By Jody Hope Strogoff
THE COLORADO STATESMAN
Colorado Democrats, fresh off an amazingly successful election year that turned the state from purple to bright blue, celebrated their accomplishments last weekend at the 76th annual Jefferson-Jackson Day Dinner. The party currently holds every statewide office except for attorney general, and last year picked up a congressional seat in the traditionally Republican 4th District, giving Democrats claim to five out of the current seven seats. Colorado also delivered its nine electoral votes to Barack Obama, and elected a second Democrat to the U.S. Senate.
No wonder Sen. Mark Udall, who was sworn into office in January, declared that State Party Chair Pat Waak be named “chair for life.”
The sentiment was echoed later that night when CNN political analyst Paul Begala, keynote speaker at the dinner, heaped even more praise on Waak, who would be elected to an unprecedented third term at the Democrats’ state central committee meeting the next day.
It was that kind of blissful, self-congratulatory evening that reveled about 1,200 Democrats in their newly attained political dominance of a state controlled for so many years by Republicans. The theme of this year’s dinner, no surprise, was “celebrating real change.”
Udall, who defeated Republican opponent Bob Schaffer in 2008 by a wide margin, began by thwarting criticism by some Republicans that President Obama may be tackling too many big issues at once.
“Now is the time to build,” Udall said. “We’re not the party of Herbert Hoover, we’re Democrats!”
Begala, who served as counselor to President Clinton in the White House and whose political punditry can be viewed on television cable shows, offered a glaring assessment of the Republican Party. He reminded the partisan crowd that in 1854, the GOP had been founded by a handful of zealots, which he said describes the state of the Republican Party today.
In contrast, Begala called Democrats the party of “change, hope and progress.”
Begala dissed Republicans throughout his speech with humorous barbs that kept guests at the Colorado Convention Center entertained.
The new swing set recently set up on the White House grounds for the Obama daughters is “so much better than the one that George W. Bush used to play on,” Begala said at the onset. As for former Republican candidates Mitt Romney and Sarah Palin, “one’s just a pretty face, the other is governor of Alaska,” he joked.
But Begala saved his toughest jokes — and harshest criticism — for Rush Limbaugh, the conservative radio commentator who has publicly stated his wish that the Obama administration fails in its objectives.
Begala called Limbaugh “the real leader” of the Republican Party, and challenged the outspoken critic to run for president in 2012.
Begala continued to poke fun at the controversial talk show host with cracks about his weight and his arrest a few years ago for purchasing illegal prescription pain pills.
At one point, Begala referred to the weight-challenged Limbaugh as a corpulent drug addict. And the Dow’s closing last week at 6600 was just slightly below Rush’s cholesterol level, he added, as Democrats in the audience laughed aloud.
“We’re a different breed right now,” Begala said optimistically. “There’s the party of Rush Limbaugh and there’s the party of Barack Obama. I choose hope over dope.”
Sometimes, he acknowledged, “you have to laugh for comic relief.” The speaker then segued into a more serious discussion of current day politics.
George W. Bush’s approval rating when he left the White House hovered at a dismal 12 percent, Begala noted. The former president drove “the greatest country of the world into a ditch.”
Even with Bush’s dour legacy, Begala said, 41 percent of the American public now believes the country is moving in the right direction, with Obama’s economic recovery plan and emphasis on renewable energy making a sound impression.
The dinner also honored several Democrats, including Rep. Ed Perlmutter, who was named “Democrat of the Year.” Former Senate Majority Leader Ken Gordon, who retired from office earlier this year, received the party’s “Lifetime Achievement” award.
Sen. Michael Bennet presented state Rep. Mark Ferrandino with the Democrats’ “Rising Star” award, and Judi Butz and Chris Meza received the “Volunteer of the Year” award and “Chair’s” award respectively.