Interview by Gail Marvel
MONTROSE-For three terms, 1996-2002, Kay Alexander served as State Representative for House District 58. Kay is currently Vice Chair for the Colorado Mesa State University (CMU) Advisory Council – Montrose campus and she lectures in the CMU social work department. In May 2014 Kay launched a new business, Pegasus Equine Therapy, which incorporates her love of horses with interactive programs for those in need of mental health and physical therapy.
Kay grew up in a family that held a very strong sense of patriotism, and of making the world a better place.
“We had a real appreciation for the greatness of this country.” In high school it was Kay’s peers who first recognized her leadership skills and encouraged her to run for student council. Although she didn’t win, she was appointed to the Service Council, which was a better fit for her since it dealt with students meeting the needs of other students. Kay was not aware of her leadership skills per se, “But I could look at situations and know I could do a better job. I’m an idea person with a creative mind and I can come up with ways to make improvements.”
Interestingly Kay and her husband Ben, then a State Senator, were the first husband and wife team in the nation to serve concurrently in the legislature. In 2002, while serving as a State Representative, Kay made an unsuccessful bid for State Senator. “One time a friend thought I was on the wrong side of an issue and told me I was blowing my career.” Kay laughed, “I didn’t know being in office [elected official] was a career — I thought it was a service!”
Kay’s leadership skill set includes being a visionary, listening to others and mentoring. “I want to energize people and help them develop their potential.” She laughed, “People like me, and I like people — otherwise I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing.”
Overall Kay’s relationship with the media has been positive, however it depends on the outlet and she noted there are differences between local media and Denver media. In each of those locales she has experienced support, as well as divisiveness.
“In some cases they [the media] just kept me putting out fires.” Described as tenacious with a hint of bulldog, Kay said, “I hope I fight fairly — when I feel passionate about something I’m focused and I do whatever I need to do. I’ve learned the importance of working with facts, not with emotion.”
Generally speaking Kay was treated well by her male counterparts, but any change in legislative leadership left the door open for political payback. “During one change of leadership the candidate I supported lost. It was a rude awakening when the man who won the leadership role removed me from an important committee and reassigned me to a less influential committee.” One area of disappointment for Kay is having to deal with dishonesty. “I expect people to be straightforward with me and when they aren’t, it’s difficult.”
Kay feels she is respected in the community, however she has experienced situations where individuals have literally gotten in her face, yelled and spewed obscenities. “I’ve never had a woman swear at me, but men have tried to intimidate me with their language and their physical stature.”
Kay’s advice for would-be leaders: “I think everyone needs a mentor. For women, another woman who they can bounce ideas off of — but one who will be brutally honest with them.
“Know and be solid in your values and principles. It’s also important to have family support. Be willing to be venerable and comfortable in the venerability; and don’t take things personally.”