Champagne, chocolate and lively conversation

The Colorado Statesman

Jefferson County Democrats usually have their annual Champagne and Chocolate celebration in December between Christmas and New Year’s since the early ’90s, and this time it was held on the 29th of December. Mike Armstrong, former chair of the Jeffco Dems, apparently began the tradition by serving hors d’ oeuvres, and then people started bringing chocolates. Eventually longtime Democratic activist Judi Butz took over at her home in the mountains and continued it for many years.

Teacher Nancy Henderson and Rep. Ed Perlmutter enjoy their first holiday season as a married couple.
Photo by Kimberly Dean/The Colorado Statesman
Dona and Daniel Chilcoat talk with their daughter, Elizabeth, a Five Points resident.
Photo by Kimberly Dean/The Colorado Statesman
Chair of the Jeffco Dems, Ann Knollman, with Sen. Evie Hudak of Senate District 9.
Photo by Kimberly Dean/The Colorado Statesman
Vice Chair Julia Hicks nibbles on hors d’oeuvres at Champagne and Chocolate.
Photo by Kimberly Dean/The Colorado Statesman

Now held at the home of Daniel and Dona Chilcoat in Lakewood, the event seems to have grown in popularity, attracting several generations of Democrats. The idea is that the host provides the snacks, champagne and sparkling cider, and the guests bring their favorite holiday chocolates to share. I love champagne, but chocolate wins out every time. I gravitated to the chocolate table immediately after being greeted by Daniel Chilcoat, looking dapper in a suit with a red holiday tie, as well as his lovely wife, Dona.

On display in the kitchen I found some Ferrero Rocher sweet chocolates, chocolate truffles, cookies, and even M&Ms. I also tried the caramel corn because, well, it was there. I also got to meet Vice Chair Julia Hicks, and hear her fun stories. Apparently her cousin is married to Gladys Knight and lives in Asheville, North Carolina. She said she was once invited to a dinner at their home and Barack Obama was to be the guest of honor. She said Obama loves Asheville.

Whether or not this is true, Hicks also said that NASCAR got started there because of the crazy way cars had to navigate the Blue Ridge Mountains, and that moonshine used to be run up and down the ridge swiftly in order to evade the police. Moonshine! I’ve tasted it once, and I can tell you it could be used for gasoline to start a race car!

Washing some of it down with champagne (the stories as well as the food), I met the bartender, Liz Geisleman, who has been treasurer of the Jefferson County Democrats for the past year and a half, and works as the marketing director for a chemical plant in Golden. She said the business has grown significantly over the past two years because of the economy. Since businesses are sourcing locally as much as they can, as well as becoming more environmentally responsible, the local chemical plant is doing very well.

Near the champagne table and upright piano I sat speaking with Ann Knollman, chair of the Jefferson County Democrats, about what it’s like to live in Colorado compared with other states. She introduced me to Senator Evie Hudak of Senate District 9, who was looking regal yet festive that evening in a dark suit with a snowflake broach and as friendly as she could be. I asked the Senator how she liked her job. With conviction she said, “I love it!”

Originally a New Yorker like myself, I was immediately intrigued. With champagne in hand Hudak told me the story of how she always wanted to be involved in politics. She was 9 years old when she watched her first Democratic National Convention. After serving eight years on the school board, she rarely received unpleasant phone calls from her district constiuents. Now she says she is surprised and disappointed at the level of discontent she receives in phone messages from the general public. “Total disdain,” she called it with a look of disgust. Hudak says it seems a bit unfair sometimes when legislators are pressed to “make snap decisions without much time to deliberate,” but she doesn’t let that deter her. She is there to do a job.

I also met Hari Uttley, second vice chair of the Jeff Co Dems, and her husband, Scott, who seemed to be smiling the entire evening while socializing with friends. Dave Thomas, president of the Jeff Co School Board and former congressional candidate and District Attorney of Jefferson County was also there, unfortunately a bit camera-shy.

Also in the house were U.S. Rep. Ed Permutter and his new bride, Nancy Henderson who described herself as a “classroom teacher.” She teaches mathematics at Pomona High School. The happy couple apparently married the day after Thanksgiving. Sounds better than saying Black Friday, doesn’t it? I asked the newlyweds to pose for a photo together while they told me how they’ve been unpacking and merging their two worlds. It was very sweet.

Wearing a fun leopard print skirt and conservative black blouse, Margaret T. Chapman, Public Trustee, was also in attendance with her husband, Bill. When she heard I was with The Statesman, she started giving me statewide foreclosure rates, basically telling me they were down. Not by much, but they were coming down for sure, which is great news for everyone. Happily wandering around in his leather vest and socializing, Mr. Chapman’s name tag read, “Just call me Mr. Margaret,” but he took off that sticker before posing for a photo op. This crowd obviously doesn’t take themselves too seriously around the holidays, and that’s a good thing.