Independence Institute Founders’ Night Dinner rife with conservative philosophy, good-natured ribbing

By Ernest Luning
THE COLORADO STATESMAN

Even though a handful of newly elected officials sat in front of him, Independence Institute President Jon Caldara kicked off his organization’s gala fundraiser with a toast instead to their counterparts, a cohort of prominent politicians, each with household names, who have gone down to defeat at the polls.

Independence Institute President Jon Caldara, left, congratulates columnist and author David Limbaugh after Limbaugh delivered the keynote address at the Nov. 18 dinner.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman
Former U.S. Rep. Bob Beauprez, right, and his wife, Claudia, and son John mingle. Beauprez was honored with the David S. D’Evelyn Award for Inspired Leadership at the festivities.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman
Longtime Republican activists Bo and Lynne Cottrell, right, visit with Dr. Jill Vecchio, Colorado organizer of Docs4PatientCare, at the Independence Institute’s Founders’ Night festivities.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman
Republican U.S. Senate candidate Ken Buck, right, visits with George and Laura Teal at the Independence Institute’s Founders’ Night festivities in Denver on Nov. 18.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman
GOP political consultant June Weiss, left, shares a laugh with former Colorado PUC Commis- sioner Polly Page, who has her own consulting business these days.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman
Activist Doug Anderson, left, visits with Independence Institute senior fellow Penn Pfiffner, Sam Beck and Lauren Ramirez at the Institute’s Founders’ Night gala.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman
Conservative columnist and bestselling author David Limbaugh delivers the keynote address.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman

After singling out State Treasurer-elect Walker Stapleton and Secretary of State-elect Scott Gessler in the audience — and acknowledging a sprinkling of new Republican state legislators also sitting down to their salads — Caldara turned the spotlight on luminaries in attendance who won’t be taking the oath of office in coming months.

“We have a lot of wonderful losers with us tonight,” Caldara said to cheers and hoots of laughter from the sold-out crowd of about 350 at the free-market think tank’s 26th annual Founders’ Night dinner held Nov. 18 at the Donald R. Seawell Grand Ballroom in the Denver Center for the Performing Arts.

He pointed to Tom Tancredo, a former president of the Independence Institute, who ran unsuccessfully for governor this year on the American Constitution Party ticket, along with the organization’s founding president, John Andrews, who took a beating at the polls in the same race as the Republican nominee two decades ago. Unsuccessful GOP Senate candidate Ken Buck was also subject to Caldara’s praise, as was two-time gubernatorial hopeful Steve Schuck, and the recipient of one of the night’s awards, former two-term U.S. Rep. Bob Beauprez, who left Congress only to lose his race for governor four years ago.

Caldara didn’t spare his own efforts, noting that the Independence Institute-sponsored Amendment 63, which he termed a “valiant, valiant effort to try to take control of Obamacare and repel Obamacare from Colorado,” had gone down in flames at the polls.

“These losses hurt so very, very much,” Caldara said, “but out of it grow the victories we need.” Tipping his hat to George Washington, Caldara said he likes to borrow a tactic from the nation’s first president: His aim, he said, is “not to win battles but to escape and keep our enemies in battle.”

Listing a series of ideas championed by the institute that have since become law — including the Taxpayers Bill of Rights, which went down multiple times on the ballot before passing, and charter schools, term limits and concealed carry permit reform — Caldara said the group doesn’t keep its eye on whatever voters are doing this November.

“Politicians come and politicians go but the principles that we fight for continue,” he said. He added, “The investment you make in the Independence Institute is an investment not in the next election but in the next generation.”

And with that in mind, he offered his toast: “Here’s to the losers — we fight for liberty and we live to fight another day.”

Caldara introduced the evening’s keynote speaker, bestselling author and conservative columnist David Limbaugh — the brother of the powerful conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh — with a stern warning.

“I don’t think ever in our lives, in any of our lives, have we ever seen such a war against our own personal liberty, our own personal freedoms, as we’ve seen with this new president,” Caldara said before turning the podium over to Limbaugh, who came out swinging.

“Rush often delivers his speeches and radio commentary with humor,” Limbaugh said. “He does that so I don’t get to, I’ve got to be seriously mad.”

