Just a few weeks after the 2002 election, CSU professor Angie Paccione finds herself preparing for her new job – the representative for Colorado House District 53, which includes most of Fort Collins west of College Avenue.
Paccione won the election by four points, garnering 52 percent of the vote to Republican Kirk Brush’s 48 percent on Nov. 5. This is the professor’s first experience as a politician.
“My whole life has been a series of challenges and opportunities,” Paccione said. “I like to learn and then rise to leadership, which is something I plan to do as a legislator over the next two years.”
Dismayed over the lack of participation from the Democratic Party in the 4th Congressional District two years ago, Paccione decided she would run in this year’s election.
“I thought to myself, ‘how could this be?'” Paccione said. “So in the voter’s booth, right there, I said my name would be on the ballot for 2002.”
For three months Paccione held candidacy for Colorado’s 4th district; however, when State Sen. Stan Matsunaka announced he would run for Congress in the 4th instead of for governor, Paccione stepped aside for him.
“I was disappointed but pleased that I got to answer the call (for candidacy in the 4th CD),” she said. “It was serendipity when (the House District 53 seat) opened – my campaign was already organized and ready to run.”
Paccione began her campaign for state house representative shortly after Rep. Bob Bacon announced his retirement. After a mishap with an unlucky coin toss before the primary election, Paccione continued to campaign for the open representative position.
“I viewed that it was not right to take away the people right to choose their candidate,” she said. “I went home (to New York) and stood where the Twin Towers would have been and looked out at the Statue of Liberty, and realized that there were a lot of people who have died for the right to vote.”
Paccione came back to Colorado and announced she couldn’t abide by the results of the coin toss, in which her loss meant she wouldn’t run. She won the primary, 56 to 44 percent.
“I did the right thing to let the people decide, and they spoke,” she said.
As a member of the minority party in the Colorado State House of Representatives, Paccione acknowledges that some of her visions for the next two years are going to be a struggle. She would like to see a better plan for transportation in the state, including creating commuter rail from Fort Collins to Denver.
“People with vision see what is coming and know that we need to act now, proactively, because we don’t want to wait 10 years to know that our transportation is behind,” she said.
She also understands there are many other visions in the House.
“I am against school vouchers and I don’t think the Ten Commandments should be posted in public schools,” Paccione said. “I know I am going to come to the floor on these issues to vote no.”
Paccione has not always resided in Colorado as a teacher; she grew up in New York City. “My mom and grandma instilled in me that I can do anything I set my mind to,” Paccione said. “They also made sure I had strength of character to really do anything.”
In 1977, she played on the U.S. Select Junior Women’s Basketball Team, and through her experiences with basketball was recruited to Stanford University. With a full-ride basketball scholarship, Paccione moved to California.
“Basketball was my ticket out of the city,” she said. “I am not sure I would be where I am today if it weren’t for basketball.”
She came to Colorado on what she calls “a whim.” Spending her first years in Colorado helping troubled teen-age girls, she found she wanted to do something more fulfilling and became a teacher.
“I was asked to be a guest speaker in a friend’s classroom,” Paccione said. “Within 10 minutes, I knew (teaching) was what I was supposed to do.”
She began teaching social studies and helping with 9th grade girls’ basketball at Smoky Hill High School in Aurora. Before too long, she found herself becoming the first woman to coach boys’ basketball at the large school classification.
“My time at Smoky Hill was by far the most rewarding experience I have had to this day,” Paccione said.
She came to CSU to get her principal license with a desire to return to the Cherry Creek School District and become an assistant principal. But her involvement with Project Promise – a group that works with people who decide to be teachers after already being in a different career – kept her at CSU.
Paccione is now the director of Project Promise at CSU, and hopes she can work something out with the college to teach during the summer and fall semesters, while the State House is out of session. However, her further involvement with the campus has yet to be decided.
“I was a poor girl from the South Bronx who went to Stanford, who got her Ph.D, who was a woman basketball player who became someone who prepares future teachers,” Paccione said. “It’s proof that you don’t always know what will be the catalyst to your success.”