Colorado Dems make hay while the sun shines

...And then dine under the stars for an evening of politics and fun at the Rain Dance Ranch

By Jody Hope Strogoff
THE COLORADO STATESMAN

BOULDER COUNTY — While Colorado Republicans marred the political landscape with their intra-party mudslinging, their counterparts in the Democratic Party watched the entertaining commotion from afar — in fact, from much greener pastures, literally.

A few dozen Democrats were gathered July 24 at the Rain Dance Ranch northwest of Longmont for an elegant dinner under the stars. And later a full moon. The fundraising event, high atop a mesa at Arnold Turner’s 425-acre hay farm in rural Boulder County, began a few hours before sundown, so it was more like dinner at dusk. But no matter. The several dozen Democratic officials and party activists in attendance were clearly enjoying their political perch whatever time it was.

A scene from the Democrats' July 24 festivities at Rain Dance Ranch in Boulder County
Photo by Jody Hope Strogoff/The Colorado Statesman
State Rep. Claire Levy, D-Boulder, and Arnold Turner, a local Democratic activist and owner of the Rain Dance Ranch, a 425-acre hay farm outside of Longmont where the dinner was held.
Photo by Jody Hope Strogoff/The Colorado Statesman
U.S. Rep. Betsy Markey, D-CD 4, and Debbie Hill, finance director for the Colorado Democratic Party, at the Rain Dance Ranch.
Photo by Jody Hope Strogoff/The Colorado Statesman
Sunset from the ranch.
Photo by Jody Hope Strogoff/The Colorado Statesman
CU Regent Joseph Neguse and State Democratic Party Chair Pat Waak at the fundraising dinner on July 24.
Photo by Jody Hope Strogoff/The Colorado Statesman
CU Regent Democratic candidate Melissa Hart and CU Regents Michael Carrigan and Monisha Merchant.
Photo by Jody Hope Strogoff/The Colorado Statesman
State Rep. Dickie Lee Hullingshorst, D-Gunbarrel, and Arnold Turner, owner of the Rain Dance Ranch where Colorado Democrats dined on July 24.
Photo by Jody Hope Strogoff/The Colorado Statesman
Alec Garnett with his father, attorney general candidate Stan Garnett, who is running against incumbent GOP John Suthers.
Photo by Jody Hope Strogoff/The Colorado Statesman

The fact that Colorado Republicans had just concluded a bizarre and very public week of political upheaval with their self destructing candidates for governor — as well as the possibility that one of their former congressmen planned to bolt the GOP and instead enter the race himself as a third party candidate — was not lost on these Democratic denizens.

Pat Waak, the third term chair of the state Democratic Party, couldn’t refrain from ribbing her political foes as the dinner got underway. This political year, she said, has been one of the strangest she’s ever witnessed. An ugly primary among Republicans for the U.S. Senate, however, had unexpectedly provided her Democrats with plentiful ammunition for November and she wasn’t complaining.

And then there was the GOP governor’s race, a subject which really didn’t need much explaining to this politically tuned-in crowd. Waak said she’d received a message earlier from a Democrat who was thinking about making a donation to Tom Tancredo. Clearly his rumored entrance into the governor’s race was of interest to not only Colorado Republicans, but to her party folk too.

How else to describe their merriment, perhaps, than to say that Colorado Democrats at this particular juncture were clearly in their hay day.

Guests — some 50 of them who paid between $250 and $1,000 for the unusual experience — were met at the bottom of a winding dirt road by the affable Turner and his tractor-pulled wooden wagon, normally used to haul bales of hale. It is, after all, a working farm and Turner and his wife typically harvest 20,000 bales in June, and another 10,000 in late summer.

Western-attired Democrats were escorted to the mesa several hundred feet above, overlooking the lush Front Range. Atop, under canopied white tents, they gathered for cocktails and appetizers passed by formally dressed wait staff from a local catering company. The Dave Fulker Jazz Trio, comprised of students from the University of Colorado, supplied the melodies and contributed to the evening’s ambiance.

One very long table with white linen table cloths had been set up for dinner in the open air of the main tent. Herb rubbed pork loin, broiled lemon lime salmon and garlic mashed potatoes and pan seared long beans sated hungry dinner guests.

But the real treats, aside from the homemade desserts of peach, apple and strawberry rhubarb pies, were the inside comments from party leaders and elected officials during the course of the evening affair.

Senate President Brandon Shaffer, from Boulder County, talked about the importance of keeping a Democratic majority in the Legislature. He named six or so state senate races which Democrats are targeting this year.

Waak said the race in Congressional District 4 is a main emphasis in 2010 for her party. And freshman Rep. Betsy Markey, elected in 2008, echoed the importance of her race.

She called her reelection effort an uphill battle, but one which she is confidant of winning despite the gloom and doom of some Washington, D.C. operatives who are predicting losses for Democrats.

“It’s very different in my district,” Markey said. She told guests that she’s getting a good response from over 20,000 phone calls made to constituents.

Before she was elected, she said, the country had been in a downward spiral, with little or no regulation on the books. Congress has since passed a strong financial reform bill, invested in renewable energy, plus, Markey said, the stimulus bill had been effective in creating jobs.

Markey also pointed out that $400 million in loan guarantees for solar energy will create several hundred jobs in her 4th Congressional District.

“How can we possibly turn the reins back?” she asked rhetorically.

“It’s exactly 100 days until the election,” Markey reminded.

“I’m running against Cory Gardner,” but she urged fellow Democrats to remember that there is also an American Constitution Party candidate in the race as well as an unaffiliated.

Secretary of State Bernie Buescher acknowledged that when he began his statewide job, he assumed he’d be doing some pretty mundane things. The activities of the last two weeks, however, has turned the Secretary of State’s office into a hub of political activity.

Buescher mentioned the importance of keeping the office in Democratic hands so that Colorado will remain one of the vanguard states for online voter registration. “We want to make it as easy as possible for every citizen to vote and for us to count every vote,” Buescher stated.

Boulder District Attorney Stan Garnett, candidate for Attorney General, said he is equally committed to running a good statewide race, especially since current Attorney General John Suthers is the only statewide Republican incumbent.

“As the Republican Party disintegrates in some of their races, they will try harder to keep what they’ve got,” Garnett predicted.

But he is ready.

Garnett said fundraising is going well, and he joked that in the short time he’s been running, he’s raised more than Dan Maes (a Republican candidate for governor who has been running for almost two years.)

Garnett also highlighted his campaign slogan, which he said incorporates his desire to be an attorney general who is “tough, fair and on your side.”

The attorney general, he continued, “should be fighting for ordinary folks. The current attorney general is not. (He) gets distracted by a numerous array of partisan issues.”

Garnett said his own candidacy is based on a progressive and proactive agenda and is focused on the theme that the AG should be the “people’s lawyer.”

As the multi-colored sky turned dark, dinner guests either walked down the dirt road to the pasture below, or found a place on the hay wagon for the return trip.

It was, indeed, a beautiful night under the stars.

Jody@coloradostatesman.com