He didn’t let the audience down.

Taking a look at the recent election results, where Republicans swept Democrats from office in a “tsunami” not seen for decades, Limbaugh said the axiom that “it’s the economy, stupid,” is the wrong way to analyze what happened. Instead, he said, “It’s about our liberties, stupid.”

Limbaugh bore down on the Obama administration and President Barack Obama, who he termed part of a group of “thugs” bent on restricting freedoms and concluded that voters agreed with his take.

“People are horrified at the systematical assaults on our liberty being undertaken by a man who has a tyrannical bent and has a grudge against America,” Limbaugh said. “Obama doesn’t share our values — he’s a radical Leftist.”

He said the Tea Party embodied the horror felt by regular Americans.

“They were revolting against this tyrannical enemy, this quintessential enemy of freedom,” he said. Rather than the coordinated front for corporate interests portrayed by liberals, he said the Tea Party was “a spontaneous, nation-wide movement that sprung up all over in this horror about what Obama was doing to the country.”

“Tea Partiers,” Limbaugh said, “were not these crazy, radical people who were toting guns and one step away from little Timothy McVeighs.” Instead, he said, Tea Partiers were “the most peaceable, peace-loving, law- abiding, rule-of-law respecting, Consti- tution-respecting people you can imagine, i.e., mainstream conservative Americans.”

He contrasted conservatives to the ruling Democrats.

“It makes me sick to my stomach that we have a president and first lady who cannot stand this country and are going around apologizing for it,” he said.

Introducing the evening’s awards, Caldara reminded the audience why he believes the Independence Institute is both necessary and a model for other endeavors, even if those have benefited political foes.

“In a state that’s so Republican,” he said, “we have a Democratic governor, we have a Democratic Legislature, we have Democratic senators — how is that? It’s because the powers-that-be looked at the Independence Institute and said, ‘That model works! Separate yourself from issues, push ideology.’” Pointing to wealthy liberal donors who invented the “Colorado Model,” credited with handing power in the state to Democrats since 2004, Caldara said conservatives “don’t have that kid of money — I know you guys have that kind of money — but the movement doesn’t have that kind of money.” What they have, he concluded, is a committed following. “We have volunteers, we have people,” he said.

In that spirit, activist Michelle Morin, who blogs and tweets under the name “Mom4Freedom,” received the Vern Bickel award for Grassroots Leadership, named for an early supporter of the institute.

Morin runs the Political Power Tools workshop to train citizens how to make an impact on politics, serves as external communications chair for the Coalition for the Conservative Majority, and organizes the online Restore Freedom Now community, which was originally the Stop Obama’s Healthcare Plan site.

“There’s a fourth branch of government we rarely identify as such,” she said accepting the award. “It’s ‘We the People’ — we are that fourth branch. That fourth branch must be cultivated, informed and empowered to stop the Marxist train that has pulled into our town.”

Beauprez was the recipient of the David S. D’Evelyn Award for Inspired Leadership, the night’s highest honor. The award is named for one of the founders of the organization.

Introducing Beauprez, KOA radio talk show host Dan Caplis had the audience in stitches.

“How do you capture the greatness of Bob Beauprez in three minutes or less?” he asked. “I can’t do a Len Lyall Chevrolet spot in three minutes or less. But then it occurred to me: Bob Beauprez is Colorado’s Ronald Reagan.” Caplis wrapped up his intro- duction by pointing out that Reagan hadn’t even run for president the first time — in 1976, when he challenged Gerald Ford for the GOP nomination — by the time he was Beauprez’ age.

Beauprez shared the award with his wife, Claudia, who stood on stage with him. “This is the strength right there,” he said.

Then he passed on advice he gave employees at a community bank soon after he had purchased it: “Get up in the morning and do what you think is right. Believe in yourself, trust your gut, trust your heart, trust what your mother and dad taught you, trust in the greatness of this country.”

Caldara reminded the audience why he has such a good time at Independence Institute events, which also include the annual summertime Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms get-together for drinking, smoking and shooting: “When conservatives have fun, liberals cry at night.”

Ernest@coloradostatesman.com