Right wing takes flight at Independence Institute’s Founders’ Night Dinner

By Brad Jones

Even before this week’s much publicized coming-together of Republicans, Colorado’s social conservatives and libertarians were breaking bread together last Thursday at the gala celebration of the Independence Institute’s 25th anniversary at Glendale’s Infinity Park International Ballroom.

Independence Institute President Jon Caldara asked guests, “What would Colorado look like if [they] did not keep this scrappy, bizarre, feisty organization alive and thriving?”
Photo by Brad Jones
Special to The Colorado Statesman

The annual Founders’ Night Dinner — the Institute’s largest single fundraising effort of the year — is a formal event, but that didn’t stop the notoriously raucous group from letting its hair down in classic style.

Riffing on President Barack Obama’s recent receipt of the Nobel Peace Prize, Institute President Jon Caldara presented chairman of the board Catherine Shopneck with her own Nobel medal. After Shopneck took a too-deep bow for the crowd, Caldara invited the roughly 500 celebrants in attendance to reach under their seats for their very own faux prizes, awarded for “future accomplishments.”

The think tank presented awards for actual accomplishment, as well. Lakewood activist Natalie Menten was honored with the annual Vern Bickel Award for Grassroots Leadership, a recognition of her work in promoting legislation requiring greater spending transparency by state government and school districts.

Former U.S. Sen. Bill Armstrong took the podium to present the Institute’s highest honor, the David D’Evelyn award, to AIMCO chairman Terry Considine. The award is named for the late David D’Evelyn, who co-founded the Institute with former state Senate President John Andrews. Considine served as a state senator from 1987 to 1992 and launched an unsuccessful bid for the U.S. Senate in 1992. He was honored for his continued efforts to “selflessly work for personal and economic freedom in Colorado,” according to Caldara.

Founded as one of the first state-based think tanks of its kind, the self-described “free-market” Independence Institute has helped define Colorado’s political landscape. Andrews was at the helm at its inception, later turning the reins over to then-U.S. Rep. Tom Tancredo. But despite the social conservative credentials of its past leaders, the Independence Institute has stayed true to its roots as a classically libertarian outfit, fighting for lower taxes and smaller government.

The evening’s keynote speaker, author P.J. O’Rourke, kept the crowd laughing with his witty send-ups of politicos on both the left and right.
Photo by Brad Jones/Special to The Colorado Statesman

“What would Colorado look like if [they] did not keep this scrappy, bizarre, feisty organization alive and thriving?” Caldara asked.

But the biggest draw for many in the sold-out crowd was the evening’s keynote speaker, humorist and author P.J. O’Rourke, who dispensed a steady stream of laugh lines to a rapt audience, landing jabs at politicos on both sides of the ideological divide.

“The government is getting a third of your pay,” he said, chiding those who argue for higher income taxes. “But is the government doing a third of your job? Is the government doing a third of your laundry?”

“When you go to Hooters, is the government tending bar, ensuring that one out of three Margaritas is on the house?”

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