El Paso GOP hosts posh & pricey political evening

Republicans hobnob with candidates at Lincoln Dinner

By Leslie Jorgensen
THE COLORADO STATESMAN

COLORADO SPRINGS – The El Paso County Republican Party’s 2010 Lincoln Dinner at the Doubletree World Arena Hotel on March 20 was elegant if expensive with tickets ranging from $75 to $350 a person. The event drew more than 400 people and grossed an estimated $32,000 to sustain the county party headquarters through the election year.

Former U.S. Attorney Mike Norton and former Colorado Lt. Gov. Jane Norton, a Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate.
Photo by Leslie Jorgensen/The Colorado Statesman

With a touch of class, each table featured a slender, two-foot tall vase with three long-stemmed roses in the ballroom. Tables and chairs were draped in white linen and on either side of the stage were two huge screens featuring a taped message from National GOP Chair Michael Steele and the “reflections video” of local activists and elected officials over the past year.

Republicans savored the dinner of chicken breasts, wild rice, green beans, tossed salad with cranberries followed by a sinfully delicious chocolate cake.

The piece de resistance was the opportunity to hobnob with candidates, particularly those seeking statewide offices. U.S. Senate candidates Steve Barton, Ken Buck, Jane Norton and Tom Wiens; gubernatorial candidates Dan Maes and Scott McInnis; and state Treasurer candidates J.J. Ament, Ali Hasan and Walker Stapleton arrived early to talk with folks at the general cash bar reception as well as during the dinner.

A couple of dozen Republicans paid $100 each to attend the private VIP reception where they talked with state Senate Minority Leader Josh Penry of Grand Junction, who was the dinner keynote speaker, and mingled with statewide candidates. The VIP guests were inspired by the sounds of “Christian Celtic music” played by teen harpists, the Hoskins Sisters, and were served cheese, fruit, sliced meats and bread.

The VIP reception was included for those who paid $3,500 for a platinum table or 10 guests. Hasan and the Bogosian family each purchased a platinum table. Farmers Insurance purchased a “gold table” for $1,200, and McInnis, state Rep. Larry Liston and El Paso County Clerk and Recorder Bob Balink, a candidate for county Treasurer, each paid $1,000 for a “silver table.” The Cheyenne Mountain Republican Forum bought four “silver tables.”

During the dinner, Penry provided a status report of legislative bills and warned of the cost to Colorado taxpayers of implementing the health care bill that on the following evening was passed by the House. The measure was signed into law by President Barack Obama on Tuesday.

Republican candidates Scott Gessler for secretary of state and Walker Stapleton for state treasurer.
Photo by Leslie Jorgensen/The Colorado Statesman

On Saturday night at the Colorado Springs event, Penry created an avalanche of protest calls to 4th District Congresswoman Betsy Markey’s office in Washington, D.C. when he urged all of the Republican diners to text message or call 202-225-4676.

Like a cheerleader, Penry led the charge and yelled, “Okay, now!” High-pitched beep-beep-beeps were heard around the rooms as Republicans punched Markey’s phone number.

Across the ballroom, Republicans yelled that the office either didn’t answer or the calls wouldn’t go through. It wasn’t clear if the barrage of calls overloaded Markey’s phone system or if her office had refused to take calls. A few diners discovered they had punched in the wrong cell phone number and tried again. Finally a man yelled triumphantly, “Got through!”

Earlier candidates for statewide offices had been allotted two minutes to talk about themselves and their campaigns and had been provided with written guidance from Balink, who served as the dinner emcee.

Former state Senator Ed Jones hugs El Paso County GOP Chair Kay Rendleman at the party's VIP reception before the Lincoln Day Dinner at The Doubletree Hotel in Colorado Springs.
Photo by Leslie Jorgensen/The Colorado Statesman

“We ask that your remarks be of a more personal nature... and not a political campaign speech... something about how the core principles have shaped your life... a personal story which will help everyone to get to know YOU better,” said Balink.

Nearly all of the statewide Republican candidates shared their campaign-published biographies and then, added political pitches. A few added childhood memories that gave insight into their character.

U.S. Senate candidates talked about their backgrounds, but Buck, Norton and Wiens emphasized their Colorado roots and Western values. (Candidate Cleve Tidwell did not attend the event, but sent campaign literature.)

GOP gubernatorial candidates Maes and McInnis each disclosed childhood memories that were more detailed than their campaign biographies.

As the son of single-parent mother, Maes said he learned that “God is the father of the fatherless children” and that strengthened his faith in Jesus Christ.

McInnis recounted a family “fiscal” tradition. He and his siblings on their fifth birthday each received the same gift from their parents — a piggy bank.

“They wanted us to know the value of a nickel or dime, at least back then,” said McInnis.

