Buckley, Victoria (Vikki) 1947–1999
Victoria (Vikki) Buckley 1947–1999
In 1994, when Victoria Buckley was elected as the Secretary of State of Colorado, she became the first African American woman to be elected to a statewide office in Colorado, as well as the nation’s highest-ranking African American woman in the Republican party. Her achievement was all the more impressive because Buckley was a former welfare mother with no political experience. “Buckley was a civil servant and political nobody when she stunned the state’s political establishment by winning the secretary of state election in 1994,” Elaine Woo wrote in the Los Angeles Times. “That victory came after she had weathered many personal trials: unwed motherhood when she was 20 and three failed marriages, including one to a man who beat her even while she was pregnant.”
Although Buckley’s first term as secretary of state was controversial, she managed to win a second term in 1998. Just seven months into her second term, however, Buckley died of a heart attack at the age of 51. In the days following her death, politicians from both parties praised Buckley for achieving success against the odds. “Her rise from a single parent on welfare to secretary of state was remarkable and something in which her family and friends can take great pride,” Treasurer Mike Coffman was quoted as saying in the Denver Post. Colorado Governor Bill Owens told CNN.com, “She overcame many challenges in life and achieved high office through determination and hard work.”
Victoria Buckley, the daughter of Charles and Rubye Buckley, was born on Nov. 2, 1947, in Denver, Colorado. Her interest in politics first surfaced when she was just a child attending Cheltenham Elementary School. She ran for, and won, a seat on the school’s student council by using the slogan, “Don’t be icky. Vote for Vikki.”
After graduating from East High School, Buckley planned to go into the Peace Corps, and then attend college. These dreams were cut short, however, when she found out she was pregnant. “My boyfriend said, ‘It couldn’t be mine,’ and that was the end of him, ’ “Buckley wrote later in the article “Against All Odds,” for the Ladies Home Journal. After giving birth to a son, Ian, Buckley lived on welfare for 18 months while attending trade school. In 1968, she graduated from the Sieble School of Drafting and Engineering with an associate’s degree. Buckley would later attend the University of Colorado, Denver and Metropolitan State College.
Buckley initially worked as a draftsperson for Humble Oil before deciding to pursue a career in public service. In 1974, she was hired as a state government clerk in the secretary of state’s election division. By this time, her first son was in school, but her second child, JeVon, was still a toddler—so Buckley brought him into the office with her. “I’d put him in a playpen while I did my work,” she was quoted as saying in the Denver Post. Buckley later had one more son, Kahlin.
Born Victoria Buckley, Denver, CO, Nov. 2, 1947; died of a heart attack, July 14, 1999. daughter of Charles and Rubye Buckley; married three times, last marriage to T. R. Newsome, a private investigator, Dec. 30, 1994; children: Ian Charles, JeVon Franklyn, and Kahlin DeLaney. Education: Sieble School of Drafting and Engineering, associate’s degree, 1968; attended the University of Colorado-Denver and Metropolitan State College (Denver). Politics: Republican.
Career: Humble Oil, draftsperson, 1969-70; Opportunities Industrialization, director, 1971-73; Public Service Careers, office manager, 1973-74; Colorado Secretary of State Office, administrative officer, 1974-94, secretary of state, 1994-99.
Member: Stand Up for Kids, director, 1993-99; Feed the Homeless, volunteer director, 1994; Kids Voting, honorary chair; National Association of Secretaries of State.
Buckley advanced steadily through the ranks at the secretary of state’s office until, by 1993, she was deputy secretary of state. That year, Secretary of State Natalie Meyer announced that she would not run for re-election. Buckley decided to run for the office, despite the fact that she had no political experience.
According to Mark Obmascik and Mark Eddy of the Denver Post, “Her statewide race for secretary of state in 1994 combined work and luck.” During her campaign, Buckley was able to capitalize on her background. In speech after speech, she used her life story as an example of the Republican dream of success through hard work and self-sufficiency. As a result, she won the Republican party nomination over four opponents, including a former state legislator and other political insiders.
At first, Buckley trailed in the polls behind the Democratic candidate, Sherrie Wolff. Just days before the election, however, Wolff’s campaign ran into trouble when she had an ugly dispute with her former boss, Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell. Wolff threatened to sue Campbell if he dropped her from the payroll after the election. Both of the city’s major newspapers, the Denver Post and the Rocky Mountain News, abruptly withdrew their endorsements of Wolff, backing Buckley instead.
