By Leslie Jorgensen
THE COLORADO STATESMAN
COLORADO SPRINGS — Former House Speaker Andrew Romanoff beat U.S. Senator Michael Bennet in a straw poll of delegates at the El Paso County Democratic Party Assembly — it was a “reversal of fortune” for Bennet, who had defeated Romanoff in precinct caucus preference polls last month.
Delegates at the county assembly cast 307 votes for Romanoff, 251 for Bennet and 21 were undecided.
“The Bennet campaign didn’t turn out their delegates,” said Karen Freed, a Bennet delegate who was attending her first county party assembly.
Freed and other delegates said the Bennet’s campaign decision to collect petition signatures was also confusing. Meanwhile, the Romanoff campaign went into overdrive to ensure their delegates attended the assembly.
One person wondered if the delegates had been influenced by protestors who decried discrimination against African-Americans and demanded that the Democratic Party leaders take action to enforce civil rights. Several signs smeared Bennet. Among the demonstrators was James Tucker, publisher of a monthly newspaper and Romanoff supporter.
“I don’t think that had any bearing on the straw poll. We are the party of inclusion,” said Christy Le Lait, executive director of the county party. “We also believe in free speech.”
Bennet and Romanoff weren’t able to drop by the assembly, but each candidate had surrogate speakers. State Sen. John Morse pumped the crowd for Romanoff. Former 5th District Congressional candidate Jay Fawcett, Jim Waller, former county party Chair Sharon Berthrong and Will Smith pitched for Bennet.
Of all the speakers, the showstopper was Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper who drew enthusiastic support for his campaign for governor.
After a lunch break, county party Chair Hal Bidlack announced the U.S. Senate straw poll results that resulted in 186 state delegates for Romanoff and 152 for Bennet. The 21 undecided delegates were invited to join either group.
In a mixed reaction, delegates moaned or gleefully shrieked.
The Romanoff and Bennet camps split into groups to select delegates to the state assembly. Ann Oatman-Gardner, regional director of Bennet’s Senate office, jumped up on a landing and began organizing the candidate’s delegates — they looked stunned, tired and disappointed.
“It’s not all bad news. We have fewer delegates to state, but you’ll all get to go!” shouted Oatman-Gardner, swinging her arms in the air.
Across the auditorium, Romanoff campaign Field Organizer Karen Teja sounded like a coach congratulating the football team on their victory. The delegates clapped, cheered and whistled. They looked ready to burst into singing, “We are champions” by Queen.
Wearing white “straw” boaters banded with Romanoff bumper stickers, Mike Mikash, George Powell and Rolf Jacobson meticulously tallied the delegates’ requests to attend the higher assembly. Even a few previously undecided delegates requested alternate spots.
Even though the number of delegates allotted to a candidate is based on the straw poll results, none of the delegates are bound. Unknown is whether Bennet will travel the caucus-to-assembly route or petition onto the ballot.
The delegates voted on 95 resolutions that ranged from arraigning former Republican Vice President Dick Cheney for war crimes to giving people a 100 percent tax deduction for the costs of spaying or neutering dogs and cats.
A few resolutions were similar to those posed to delegates at the county Republican Party assembly across town. The Democratic delegates considered resolutions to make Congress subject to all laws that affect American citizens, limit members of Congress to one term in office and prohibit them from serving as lobbyists for 10 years, and eliminate the Federal Reserve.
“My favorite is resolution number 95,” said Teja. “We resolve to support peace, love and rock n’ roll.”
During the morning session, the party designated candidates for elected offices — none are contested.
County Public Trustee Tom Mowle is a candidate for county clerk and recorder, Steve Knojaas for District 1 county commissioner, state Rep. Michael Merrifield for District 5 county commissioner, Marcus Cimino for House District 15, Jan Tanner for House District 16, Pete Lee for House District 18, state Rep. Dennis Apuan for re-election in House District 17, Nick Werle for Senate District 9 and Morse for re-election in Senate
When Bidlack called for nominations for the election of a chair and vice chair of the state delegate committee, a woman shouted, “Hal Bidlack and Carolyn Cathay!”
“Thank you, Karen,” said Bidlack in mocked exasperation.
“There’s a nomination for the two suckers up here,” said Bidlack, who glanced at county party Secretary Cathay. “Any additional nominations besides the patsies?”
There were no other nominations — but plenty of laughter.