Their Generation: Frieda Wallison’s conservative history fuels Pitkin County GOP |

Their Generation: Frieda Wallison’s conservative history fuels Pitkin County GOP

Andre Salvail
The Aspen Times
Frieda Wallison
Michele Cardamone |

Editor’s note: “Their Generation,” an ongoing series profiling longtime locals of the Roaring Fork Valley, runs every other week in The Aspen Times.

Today’s political pundits spend a lot of time debating the so-called splintering of the Republican Party in recent years. Centrists versus tea partiers. Evangelicals versus progressives.

To Frieda Wallison, chairwoman of the Pitkin County GOP, the discussion is nothing new.

“I think it’s overblown,” she said. “Each party shifts at various times in reaction to various factors. There’s always some kind of point-counterpoint.”

For example, when she was a student at Harvard Law School, there were the Goldwater Republicans, seen as highly conservative, and the Rockefeller Republicans, who had a liberal bent. More than a decade later, the Reagan Republicans came along, clashing with the Rockefeller crowd.

Wallison, 71, and a few volunteers have spent much of the past week getting a rented building at 312 E. Hyman Ave. ready for the fall campaign season. It will serve as their headquarters in advance of the Nov. 4 elections, providing a place where local voters can visit and learn about various Republicans who are seeking elected office in Colorado. A grand opening, open to the public, is set for Monday from 5 to 7 p.m.

Wallison has served as head of the local GOP since September 2008, when John McCain was running against Barack Obama. Local Republicans have been highly active and visible since then, with Wallison as their driving force.

“Well, you do have to have somebody to organize the entire effort,” she said. “I don’t like to do jobs half-baked. I was at Harvard Law School at a time when there were very few women at Harvard Law School. And I did well in school. When I’m doing something, I like to really do it.”

While Wallison, who has lived in the area full-time for 16 years and part-time for 20 years, has always been affiliated with the Republican Party, she hasn’t always been so politically active.

Born Frieda Koslow in January 1943, she grew up in a liberal community, the Forest Hills neighborhood of Queens, New York. She said her grandfather, an immigrant from the Ukraine in the 1880s, instilled a strong belief in individual responsibility into her father, a scholarly man.

Politics would prove to be part of her destiny after meeting her husband, Peter, while attending Harvard Law School in the mid-1960s. He was involved with the GOP in his youth, serving as a page in the U.S. House of Representatives.

“We sat next to each other in criminal-law class,” she said.

They graduated and were married in 1966. Over the years, the Wallisons split their time between Washington, D.C., and New York.

Peter J. Wallison worked for law firms and later held several high-ranking positions in Republican presidential administrations. He served as counsel to Vice President Nelson Rockefeller in 1975 and 1976 during the Ford Administration. In 1981, after Ronald Reagan became president, he became general counsel for the Department of Treasury. In 1986 and 1987 he served as counsel to the Reagan White House.

Frieda Wallison also worked for law firms, mainly practicing corporate law, and focused on raising their three children.

“I was involved in GOP politics vicariously, though my husband,” she said. “I had no interest in doing what I’m doing now.”

After retiring from their legal careers in 1998, they moved to the Roaring Fork Valley full-time. They both enjoyed skiing, and it didn’t matter that the upper Roaring Fork Valley was a haven for liberals.

Wallison said there was no thought of moving to an area “where others think and feel the same way you do. That’s probably not a great way to decide where to live.”

Though Wallison is Republican and conservative, she pointed out that she holds moderate views on some topics. She’s pro-choice but opposes late-term abortions. She believes protecting the environment is important but thinks that some measures designed to protect it are too extreme.

She said she adheres to the basic GOP mantra that government “shouldn’t be all things to all people.” Wallison said she is primarily concerned about economic issues: She mentioned legislation passed during the Obama Administration that she believes is hampering the nation’s recovery, including the Dodd-Frank Act, which sought to reform the American financial regulatory environment in the wake of the Great Recession.

Wallison said her goals, and those of the Pitkin County Republicans, are to promote an effective but limited government and to help party candidates get elected. Her pool of volunteers has grown to more than 100, perhaps as much as 200, she said. The Pitkin County GOP takes advantage of technology and social media to spread the word about the party and its candidates. Wallison uses Twitter but only for political purposes.

Many Republicans count Ronald Reagan as their favorite president, and Wallison is no exception.

“I’m certainly a Reagan Republican,” she said. “He had the ability to articulate principles. He had a very clear set of ideas about what he wanted to do with his presidency and basically communicated that. He was able to get the American people, by and large, to understand and support what he was trying to do. He was a leader.

“In many ways he was quite brilliant. It was brilliance in a rather unshowy way. And he had a wonderful personality.”


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