On election day, Buckley won by a substantial margin of 57 to 36 percent. “It was one of the few times in my life that I cried like a baby,” she was quoted as saying in the Denver Post. By winning the election, Buckley had become the first African American woman elected to a statewide office in Colorado, and the nation’s highest-ranking African American woman in the Republican party.
In Colorado, the secretary of state’s office supervises corporate filings, state election reports, and bingo regulation. During her campaign, Buckley had stressed that she would improve the level of customer service offered by the office. She initially won praise for returning $9 million to the state treasury from office fees.
Within a few years, however, critics began to complain that the secretary of state’s office was poorly run. Her decisions to disqualify two candidates for office were overruled by judges. Two initiatives made it on the ballot by default, because all of the signatures could not be verified within the specified time limit. Other errors included misspelled candidate names and incorrect placements on the ballot.
Despite the criticism, Buckley chose to run for reelection in 1998. She trailed her opponent, Ric Bainter, for most of the campaign. In addition, the Denver Post did not endorse her. “The secretary of state’s office has been beleaguered ever since Republican incumbent Victoria Buckley was elected in 1994,” the Post’s editorial board wrote. “…While a likeable woman, Buckley lacks efficiency and management skill. We have reluctantly concluded that the office situation has deteriorated to the point where it cannot be repaired under her stewardship.”
On election day, however, Buckley narrowly managed to defeat Bainter by a margin of 49 percent to 45 percent. Part of her last-minute strategy was to cast her vote while wearing a Denver Broncos jersey, which struck a populist chord among Colorado’s many football fans. It was a controversial tactic. Some county elections officials had warned against candidates wearing sports apparel, because one of the issues on the ballot asked voters whether or not they would provide funds to build a new football stadium for the Broncos.
In January of 1999, on the day Buckley was sworn into office for her second term, she was hospitalized for arrhythmia. Arrhythmia is a condition in which the heart beats too fast or too slow. She was treated and released from the hospital after six days.
Buckley’s second term in office was as controversial as her first. After she awarded a lucrative consulting contract to her campaign adviser, who was also a close friend, her office became the subject of a state investigation. Her reaction to the shootings at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado also sparked criticism. Although she delivered a eulogy at the funeral of Isiah Shoels, an African American athlete who was one of the victims, she also spoke at the National Rifle Association’s annual meeting, which was held in Denver two weeks after the shootings. Buckley was the only state constitutional officer to address the group, which had cut short the meeting amid anti-gun protests.
Partly because of her impassioned speech to the NRA, Buckley began to build a reputation in the national Republican party. She even began to consider the possibility of making a run for the presidency. According to Elaine Woo, writing in the Los Angeles Times, “she [Buckley] was considered a bright light on the national Republican scene and was expected to play a role in the upcoming Republican National Convention.”
While Buckley was a staunch Republican, she was not afraid to go against the party when her principles demanded it. In 1999, she refused to appear in a pamphlet aimed at African American voters because she felt that it treated her as a token. “Vikki believed African-Americans should have a seat at all tables, Democrat and Republican,” Joe Rogers, Colorado’s lieutenant governor and one of the nation’s highest-ranking African American politicians, was quoted as saying in the Denver Post —but as full, not token members.
On July 13, 1999, Buckley’s estranged husband, Todd Newsome, found her collapsed on the floor of her southeast Denver home. By the time she was discovered, she had suffered irreparable brain damage. She died the following day. Buckley was given a state funeral, which included a procession to the state capítol led by the governor, lieutenant governor, and a bipartisan group of legislators and officials. The Southern Christian Leadership Conference sent a letter of condolence signed by Martin Luther King III, while the first vice president of the NRA, Kayne B. Robinson, spoke at the funeral ceremony.
In the days following her death, many Colorado politicians spoke publicly about Buckley’s abilities and influence. “I have lost a good friend and Colorado has lost a leader,” Lieutenant Governor Joe Rogers told the Denver Post. “She was a role model, mentor, and friend to my entire family….She was simply an elegant woman.” “Few of us have risen from so little to so much,” Governor Bill Owens was quoted as saying in the Den ver Post. “Vikki Buckley showed us that we are that much closer to living the American creed that we are all created equal.”
Denver Post, Sept. 27,1998; Nov. 4, 1998; Apr. 30, 1999; June 9,1999; July 14,1999, p. 1A; July 15, 1999, P. 1A, 14A, 15A; July 21, 1999, p. 1A, 1B; July 22, 1999, p. 1B.
Jet, Aug. 2, 1999, p. 17.
Los Angeles Times, July 17, 1999, p. A18.
New York Times, July 16, 1999.
Additional information for this profile was obtained from www.cnn.com, July 15, 1999.
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