If you had asked Lisa Kaufmann 20 years ago about engagement in politics, she’d probably have scratched her head silly.
The 2001 graduate of Tunkhannock Area High School enjoyed field hockey back then, and her mom worked at the local New Age newspaper office.
But, that’s a far cry from being named a couple of weeks ago as the Chief of Staff for the newly elected Colorado Governor Jared Polis.
In appointing her November 8, two days after the election, Polis said, “Lisa is a thoughtful and innovative problem-solver with a proven track record of success. She is a superb manager, an excellent strategist, and has a terrific policy mind. Lisa is committed to serving Colorado and will work tirelessly to help turn our bold vision for expanding opportunity for Colorado families into reality.”
So, how’d she get from here to there?
After high school, Kaufmann left the Endless Mountains of Pennsylvania for “the real” Rocky Mountains 2,000 miles west as she enrolled at the University of Colorado in Boulder where she had decided to major in biology.
One of the first things she discovered was that college was incredibly expensive for a nonresident, and so she set about changing that, weaning herself from parental support and getting a job to establish her own independence as well as residency.
The job was with an environmental consulting firm, and Kaufmann quickly realized that she wasn’t so much interested in the science of biology as she was with public policy and making the world a better place.
Her major changed to Environmental Studies and Political Science.
After realizing that she and others of her generation were part of the problem with the world not beating to their drum, she and a couple of associates founded New Era Colorado, a nonprofit dedicated to engaging, educating, and training a new generation of active citizens and young leaders in Colorado.
The group’s website notes, “We’re grassroots. We’re nonpartisan. And we’re all about empowering our generation to lead Colorado not left, not right, but forward. We do it all with one constant: making politics fun again.”
She recognizes that in the face of the 2016 presidential election with an occupant of the White House pushing an agenda far afield from her generation, the voter engagement agency became a model around the country for other states this midterm election cycle to try to do something about it.
Kaufmann recalled meeting up with Polis in a coffee shop in the spring of 2007, when he had made the commitment to start running for Congress, and there was something there that appealed to her even though the November election was 18 months away.
Polis, who made a fortune co-founding an online greeting card Web site, bluemountain.com, and was elected to Colorado’s State Board of Education at age 25, eventually won the congressional seat vacated by Mark Udall at age 33.
Kaufmann joined his Washington congressional staff and eventually became his Colorado Chief of Staff, guiding Polis’ legislative agenda, constituent services, and community outreach. She left the job in 2017 to serve as director of his gubernatorial election.
She noted recently, “What makes Jared so amazing to work with is that he doesn’t just talk about the problems facing Coloradans; he finds solutions, and he doesn’t let politics stand in the way of turning them into reality. Our mission in this administration will be to reduce the cost of health care, expand access to a quality education, and help Colorado families not just get by, but thrive, and I’m looking forward to getting to work immediately.”
Asked about the national media’s attention on Polis’ being the first openly gay governor in the United States, Kaufmann said his family life was not a big focus in either the primary or November election campaigns.
“Coloradoans want to be treated the way you would want to be treated,” she said “and frankly their interest was on the issues that mattered the most to all of us- cutting health care costs, achieving 100 percent renewable energy, and full-day kindergarten.”
Acknowledging that Colorado voters approved Amendment 64 in 2012, paving the way for legalization of marijuana, Kaufmann said simply. “We’re a live and let live state where people value their personal freedom.”
She added from a phone interview Saturday while attending a New Governors’ conference in Colorado Springs with her boss was that there was less than 60 days to make some major cabinet hires and get an office up and hitting the ground running by Jan. 8.
But, not to worry.
Kaufmann noted that in the midst of the gubernatorial campaign in September of 2017, she gave birth to a little baby girl, and she knows quite a bit about juggling acts.
She lives in Lyons, Colo., with her husband, Ryan, a farmer, and their now 1-year-old daughter, along with a golden retriever Leo.
And, oh, the business about being a politically disengaged student in the Tunkhannock Area school district, Kaufmann said Saturday that she recalled in fifth grade going to Lake Winola when Bill Clinton was president and he and First Lady Hilary Rodham Clinton were visiting the Rodham’s summer cottage.
Kaufmann stood alongside the road and had a red rose for the First Lady, who graciously accepted it.
“I knew then I wanted to make something of my life,” Kaufmann said. “I just hadn’t figured out what.”
She said that about her current boss’ optimism and energy, “It is the story of America. You can set out and do whatever you want. You can give back and make a difference. That’s what we have in mind for all of Colorado.”