Magazine Feature / People

Sturm professor runs for Colorado House seat

photo portrait

Sturm professor hopes to go from teaching about law to making laws in the Colorado legislature. PHOTO BY: Wayne Armstrong.

Teaching the law is familiar territory for University of Denver Sturm College of Law Professor Tom Russell, but now he aims to make laws.

The longtime professor is putting his years of legal experience and community activism together this year, making a bid for the Colorado State House. 

Russell’s influence may have already been felt on Capitol Hill. The outgoing incumbent, Speaker of the House Andrew Romanoff, is a former student of his at the law school. Russell has also taught current State Rep. Terrance Carroll. 

And Russell says it was another former student and DU alum, Tyler Chafee (BA ’98), who convinced him to enter the fray for the seat that will be left open as Romanoff is forced out by term limits.

“I’m happy that I had a student push me to do this,” he says.

The idea came up last summer when Chafee, a Colorado strategist who recently was named to help run Sen. Hillary Clinton’s presidential bid in Colorado, suggested the two meet for coffee. By the bottom of the cup, Chafee had suggested Russell run. 

It was a tough choice. As a full-time professor, a neighborhood activist and a parent, Russell says he knew it would be a strain. 

“I talked about it with my wife. I talked about it with my children. We know it won’t be easy,” Russell says. “But I have a very good skill set that would work well in the legislature. There’s this chance to do very good work for the district and for the state. I could stand in front of a classroom and yammer about how the law should change, or I could stand in the well of the State House and change the law.”

While the run at his former student’s district is his first, Russell said it’s not like he’s a political neophyte. He’s testified at House committee panels and helped press for legislation. He’s active in his community, participating in boards and discussions and studying issues.

“I’m really outgoing. I really love meeting people. I enjoy knocking on doors, walking the district and hearing what people have to say,” he says. 

Russell isn’t the only active candidate with ties to the Sturm College of Law. Third-year student Joe Whitcomb, a democrat, is running for the State Senate in District 23, which stretches north of Denver. And already this year, DU law student Joe Jefferson was elected to the Englewood City Council.

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