Lora Thomas has always loved the color red.
The incumbent Douglas County commissioner’s campaign signs are red. She wears red in official photos. A wall in her office is red. Even her bedroom is red, she said.
“It is a color of strength,” the Republican said in a late-September interview with Colorado Community Media at Castle Rock Cafe. “It’s a part of my brand.”
Thomas won her seat as commissioner in 2016 with about two-thirds of the vote in a traditionally red county that has long elected conservative candidates to office.
Thomas, 64, is up for reelection as the District 3 representative. She hopes to secure four more years by defeating her Democratic challenger, Darien Wilson, in the Nov. 3 election.
As classic rock ‘n’ roll played throughout the restaurant, Thomas ordered an iced tea and talked through her long history in Colorado, her political career and her hopes for winning another term.
Before she was a commissioner, Thomas held a variety of positions, including Douglas County coroner, state trooper and the first chair of the North Central All-Hazards Region. She began volunteering with the Douglas County Republicans after she left the state patrol, where she was not permitted to be involved in politics.
In her first term as commissioner, she focused on transportation issues, the development of a new judicial district and water issues. Her job as commissioner has consisted of early mornings at the gym followed by all-day meetings with her fellow commissioners, she said. As a commissioner, she also serves on about 20 other boards. Her weekends are largely spent reading materials for the upcoming week.
During her campaign, she’s said she wants to continue to help the county recover from COVID-19 and also turn her focus to water issues in northwest Douglas County.
“The citizens have spent four years training me,” she said. “So for the next four years, they shouldn’t be spending their money training somebody else.”
Thomas was born in Walsenburg, grew up in Denver and now lives in Highlands Ranch. She has never lived outside of the state.
At a young age, Thomas’ conservative beliefs began to take shape. Her grandfather instilled these values in her life by giving her and her siblings a dollar each time he saw them and then later asking what they did with it.
“We’d bring him our savings book and say ‘look we saved this money,’” she said. “He taught us how to save money and really be conservative with how we spend a dollar.”
Thomas first got an idea of what she wanted to be in life when a Denver police officer came into her classroom in the second grade and talked to the class about public safety.
“I went home that night and at the kitchen table… I said ‘I’m going to be a policeman when I grow up,’” she said. “My parents kind of laughed and said ‘no you’re not. Because little girls can’t grow up to be policemen.’”
After graduating from high school, she had a brief stint at the University of Denver before leaving to pursue a career in law enforcement. When she first applied to the state patrol in 1975, she wasn’t able to be a trooper because of her gender, so she started as a dispatcher.
In 1984, after having her son, Thomas was able to become a state trooper after the agency hired its first female troopers in 1977. She was assigned to Castle Rock.
“I fell in love with this county,” she said. “It was just a friendly community. I loved being here.”
A few years later, she was transferred and spent the next few years moving around Colorado with the state patrol, including Limon, Golden, Lamar and Durango. She ultimately reached the rank of major. In 1999, Thomas settled in Highlands Ranch.
While working with the state patrol, she got a degree in criminal justice from Arapahoe Community College and then got an MBA and a business administration degree with an emphasis in finance from Regis University.
Following the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, Thomas was appointed by Gov. Bill Owens to head up Homeland Security for a 10-county region of the greater Denver metro area. Thomas served as the chair of the region, now called North Central All-Hazards Region, for two years.
During her time as a state trooper, Thomas did other work in the governor’s office, including an assignment to help make the government more efficient.
“So I was kind of thinking ‘I kind of like this politics stuff because government needs to add value to people’s lives.’ I don’t like government that’s just a roadblock and a speedbump,” she said.
In 2008, she entered the Leadership Program of the Rockies, which seeks to train future leaders in “America’s founding principles,” according to its website. Thomas said she learned about conservative values and “why conservative values make sense.”
After retiring from the state patrol at the end of 2003. Thomas began working as an independent contractor with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, researching homicides and suicides across the state.
Through meeting with coroners, she realized those holding the position don’t have to be doctors, they just need to be elected. In 2009, she was elected county coroner and during her term, she focused on reducing the department’s budget.
Then in 2014, she ran against Tony Spurlock for county sheriff. After losing that election, she decided to run for county commissioner in 2016.
“Almost all the elected Republican officials in Douglas County endorsed my opponent,” she said about the race for commissioner. “I beat her by 15 points (in the primary).”
Thomas won the seat by a wide margin in November. Immediately upon becoming a commissioner, Thomas spearheaded an effort to reallocate tax dollars from the sheriff’s office to transportation. The ballot item, 1A, was approved in 2019 and moved 0.18% of the 1% sales tax from the justice center to roads.
“I was watching the sales tax funds, and I thought we don’t need all this money in the justice center sales tax fund any more,” she said. “We can ask the voters to move some of the justice center sales tax money over to roads ... That’s just such a success to me.”
In July of this year, Thomas and her two fellow commissioners voted to split from Tri-County Health Department after the agency voted to enact a mask-wearing mandate in Douglas County. Her opponent, Wilson, has criticized her for the decision, saying it’s because Thomas doesn’t support the science behind mask wearing.
“It is unacceptable for the public health needs of Douglas County residents to be decided by Adams County citizens. That’s not about science, that’s about governance,” Thomas said. “These decisions weren’t about the masking order, it was about governance.”
Tri-County serves Douglas, Arapahoe and Adams counties.
Thomas chose not to comment on her beliefs regarding the effectiveness of masks in preventing COVID-19.
“You see me with my mask on when I walk into a restaurant. I obey the governor’s orders,” she said.
Thomas also says public health needs aren’t her only priority as a commissioner.
“Public health is a need of our citizens, but so is public safety and transportation and human services and county services and natural resources and water,” she said. “There’s more to the job than Tri-County.”
Another critique of Thomas by Wilson is that she isn’t willing to compromise with those on the other side of the political spectrum. She responds that if anyone in the county reaches out to her, she will respond.
“We have more unaffiliated voters than any other registration. And I represent all of them. I represent Democrats and Republicans and everybody,” she said. “When it comes right down to it, we’re all people who drive and work and shop and play, and my job is to do the best I can to balance the competing needs of everybody.”
Thomas said her top priority is to leave Douglas County better than when she found it.
“Just like when my parents told me I wasn’t going to be a police officer when I grew up,” she said. “When I’m laser focused on what we need to do to solve a problem, I can get it done.”
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