“I’m a little deaf in one ear,” said Anthony Carlson, 33, as he sat for an interview in a noisy coffee shop. “That’s because I spent 15 years sitting in front of a trumpet section.”
Carlson, a clarinet player, graduated in 2008 from Midwestern State University in Texas with a degree in marketing.
“There weren’t many jobs at the time,” he recalled, “so I spent two years working at a health insurance call center, and then for an [internet service provider] that eventually got bought out, and then they fired the entire sales force — so I had to figure out a new path. As a musician, you learn how to process and distill information, how to communicate and how to deal with failure.”
That skill set eventually brought him to political organizing in southwest Virginia, then Oregon and then Colorado Springs, where he took a job as regional director of Hilary Clinton’s 2016 campaign.
Clinton lost, but Colorado Springs won.
“I felt comfortable in my skin here,” he said. “I grew up in Wichita Falls which has a big military presence, and my family is military and small business.”
In early 2017, Carlson was hired by the Friends of District 11 to run what many assumed would be yet another failed effort to persuade voters to approve a mill levy increase for the city’s largest school district. Skeptics underestimated the young newcomer’s organizational savvy and utter commitment to his new home.
“It’s very easy to get caught up in binary differences in partisan politics,” said Carlson, “but a community project is different.”
Carlson mobilized a bipartisan team of 500 volunteers, who made 100,000 phone calls and rang 40,000 doorbells. The measure passed 56-44, stunning friends and foes alike.
“In the short time he has been here, Anthony has rocked the local universe,” wrote nominator Sarah Jack, who has participated in scores of local elections since the 1970s. “An hour spent with Anthony outlining his vision and what he wants to contribute leaves a person wanting to be a part of any endeavor he deems worthy.”
So what’s next? Carlson has just taken a job as director of the Legacy Partnership, a 501(c)4 advocacy organization affiliated with the Legacy Institute. Carlson will continue working on further community initiatives; maybe even some interesting ballot issues in future elections.
“At the community level, we have the opportunity to create our own tribe,” said Carlson. “Such a tribe would include all of us, united in improving our city.”
It’s a generous, expansive and, to hear Carlson tell it, an eminently realizable vision. And after all, it ain’t bragging if you’ve already done it!
— John Hazlehurst
What makes Colorado Springs home?
It feels like home, it feels like my family and the community I grew up in. People here are generous, encouraging and excited about the future.