Dems join GOP to celebrate Waller's 40th

By Leslie Jorgensen

Thunderstorms forced Republican state Rep. Mark Waller to move his 40th birthday party from a park in northeastern Colorado Springs to his home nearby — but the downpour didn’t dampen the spirits of several lawmakers who joined the festivities.

Rep. Mark Waller, center with necklace, celebrated his 40th birthday with a bipartisan boogie bash that included Rep. Sal Pace, left, and 10th Judicial District Judge Steve Fieldman, both Pueblo Democrats, and Republican Reps. Bob Gardner and Waller, both of Colorado Springs, Randy Baumgardner, of Hot Sulphur Springs, and Kevin Priola of Henderson.
Photo by Tatianna Gruen/The Colorado Statesman

The “check partisan politics at the door” birthday barbecue on May 23 drew Republican Reps. Carole Murray, of Castle Rock; Kevin Priola, of Henderson; Randy Baumgardner, of Hot Sulfur Springs; Bob Gardner, of Colorado Springs; and Democrats Rep. Sal Pace and 10th Judicial District Judge Steve Fieldman, both of Pueblo.

After surviving a grueling legislative session — and being lampooned as an ineffective legislator by the liberal-leaning Colorado Pols blog site — Waller danced his cares away to the Wii game boogie beat.

His performance received more raves from the partygoers than the video game judges, “Rabbin Rabbids,” whose altered states switched from snoozing boredom to hopping hysterics.

Waller’s shake-your-booty routine was rivaled by Gardner’s derriere dexterity. Garner sat on the Wii sensor board and alternately flexed his GOP glutes to maneuver through the downhill flags in the “Mount Behind” game.

As the partygoers munched on barbecued chicken, coleslaw, pasta salad, chocolate pudding and fruit tarts, a few broke the rules and dished politics.

The most controversial subject was House Bill 1317, which aims to derail the Army’s proposal to expand Fort Carson’s training maneuver site in Piñon Canyon. Nowhere is opposition to the bill fiercer than it is in Colorado Springs.

Pace, a prime co-sponsor of HB 1317, lamented that the bill-signing ceremony had been downgraded to a quiet, media-only exercise at the Statehouse. He’d received the message in a “tsk-tsk” e-mail from Mary Kay Hogan, the governor’s lobbyist.

Apparently, Pace had erred in criticizing Ritter’s decision to veto House Bill 1170, which would have granted unemployment benefits to union workers locked out by management.

The Pueblo Chieftain reported last week that “Pace said Ritter’s move would make it hard for Democrats to support his re-election and build support for the governor.”

“(HB1170) is a really good bill,” Pace told the newspaper. “He’s vetoing it for no good reason. The bill would have put some good safety nets into place.

“I think it should be the place for government to care for all people, not just major corporations.”

At Waller’s bash, in the conservative bastion of El Paso County, the Pueblo Democrat was comforted by sympathetic Republicans. Nevertheless, Pikes Peak did not erupt a lå Mount St. Helen’s.

Playing the devil’s advocate, one said, “It would be uncomfortable for the governor to appear with Sal at a public gathering after he criticized (Ritter).”

The decision to scrap the HB 1317 bill-signing ceremony might appear to be a punishment for Pace’s comments, but some Republicans said they thought it was a political move to protect Ritter from another public protest against the controversial bill.

Last week, Ritter drew protests from both sides of the political spectrum. The left denounced his veto of HB 1170, and the right blasted his decision to sign HB 1317 into law. The governor was heckled earlier this month during a speech to Mesa State College graduates in Grand Junction.

Despite those divisions, Waller’s home was a “Kumbaya” haven — at least on that Saturday.

Word of Waller’s party reached Rep. Mark Ferrandino, D-Denver, who was attending another event in Colorado Springs. Ferrandino sent a text message to Waller, asking if he was still boogying at the party.

“Yes!” responded Waller. “Come on over…”