Dennis Joseph Patrick Gallagher died peacefully at home, Friday April 22, 2022 after a struggle with heart problems according to his little (6’ 8”) brother Tim and son Danny. Those of us who rarely, if ever, hear from or see our representatives can only envy the residents of Northwest and Central Denver. They have been represented by one of the biggest and most visible legislators of all. Dennis was ubiquitous. He haunted bookshops, libraries, secondhand stores, bar mitzvahs, first communions, high school graduations, bars, coffee shops, and funerals.
Dennis’ longtime collaborator and friend Tom Noel recalls meeting Dennis on a 1970s tour of Globeville for the League of Women voters. It was not the usual walking tour with statistical data. Instead, we got off the bus to tour Mrs. Stuka’s basement and sample her famous sauerkraut, next a visit to the Holy Transfiguration Russian Orthodox Church for a talk from Father Wirth, then a quick drink with Johnny Popovich at his Slovenian Home Tavern. Dennis knew all these people because of his door-to-door campaigning for his perpetually underfunded races for state representative (1970-74) state senate (1974-1995), City Council (1995-2003) and City Auditor (2003-14). He only lost one election, the 1983 mayoral race against Federico Peña.
Dennis’ campaigns consisted of passing out yard signs and hosting one and all at his huge St. Patrick’s Day parties. Gallagher never took a vacation except for the summer classes with his Regis University students. While many other legislators vacationed Dennis would be giving tours of the State Capitol, touring ethnic neighborhoods, speaking to classes or leading a Smithsonian weeklong tour, “Railroading the Rockies.” One grandfather of this fourth generation Denverite was a locomotive engineer for the Moffat Railroad; another was a bartender for Madden’s Wet Goods, an 1140 Larimer Street saloon. His father was a fireman. His brother Tim is a house painter.
Dennis amazed foreign visitors by greeting them in their own language–in 23 different tongues. He also astonished tourists and locals by bursting into the Colorado state song, A.J. Flynn’s “Where the Columbines Grow.”
Gallagher’s life was transformed by the Sisters of Loretto at Holy Family High School in North Denver. They coached him to fame as a national runner-up in The Voice of Democracy Oratorical Contest. At Regis University he majored in English lit and minored in Latin and Greek. Gallagher then went to Catholic University in Washington, D.C. on a J.K. Mullen Scholarship for graduate degrees in speech, linguistics, and comparative philology. He wrote a thesis on a 1399 Cornish Medieval Miracle play. In Washington he worked on the campaigns and “felt the warmth of John F. Kennedy’s torch.”
Returning to Colorado, Gallagher went into politics. Without major financial backers, Gallagher’s campaigns consisted not of television or any media, but of thousands of yard signs. In installing them, Dennis, his brother Tim, his son Danny, his late daughter Meaghan, former wife Joanne, political partner Gary Sully and many friends braved disinterested voters and barking dogs.
“One home really puzzled me,” Dennis admitted. “Danny, my son, and I put up yard signs three times. Each time the sign vanished. Finally, I guessed we had the wrong address. So, I knocked on the door and apologized to the lady. She gave me back the signs and said she’d vote for me!”
“Then there was the yard where a Republican dog rushed out and urinated on my sign. Danny said that might make the sign grow bigger.” In the legislature, Dennis was best known for the 1982 Gallagher Amendment to the state constitution protected homeowners from paying more than 45 % the property tax total. Referred by two-thirds vote of the legislature to the voters in 1981, the Gallagher Amendment was approved by the electorate state-wide. It prevents business from unloading its share of property taxes on Colorado homeowners.
Before Gallagher, nonresident property owners extracted from the legislature reduction or elimination of their taxes. This meant that homeowners, who do not have lobbyists, were paying an ever-greater share of the total tax bill. Homeowners, like the elderly, people of color, religious minorities, and educators all found a friend in Dennis. A powerful conglomeration of business interests were not able to repeal the Gallagher Amendment until 2020.
With Dennis gone, who will enlighten city council and legislative journals with quotations from poets such as William Shakespeare and Gerard Manly Hopkins? Dennis was a hopeless bibliophile who never passed up a book sale or a library: “Every book, is a sacred obligation,” he loved to say. Not only the people of Denver but thousands of students at Regis University where Dennis taught speech, persuasion and media for almost 50 years will miss him. He especially loved the summer classes he took to Ireland. To those who think no politician can be honest, Dennis Gallagher was the answer.
Tom Noel, April 23, 2022 or 303-355-0211 or Tom.Noel@ucdenver.edu