In the race for state Treasurer, Ament said that he’d learned as a child that “true values come from above” and that he strives to demonstrate those values through his actions everyday. Stapleton said he was raised on the basic principles of accountability, responsibility, faith and family.

Former El Paso GOP Chair Greg Garcia and Colorado Attorney General John Suthers at the 2010 Lincoln Dinner that drew more than 400 Republicans.
Photo by Leslie Jorgensen/The Colorado Statesman

Hasan confessed, “I’m a Republican because I’m a Mama’s boy!”

He credited his mother, Seeme Gull Hasan, for teaching him that “hope is one place in the world where freedom and liberty exist — America.”

Hasan recalled his boyhood in Pueblo and how his mother had a “crush on (President) Ronald Reagan” in the early 1980s and worked toward his election in 1984. That year, Hasan said, Reagan won more votes than Democratic presidential candidate Minnesota U.S. Sen. Walter Mondale in Pueblo, a Democrat-dominated county.

At the close of the dinner, Rendleman presented the annual awards to Republican volunteers and activists.

Shirley Martin won the “Volunteer of the Year Award,” and Dennis Moore received the “Precinct Leader of 2009” for his work in House District 18. The next day, Moore personally thanked his precinct chairs for their efforts in HD 18, a seat being vacated by Democratic state Rep. Michael Merrifield who is term limited at the end of the year.

The coveted “Republican of the Year” award, County Chair Kay — Rendleman said, goes to a woman who is “like a Timex watch — takes a licking but keeps on ticking.”

When Rendleman mentioned that this woman even enlisted her husband as a party volunteer, El Paso County Commissioner Sallie Clark perked her ears and said, “Is she talking about me?”

And so it was. Clark was presented with a plaque and bouquet of roses — and three dozen roses in a vase from her parents. It seems her husband Welling Clark had been informed of the pending award much earlier — and kept it a secret.

“I had no idea that I’d get an award for volunteering my husband,” said Clark with a laugh. “Seriously, it has been a great privilege to work for Republican values.”

State Rep. Bob Gardner, former state Sen. Mary Ellen Epps, gubernatorial candidate Scott McInnis and his wife Lori, Welling Clark and Stephanie Finley of the Greater Colorado Springs Chamber of Commerce.
Photo by Leslie Jorgensen/The Colorado Statesman

Clark is also El Paso County chair for the McInnis campaign — and a possible contender for Lt. Governor, a running mate position that he will select after winning the party’s nomination.

Another big winner of the night was Donald “D.J.” Alberts who was among the hundred or so folks who paid $25 for a box of Cracker Jacks — that’s right. Alberts’ box contained more than snack food — diamond earrings donated by Louisa Graff Jewelers.

Other auction items ranged from a jail tour, ride and lunch with El Paso County Sheriff Terry Maketa to a weekend getaway at the “historic and romantic” Holden House Bed and Breakfast Inn owned by the Clarks.

Perhaps the only spice missing at this event were campaign signs, buttons, banners and stickers. The local GOP did put out campaign literature on a hallway table in the hotel — but did not allow campaign staffers to handout fliers, stickers, etc.

“In order to maintain the dignity and decorum of this annual fund raising event, the committee asks all candidates to support the effort of the Lincoln Day Dinner committee to make this most enjoyable event for all participants,” said Balink in a memo.

No banners, yard sings or other placards were allowed within the hotel or at entrances. That said, the rules allowed each campaign to hang one banner in a hotel hallway — not the ballroom or reception room. The price was $500 — and the county party would determine where the banner would be hung. Apparently no campaign wanted to invest in that expensive proposition.

The sparse walls and controlled campaign activity at the Republican dinner contrasted sharply with the El Paso County Democratic Party’s fundraising dinner at the Cheyenne Mountain Resort on the previous evening. The Democrats created wall collages of campaign signs, passed out lapel stickers and wore lucky shamrocks on boutonnières, corsages and necklaces.

The GOP evening was spiked with excitement and consternation when keynote speaker Penry made his endorsements in key races at the end of his speech. Penry asked the Republicans to support Norton in the U.S. Senate race and McInnis in the gubernatorial contest.

Apparently, Penry hadn’t received the rules and regulations memo.

Rendleman, who stood on the sidelines, looked like she was going to faint. Balink rushed onto the stage and apologized to Maes and other candidates, who remained nameless.

The enormous list of Lincoln Dinner goers included state Sens. Bill Cadman and Keith King, state Reps. Amy Stephens, Bob Gardner, Ken Lambert and Mark Waller, and former state Rep. and TABOR daddy Doug Bruce. Also in attendance were several candidates including Karen Cullen for HD 18, and Kit Roupe and Mark Barker for HD 17.

Leslie@coloradostatesman.com