By Ellen Miller
WESTERN SLOPE CORRESPONDENT
GRAND JUNCTION — No current Colorado legislators were spotted in the town hall audience on Saturday, but a few veteran GOP legislators were on hand, and they joined local Democrats in giving President Barack Obama high marks.
Former state Rep. Gayle Berry, R-Grand Junction, said she thought the president “did a very good job explaining the details of a very complex issue. He got diverse questions, and he answered them.
“I was a little surprised with the support and positive reaction both Obama and Gov. (Bill) Ritter received when they came in. This is a very conservative community, but maybe it showed people here are respectful of the offices.”
Former state Sen. Matt Smith, R-Grand Junction, scored a ticket from U.S. Rep. John Salazar, a Democrat who represents the 3rd Congressional District.
He said he came away impressed by Obama’s “eloquence and knowledge.”
“This was much better than the screaming across town,” Smith said. “The only way to have this debate is to keep it civil.”
“It’s not every day that the president comes to your town.”
A sitting president hasn’t visited Grand Junction since 1991, when George H.W. Bush came to discuss education reform with then-Gov. Roy Romer.
Martelle Daniels, chairwoman of the Mesa County Democratic Party, said she was very pleased with how “the community came together. Even the protesters kept it in check. The president, the senators, the governor, secretary of the Interior and our congressmen were all here, and it shows their dedication to western Colorado.”
Daniels said her favorite moment came when Obama came out of the Central High gym to meet the crowd after his speech. The young son of Mesa County Judge Brian Flynn was next in line to shake the president’s hand.
“The little guy — maybe he’s 8 or 9 — went on emotional overload when Obama shook his hand, and he started to cry,” Daniels said. “Obama bent down and gave him a big hug so he’d settle down.”
Not that Obama was universally lauded in Mesa County.
County GOP Chairman Chuck Pabst, who wasn’t able to get a ticket to the town hall, said the Lincoln Park demonstration “shows that the country is opposed to the Obama plan. There wasn’t a representative sample at the high school. Two-thirds were planted there. I’m glad the president is backing off the public option after he heard the message here.”
State Rep. Laura Bradford, R-Collbran, was supposed to have a ticket to the event, but, through a series of mixups, she missed it.
As an elected official, she said, she got an e-mail from the White House last Thursday asking her to call if she’d like a ticket. She called and was told she could pick up her ticket at the office of 3rd Congressional Rep. John Salazar “any time Thursday or Friday.”
However, when she stopped by the office at 1:30 p.m. Friday, she was told she was too late to pick it up, and would have to get it at the “will call” table at Central High.
“I got there about 1:15, but I wasn’t on the list,” she said. “It’s disappointing, but I’ve been through these things on the county party level when (former Vice President Dick) Cheney came, and these things happen.”