Laurie Zeller, sometimes written as Laurie Hirschfeld Zeller, is currently a Denver-based non-profit consultant. She has served as an executive at several left-wing organizations in Colorado. Zeller has been involved in left-wing causes since the 1980s.
She was executive director of the Colorado Democracy Alliance. As of early 2019, Zeller’s last known advocacy involvement was a brief stint as publisher of the left-of-center Colorado Independent news website.
Early Political Involvement
After graduating from Yale, Zeller went to work in the office of U.S. Senator Gary Hart (D-CO). During Hart’s 1984 presidential campaign, she was dispatched to the northwestern part of Iowa around Sioux City. Her assignment was to recruit volunteers, but at the time the local meatpacking union which supported former Vice President Walter Mondale, was striking.
Zeller succeeded by getting “a little bit of time to get people outside of their label, whether they were a union member or a meatpacker or a teacher, that’s what broke the logjam.” She says that volunteers were looking for what a Democratic presidential candidate could be and got behind the idealistic and anti-establishment campaign of Hart.
Bell Policy Center
2005 Referendum Campaigns
In 2005, Zeller was assigned to campaign for Referenda C and D, two efforts to weaken Colorado’s Taxpayer Bill of Rights (TABOR), which limits the state government’s ability to spend money. Under TABOR, which was passed in 1992, state government spending is limited to inflation plus population growth. Any additional state government revenue must be returned to taxpayers, unless they vote to let the state keep it. The state may also increase taxes only with a vote by Colorado citizens.
Referendum C allowed the state to spend more than the TABOR limit for five years on health care, public education, transportation, and pensions for certain government workers. Referendum D allowed the state to borrow over $2 billion and would come into effect only if voters passed Referendum C. Referendum C narrowly passed, and Referendum D was defeated narrowly.
Later Bell Center Work
In 2006, Zeller had a role in the production of a book released by Bell titled Blueprint for Opportunity. The program advocated an increased role for Colorado’s state government and more government spending. Among the sentences in the report are, “we can no longer pretend simply cutting taxes and shrinking government leads to prosperity.”
The report urged an increase in the state minimum wage and even claimed that increasing the minimum wage does not result in job losses. In addition to advocating an increase in the state minimum wage, it urged Colorado to index future increases to inflation.
The report also called for the state to encourage farmers to produce crops for ethanol and biodiesel, taking land out of use for food crops. It also called for more support for more unreliable energy resources such as wind.
Colorado Democracy Alliance
For more information, see Colorado Democracy Alliance
In January 2008, Zeller became the executive director of the Colorado Democracy Alliance. The organization was founded in 2006 to increase Democratic and liberal power in the politically divided state.
The group is a network of organizations and financiers who worked to build a left-wing infrastructure in Colorado. Among the organizations that it supports are the Bell Policy Center, ProgressNowAction.org, Colorado Media Matters, Colorado Ethics Watch, the media outlet Colorado Independent, and Center for Progressive Leadership. All of these organizations were funded by the Gill Foundation, which is run by Colorado Democracy Alliance member Tim Gill.
Zeller shed some light on the goals of the organization, “to build a long-term progressive infrastructure in Colorado, while we’re conceding nothing in the short term, in terms of progressive goals at the ballot box.” she explained in a meeting at the Democratic National Convention in Denver in 2008.
Zeller also took aim at TABOR. “As you may know, we have an arcane constitutional provision that requires that voters have to approve any increase in taxes and spending. And Bell has developed an expertise and a communications capacity on those issues that has helped to empower the progressive sector to be able to talk about the funding concerns of the states, and really about the role of government, that it plays. There are 19 measures on the ballot here in Colorado, and the Bell is serving as an information conduit for progressive organizations and progressive leaders.” she said.
Zeller left the Colorado Democracy Alliance in 2009 and became president of A+ Denver, an education reform organization. The group claims credit for helping pass Senate Bill 10-191 which mandated new annual teacher evaluations. Zeller left A+ Denver in 2011.
Zeller joined the Women’s Foundation of Colorado in August 2011. She became its vice president for community initiatives and investment.
Zeller was only involved in the organization until the end of 2012.
From 2013 on, she has become a freelance non-profit communications and funding strategy consultant. Among the organizations she worked with include WorldDenver, Rocky Mountain PBS, Colorado Civic Engagement Roundtable, and the General Service Foundation.
In July 2018, she became the publisher of the Colorado Independent. “I’ll be writing occasional columns talking about our impact, about the role of media in this state, and other topics.” she wrote in her first and only column at the paper. She left the media outlet in October 2018.
Currently, she serves on the board of WorldDenver, a business and foreign exchange organization. The group brings in international visitors to Denver with cooperation with the U.S. State Department and hosts speaker events in the Denver area.