The Abel J. Tapia Story
“In our personal ambitions we are individualistic. But in our seeking for economic and political progress as a nation, we all go up or all go down as one people.” Franklin D. Roosevelt
As a boy growing up in the shadow of the Colorado Fuel & Iron steel mill in Pueblo, Abel Tapia would often accompany his father through the back alleys of the city’s blue-collar South Side, cleaning ash pits for neighbors in order to supplement the family’s income.
For young Abel, it was a chance to spend time with the man he most admired. For Abel Tapia Sr., it was an opportunity to imbue his son with the infectious ambition that would drive a life of personal and public accomplishment.
“My dad worked at the old Pueblo Amy Depot, and though he dreamed of rising through the ranks and becoming a foreman or superintendent, he believed his humble background held him back,” Abel Jr. recalls. “He said his goals for me were to get an education and to use it to become a foreman at the mill or a supervisory position somewhere else. I only knew I wanted to make him and my family proud.”
Abel Sr. died in 2001, but he lived long enough to see his son exceed all his expectations.
With a resume that already included success in business and state politics, Abel decided earlier this year to tackle an even greater challenge—to represent the people of the expansive 3rd Congressional District. It is the latest chapter in the life of a remarkable man whose belief in the words of FDR has never wavered.
“As a 15 year old, my father went to work in the Civilian Conservation Corps (precursor to the Job Corps) and then volunteered to serve in WWII. Both events shaped his life and he taught me that unexpected challenges define your life.”
After graduating from Pueblo Central High School in 1968, Abel enrolled at then-Southern Colorado State College with an eye toward the arts and mechanical drafting.
“I graduated with a two-year degree in 1970 and took a job in Kansas City as a draftsman with a large engineering firm,” Tapia said. “I was newly-married with an infant son, and I was convinced I could be as good an engineer as the men and women I was working with. I came back to Colorado, enrolled at Colorado State University in Fort Collins and earned my civil engineering degree in 1973.”
Abel’s next stop was back to Pueblo to take a job as a technical supervisor in the Quality Control Division of CF&I. Motivated to provide for his growing family, he accepted the company’s offer to become superintendent of mining operations at the Allen/Maxwell Mine in Trinidad.
“My assignment to CF&I’s Mining Division gave me a thorough understanding of the energy industry and its impact on our economic future,” Abel said. “That experience gives me an edge in understanding and dealing with energy issues on the Western Slope.”
When CF&I sold off its mining operations in 1985 Abel considered re-applying for his job with the new owners, but he chose instead to strike out on his own. In 1986 he started Abel Engineering Professionals, a one-man show he operated out of the family home. The company quickly gathered momentum, and Abel purchased an office building and hired a bevy of associate engineers and support staff. By 1990 he had 30 people on the payroll and his reputation for getting things done on time and under budget had grown far and wide.
With a full plate at home and at work, Abel still had a desire to make a difference in his community. He found the perfect outlet in the Board of Education for Pueblo City Schools.
“My decision to run for the school board was made because I had three children in public school and I wanted not only for them to have the best education possible, but to do whatever I could to provide the same for all children in the district.”
Abel was content with his eight-year contribution to the district, even though some of the board’s decisions, including the closure of some schools, were controversial. He likely would have turned his attention back to his engineering firm were it not for a chance meeting with then State Representative Gil Romero of Pueblo.
“Gil had just announced his candidacy for the U.S. Senate, and he and others approached me about running for his vacant seat,” Abel said. “Even though it seemed like a reach for me at the time, I decided to run.”
Abel was victorious in the primary and won election to the State House (District 46) in 1999. He held that seat until 2002, then threw his hat into the State Senate race (District 3) in 2003. He had no opposition in the Democratic primary and won the general with 60% percent of the vote.
“At the time I came to the House of Representatives there were 25 Democrats and 40 Republicans. I was in the minority, but I still managed to sponsor the landmark “Read to Achieve” bill which mandates that we assess the reading capabilities of all third graders and provides financial support to school districts to help those students. As caucus chair, I was also able to bring legislators from throughout the state to Pueblo, thereby making them aware of the issues impacting Southern Colorado.
“I served eight years in the Colorado State Senate until I was term-limited. In those years I served on several committees: Agriculture, Natural Resources, Finance, and Capital Development. In 2005, I was elected President Pro-Tem of the Senate. The next year I was elected Chairman of the Joint Budget Committee. During my term I sponsored hundreds of bills. My emphasis was always on business development, education for our children, and rural development. Most noteworthy were my efforts to change the dropout age from 16 to 17, and securing $67 million for a new forensic building at the Mental Health facility in Pueblo. I also sponsored a referendum that would make it more difficult to change the Colorado Constitution.”
With his legislative tenure at an end, Abel returned to Pueblo, but his high profile led to his selection as Director of the Colorado Lottery.
He retired from the Lottery in January; content with a less conspicuous life that includes wife, Connie, and their beautiful new home atop a bluff on the west edge of Pueblo.
“I was prepared to settle into retirement, but not prepared to sit on the sidelines,” Abel said. “I have the qualifications, the dedication and the desire to continue our fight in Congress.”
“This race is not about me, but about the people that I represent. By our selves we are strong but together we are mighty!”