Hugh McKean — Colorado House Minority Leader — honored in ceremony

Colorado House Minority Leader Hugh McKean, who died Oct. 30, was honored Thursday in a place he treasured, where he often gave unofficial tours of the building and its history, reciting facts from memory, down to the most minute details about the materials used inside of it.

Hundreds gathered to pay their respects to the Loveland Republican at a memorial service and lying-in-state ceremony in the rotunda of the Colorado State Capitol. The ceremony featured a military honor guard and formal arrival and departure ceremonies, as McKean’s remains were placed in the rotunda. The tradition goes back to 1980, and family and friends said it was perfect for McKean who loved the Capitol and the institution it held.

The service drew local, state and federal dignitaries in addition to McKean’s family and friends. Attendees gathered on three floors of the Capitol to watch, and an overflow room was set up for mourners to pay their respects. Speakers included elected officials from both sides of the aisle, including Weld County Commissioner Scott James, former Gov. Bill Owens, Gov. Jared Polis and Colorado House Speaker Alec Garnett.

Those commemorating McKean all reminisced about his ability to work with others to get things accomplished, his emphatic laughter, his signature hugs and ending conversations with “I love you.” He didn’t let many conversations go by without mentioning his partner Amy Parks or his children Hanna and Aiden.

Weld County Republican Commissioner Scott James who led the service called McKean a “pragmatic, common sense consensus builder” who was recruited to public service for his ability to say “no” and “make you feel good about it.”

Polis, a Democrat, said McKean was always willing to talk through any issue with him.

“He listened and collaborated, worked with people, to make Colorado a better place,” Polis said. “And Hugh knew almost everyone down here at the Capitol by name, the members of the (Colorado) State Patrol, the staff, lobbyists, the custodians. He truly loved and cared for all of his colleagues. He had a knack for making everyone that he was talking to feel like they were the most important person.”

McKean died of a heart attack three days after he turned 55. The Loveland representative, first elected to the Legislature in 2016, had defeated a far-right primary challenger for the House District 51 seat in June and was expected to return to the Capitol for a fourth legislative session, running unopposed in the general election.

The minority leader had been tasked in 2020 with leading a fractured Republican caucus in a General Assembly with a Democratic stronghold. Prior to his time at the Capitol, McKean was elected to the Loveland City Council in 2009 and served two terms. He worked as an independent residential contractor and was a reservist with the Coast Guard Auxiliary.

Those who worked with McKean in Loveland also attended the service on Thursday, with Mayor Jacki Marsh recalling that the first text message she received congratulating her on reelection in 2021 was from McKean. She pulled it up and looked at it again after the ceremony.

Marsh said in an interview she appreciated McKean’s individuality and even found herself agreeing with McKean sometimes, despite their political differences. She didn’t serve with him on City Council but worked with him on other projects, including through Habitat for Humanity.

“I have great respect for Hugh,” she said. “He always kept people first.”

And when they disagreed with one another, he always listened before he spoke and never attacked her in arguments, she added.

Jody Shadduck-McNally, a county commissioner and Democrat who lost the HD 51 race to McKean in 2016, told The Denver Post that she may not have always agreed with McKean politically, but he “shared a deep love of community for our area and Larimer County.”

When Shadduck-McNally was facing attacks last year that were based on misinformation, she said McKean called her and told her that he was sorry that was happening and he supported her.

When Garnett, a Democrat from Denver, spoke, he shared similar sentiments, telling attendees a story about a time when Garnett was working on a gun safety bill. McKean, who “loved his guns,” had amendments he wanted to discuss. So McKean drove to Garnett’s child’s soccer practice where they talked about it.

“At the end, he said, ‘I fiercely disagree with you. I’m going to fight you on this issue. But I’m going to do it respectfully,’” Garnett said. “I think this is a really important point to remember. He debated that bill fiercely in the well (of the House chamber). He represented his own views, he represented his constituents, he represented his party. But he did it the right way.”

Shortly before the service on Thursday, Republican Rep. Mike Lynch of Weld County was elected to replace McKean as minority leader, though Lynch said during his remarks that “you cannot replace Hugh McKean: father, servant, statesman, good friend.”

“You know, Hugh had a real talent for being inappropriate always at the appropriate time,” Lynch joked. “That man could break the tension in any room, any tension. He would bring us all back to being human, altering us back to the point that we all come to this building for, to do something good.”

That’s one of the things that Colorado House Republicans chief of staff Jonathan Finer will remember about his boss.

“You can connect with him so easily. And whether you’re a stranger on the street or a family member, I mean it doesn’t matter who you are, he’s going to make you feel loved and welcomed and take a genuine interest in getting to know,” Finer said. “So I felt that for the last few years, and it’s devastating not having him in my life.”

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