Inaugural party features boots, bolos and barbecue

The Colorado Statesman

At the end of a busy day that began with hand-warmers and hot cocoa in bone-chilling temperatures on the steps of the state Capitol, more than 3,000 revelers toasted Gov. John Hickenlooper’s brand-new administration on Tuesday at an inaugural barbecue and dance followed by a rock concert that lasted until the wee hours.

Gov. John Hickenlooper thanks family and friends at the inaugural barbecue.
Photo by Jody Hope Strogoff/The Colorado Statesman
Former Colorado First Lady Dottie Lamm kicks up her heels on the dance floor with her husband, former Gov. Dick Lamm.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman
Hazel Miller and country-swing artist Halden Wofford get a kick out of entertaining.
Photo by Jody Hope Strogoff/The Colorado Statesman
U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, a Denver Democrat, and House Speaker Frank McNulty, Republican of Highlands Ranch.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman
Aurora City Council member Molly Markert, center, with Morgan Honea, left, and Dave Myers, right, both community health center directors.
Photo by Jody Hope Strogoff/The Colorado Statesman
Colorado State Chancellor Joe Blake, center, shares a laugh with Trisha Macias, executive assistant to the President at CSU-Pueblo, left, and Cora Zaletel, executive director of external affairs at CSU-Pueblo.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman
Former Governor Roy Romer offers advice to Gov. John Hickenlooper, as three former governors — Dick Lamm, Bill Owens and Bill Ritter — wait for their turns at the microphone.
Photo by Jody Hope Strogoff/The Colorado Statesman
Gully Sanford, director of partnerships at College in Colorado, and Dawn Owens, execu- tive director at College in Colorado.
Photo by Jody Hope Strogoff/The Colorado Statesman
Governor John Hickelooper, left, with good friends Jennifer and Mo Siegel, founder of the Celestial Seasonings Tea Company in Boulder.
Photo by Jody Hope Strogoff/The Colorado Statesman

Party-goers of all political stripes mingled at the crowded Fillmore Auditorium on Denver’s Capitol Hill feasted on Colorado-bred delicacies, washed down by an assortment of Colorado wines and beers — including the specially brewed “Inaugurale” courtesy the pioneering brewpub the new governor once owned — to the tune of favorite Colorado musicians. Later, more crowds appeared a couple blocks away at the Ogden Theater to hear the chart-topping local progeny OneRepublic and special guest DeVotchKa.

During a brief interlude at the Fillmore — between scrumptious appetizers and the mouth-watering main dishes, served up buffet-style by caterer Occasions by Sandy — all five of Colorado’s living former governors appeared to offer advice and wish their most recent successor well.

Former Gov. John Vanderhoof, a Republican who governed the state from 1973 to 1975, appeared in a video clip from his home in Grand Junction but the other four took turns on stage.

Three-term Democrat Dick Lamm said the press had been fair to him but warned Hickenlooper about the pitfalls of press conferences. During his early years, he said, a liberal magazine with a miniscule circulation named a U.S. senator from Virginia the “dumbest” member of the upper chamber. “Mother Jones had a circulation of maybe 20 people at the time, and this senator called a national press conference,” Lamm cracked.

He followed that story with what he said was the best advice he could offer: “Don’t screw up on a slow-news day.”

Romer, the Democrat who followed Lamm serving his own three terms (this was before term limits), led off with practical advice: “Get a couch,” he told Hickenlooper. “Get a couch. Take a nap, a 10-minute nap every day. It’s the one way to survive.”

Then Romer riffed on a line from Hickenlooper’s inaugural speech. “Pay attention to your mother,” he said, adding that the lesson the new governor should heed is to “look to the past, bring out those values, and bring them to the kitchen table.” Romer concluded with words of encouragement: “If you can just bring your personality and your leadership to the collective kitchen tables of Colorado, we are going to be a better state for it.”

Former two-term Gov. Bill Owens — the only Republican on stage, he pointed out — got in a dig at Hickenlooper’s municipal duties with a joke about Denver’s ubiquitous bike lanes and the cold evening’s lingering snow. But then Owens, who had famously smooth relations with Hickenlooper when they governed from both sides of Civic Center Park, turned serious. “I don’t have any advice because I know John Hickenlooper knows how to be governor just as he knew how to be mayor,” he said.

Owens closed with what he said was his single best piece of advice: “Never, ever, ever say the entire state is burning, even if it is burning.” He was referring to his own incendiary comments to national press when the state was consumed by forest fires back in 2002.

Former Gov. Bill Ritter, a Democrat who served a single term and had woken up that day still governing the state, noted that the transition had been swift. “When this is over, it’s really over,” he said. It turns out that he and his staff convened at a local tavern after Hickenlooper had been sworn in. Following their mini-celebration, which involved some gifts for Ritter, a waitress stopped him on the way out and wished him a happy birthday.

“I spent the next 20 minutes telling her what I’ve done the last four years,” Ritter cracked.

Hickenlooper said Romer spent an evening discussing the rewards of public service when the nascent politician was a brewpub owner considering a run for mayor. “He did as much as anybody to convince me to take that risk and do it,” Hickenlooper said. “So any time my foot goes in my mouth, you can have Roy Romer to blame.” Colorado’s 42nd governor added that regular conversations with Lamm, Owens and Ritter have helped him navigate the shoals of governing.

From the stage, Hickenlooper thanked a slew of relatives in the crowd, including his in-laws and “some cousins I didn’t know I had,” and noted that Roxane White, his former mayoral chief of staff and current gubernatorial chief of staff, was celebrating a birthday that night. Hickenlooper also acknowledged his transition director John Huggins and thanked powerful backers Barry and Arlene Hirschfeld, Steve and Cindy Farber and Blair and Kristin Richardson.

Hickenlooper closed his remarks saying his team was ready to get to work the next day. “What’s going to happen for the next four years is, either we’re going to succeed in reinventing government, or we’re not,” he said.

At first the lines were long but the food kept coming, offering diners an adventuresome taste of hearty Mile High fare. Dishes assembled entirely from Colorado ingredients included pulled pork, brisket bathed in a tangy sauce made with Stranahan’s whiskey, and mouth-watering vegetarian tamales that encased a local goat cheese. Sides included an aggressive macaroni and cheese studded with green chiles, skillet corn bread also incorporating green chile chunks, and the renowned mandarin orange salad featured in the Colorado Cache cookbook (the oranges came from out of state, the caterer acknowledged). Capping the culinary celebration were chocolate donut holes encrusted in crumbled toffee made by Enstrom’s.

Dancers kept the floor packed through the night to the sounds of local R&B luminary the Hazel Miller Band and boot-stomping country-swing artists Halden Wofford and the Hi-Beams.

Tickets to the inaugural dinner-dance were $100 and anything left over after expenses went to three charities, according to Hickenlooper’s inaugural committee. The beneficiaries are the Governor's Residence Preservation Fund, the Latin American Education Foundation and Food Bank of the Rockies.

Ernest@coloradostatesman.com