Denver Young Democrats were told on Thursday night that they are the future of the party, and that they must mobilize in order to fight off Republican challenges in what is expected to be a divisive 2014 election year.
About 150 young and elder Democrats showed up Dec. 5 at the Denver Young Democrats’ annual holiday party, held at the Governor’s Residence at the Boettcher Mansion. Denver Deputy Mayor and former state treasurer Cary Kennedy and Congressional District 6 candidate and former House Speaker Andrew Romanoff offered remarks.
Early in the night, Gov. John Hickenlooper, a Democrat, stopped by the residence — where he does not currently reside, but apparently stores some of his belongings. The Young Dems were bright-eyed and eager to shake hands with the governor and take photos with him, though some joked that the governor was probably just there to pick up some of his clothing. (Hickenlooper was actually retrieving his tux for a party later that night.)
Another running joke of the evening came from older Democrats who looked out at the young audience with fond eyes, longing for the time when they were considered Young Dems.
“It wasn’t long ago that I was standing in your shoes and I was a Young Dem,” Kennedy said to laughter. “I joined the Young Democrats back in 1990… There are an awful lot of my colleagues and friends that are here in the house tonight. And I sort of wandered around and said, ‘I think they’re letting in people other than just the young Dems.’”
Kennedy then read a quote and asked the audience if they could guess who said it: “What I think we must hear from our two political parties is not slogans, but answers to questions that are far more complicated, like how we can maintain full employment… How can we find jobs for the hundreds of thousands of young people under 20 today who come into the labor market, but many of whom drop out of school and can’t find work… How can we make sure that they can go to college?”
University of Colorado Regent Stephen Ludwig guessed correctly that it was from President John F. Kennedy, who offered the quote in 1961.
“I wasn’t alive then,” shouted Ludwig, who is 46 years old and born in 1967.
But Sen. Rollie Heath of Boulder — known as an elder statesman who was born in 1937 — was not shy in dating himself: “But I was,” he declared to more laughter.
Another speaker was Romanoff — who at 47 years old today was once viewed as a young up-and-comer, serving as House speaker when he was only 38 years old. He made it clear that he was no longer a whippersnapper.
“When people give speeches like this, they’re supposed to start by saying how happy they are to be here, how honored, what a great privilege it is. They’re lying. The truth is, I’m really disappointed to be here tonight for a couple of reasons…” joked Romanoff. “Because all of the youth and vibrancy and energy in this room tonight makes me feel awfully old.
“Cary Kennedy, the other elder stateswoman and I, remember when we were Young Democrats too,” he added to an eruption of laughter. “The truth is, I’m a lot older than Cary. I’m old enough to be her slightly older brother.”
But his remarks came with a very serious message. The event coincided with somber news that South Africa’s first black president, the great Nelson Mandela, had passed away at the age of 95. Madiba, as his countrymen affectionately referred to him, led the fight to end the system of apartheid, and united blacks and whites in the once divided nation.
Mandela was imprisoned for nearly three decades for his fight; he was freed in 1990 when he immediately set to work uniting the nation.
Romanoff is no stranger to Africa. He has traveled to the continent, fighting to eradicate poverty in the world’s poorest nations, most recently serving as a senior advisor with Lakewood based International Development Enterprises.
Romanoff felt a personal connection to Mandela, visiting the prison in which Mandela spent 18 of his 27 years behind bars on Robben Island outside of Cape Town. Mandela spent his time breaking limestone rocks with a hammer, sleeping on a thin mat in a tiny cell and surviving on corn meal porridge.
“You can see the glare from the limestone that eventually damaged his eyesight to such an extent that he could no longer be photographed because the light of the flashbulbs hurt his eyes,” said an emotional Romanoff.
Mandela’s only joys while in prison were tending to his flowers and writing his manuscript, which he would bury in the garden at night, one day becoming his autobiography, “Long Walk to Freedom.”
“It turns out that the time he spent on Robben Island had dimmed his eyesight, but not his vision,” explained Romanoff.
“He said, ‘There is no passion in playing small, in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living…’” he continued, quoting Mandela. “That’s a message that ought to resonate, especially with you here tonight.
“You can settle, if you want, for a life that is less than the one you’re capable of living, or you can dare a little bit, you can dream a little bit, and there is no better time, no better chance we’re going to have, and no bigger set of challenges that we’re going to face, than the ones we face right now,” Romanoff added.
The former House speaker, who is seeking to unseat Republican U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman of Aurora in 2014, and who previously represented Denver before moving to CD 6, called on the Denver Young Democrats to lift him up as he takes on what is expected to be a tight race.
But he called on his young audience to break from the partisan bickering that many of their older leaders engage in.
“Some Democrats take joy from the disintegration of the Republican Party that we’re witnessing in Washington. But we shouldn’t take any joy from that experience, or any political comfort, because the truth is we need men and women of good will in both parties to tackle the challenges that we face as a state and a country and a world,” pleaded Romanoff.
“You can lead the way,” he continued. “The truth is… you’re going to be around a lot longer than most of us. The consequences of the decisions we make, especially when it comes to issues like climate change, are going to face you a lot longer than they’re going to face folks like me.
“There’s no reason at all, frankly, that you ought to settle for being Young Democrats and leading an organization that is an offshoot of the Democratic Party,” Romanoff added. “You ought to take over the whole thing… You ought to run for office, or manage campaigns, as some of you are doing. You ought to lead the legislature and keep it in progressive hands. And then you ought to tackle the challenges that confront us as a nation and as a planet.”
Kennedy agreed that she was looking at the future of the party and the state.
“These are the future leaders of the state of Colorado,” she said. “I challenge you to think big and stay strong and to continue doing the great work you’re doing to address the challenges that are facing our communities.”
She encouraged the Young Democrats to fight for Hickenlooper and U.S. Sen. Mark Udall, who are both facing re-election next year. She also asked them to rally for Secretary of State candidate Joe Neguse, Attorney General candidate Don Quick and state Treasurer candidate and former U.S. Rep. Betsy Markey.
Kennedy also pointed to the accomplishments of Democrats in the legislature last session, including same-sex civil unions, in-state tuition for undocumented students and gun control.
While Kennedy said Democrats showed “courage” in pushing those bills, Republicans and some unaffiliated voters believe their agenda over-reached.
But Al Sahlstrom, president of Denver Young Democrats, said the agenda by Democrats was far from an over-reach when you ask a younger audience.
“The interesting thing about this idea is that a lot of the weight of it depends on who you actually involve in the conversation,” he said. “Because we as young people in Colorado, we understand that these principles that we’ve been fighting for, that our leaders have been fighting for, they are already here, they are the right thing, and they are mainstream.
“Ideas like each and every one of us has the right to love whoever we want; that women have the right to make decisions for themselves, particularly when it comes to their lives and their bodies; and that when it comes to getting the work done that we need, it’s not about government takeovers or government shutdowns, it’s about looking at the facts, using your sense and fighting for what we need to move this state in the right direction,” he continued.
Co-hosts of the event included Sen. Irene Aguilar of Denver, Rep. Dave Young of Greeley, Denver City Councilman Albus Brooks, Colorado Democratic Party Treasurer Chris Ott, House District 8A Captain Aaron Goldhamer, and attorney Jason Krueger
Sponsors included Reps. KC Becker of Boulder, Beth McCann of Denver, Dan Pabon of Denver, CU Regent Michael Carrigan, Denver City Councilman Chris Nevitt, Colorado Young Democrats Chair and Vice Chair Danielle Glover and Chris Laughlin and DYD Vice President Cory Kalanick.
See the Dec. 13 print edition for full photo coverage.