, 1981; Politicians for the People by Elizabeth Levy and Mara Miller, Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., 1979. In addition, she has been interviewed in major newspapers and magazines across the country, including being featured in Outlook magazine and Intercambios Femeniles magazine, featured as a Hispanic Woman of the Year in Replica magazine, named one of “100 Influentials” in Hispanic Business (6 years), one of 20 “New Democratic Faces for the 80s” in Newsweek, one of “80 Women to Watch in the 80s” in MS magazine, and one of ten “Women of the Future” in Ladies Home Journal, 1979.
Recognition received by Polly includes being inducted into the Colorado Women’s Hall of Fame, named as one of the original 14 members to be inducted into the National Hispanic Hall of Fame and being listed in the World Who’s Who of Women, Who’s Who in American Politics, Who’s Who in the West, and the 1980 Mexican American History Calendar. In 2016, Polly received the 50 Year Club Public Service Award from the Colorado State University Alumni Association. At the 2015 annual Bernie Valdez Awards (BVA) dinner, the Colorado Latino Leadership, Advocacy, and Research Organization (CLLARO) introduced a new award called the Polly Baca Social Justice Award and Polly was the first recipient. In addition, during 2015 Polly was honored by the Colorado Black Round Table as a “Woman of Color who Dared and Cared about Her Community,” received the “Carrie Clyde Holly” Award from Emerge Colorado and the Legacy Award from the Jeffco Democratic Latino Initiative.
In 2013 Polly received the Trailblazer Award from the Latinas First Foundation, and in 2011 the Hero Award from the PeaceJam Foundation and the People’s Award from the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement. Prior to this, Polly received the prestigious Ohtli Award from the Government of Mexico during the 2010 Conference of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO).
She also received the 2008 Passing the Torch Award from the Anti-Defamation League, the 2006 Lifetime Achievement Award from the Colorado Democratic Party, the 2006 “Scouting Vale La Pena!” Award from the Boy Scouts of America, the 2006 AARP Outstanding Community Partner Award, was named a 2004 Woman of Distinction by the Mile High Girl Scouts, received Regis University’s highest honor – the 2004 Civis Princeps Award, and received the 2003 Cesar Chavez Leadership Hall of Fame Award from the Denver Public Library; the 2002 Champion of Change Award in Politics from Escuela Tlatelolco, the Las Primeras 2000 Award from MANA – a National Latina Organization, the Hispanic Women 2000 Award from the National Society of Hispanic Genealogy, the Hispanic Pioneer 2000 Award from the Denver Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, the 1998 Small Business Administrator’s Advocate of the Year Award for Colorado, the 1994 Maclovio Barraza Leadership Award from the National Council of La Raza, and the 1994 Leadership Award from the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.
She has also received the 1993 Martin Luther King, Jr. Humanitarian Award, was named the 1993 Colorado Hispanic League Leadership Honoree, and was recognized for Outstanding Humanitarian Service in 1991 by the NAACP Denver Branch.
A noted international speaker, Polly has extensive experience in foreign affairs. As a participant in the U.S. Information Agency AmPart program, she lectured in Japan and the Philippines on the American political system and the role of racial and ethnic Americans and women in the American socio-political system and economic systems. She was also a speaker and participant at the West Berlin, Germany seminar on “The Impact of the 1984 American Elections,” sponsored by the Aspen Institute Berlin. In March 1979, Polly was a White House guest at the signing of the Egyptian-Israeli Peace Treaty and in July 1979 participated in the Camp David Domestic Summit hosted by President Jimmy Carter.
Polly is a certified spiritual director and has facilitated a weekly centering prayer course at the federal prison in Englewood, Colorado for 16 years. In April 2012, the Denver Post listed Polly as one of the 75 Most Influential Women in Colorado. She is currently the President and CEO of Baca Barragan Consultants, a consulting firm specializing in public policy analysis, media communications, multicultural leadership development, and motivational presentations.
Polly was born on a small farm in Weld County and grew up in Greeley, Colorado where she graduated from College High School with a joint honor scholarship. She graduated from Colorado State University with a B.A. degree in political science and subsequently did graduate work at Colorado State University, Ft. Collins, the American University in Washington, D.C., and the University of Colorado at Denver. She received an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters from the University of Northern Colorado, Greeley, in August 1992, and an honorary Doctor of Laws degree from Wartburg College, Waverly, Iowa, May 1989.
Polly has two children, Monica Barragan Perez and Miguel Baca Barragan, son-in-law Eddie Perez, and three grandchildren: Eduardo Manuel Perez, Jr., Elicia Monica Perez, and Elianna Mila Perez. Her daughter, Monica, is a Family Constituency Specialist with the Denver Public Schools, and her son, Miguel, is a radio talk show host.
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