‘Government in the Grocery’ program returns to CD 7

The Colorado Statesman

More than 100 constituents showed up for the return of U.S. Rep. Ed Perlmutter’s “Government in the Grocery” on Saturday at a Lakewood Safeway.

U.S. Rep. Ed Perlmutter, center, tells Lakewood resident Peter Lou about the FasTracks line to DIA during a Government in the Grocery event on Feb. 26 at a Lakewood Safeway. Perlmutter staffers Bill Holen, left, and Jerry Pifer take notes. It was the first event of its kind since U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords was injured and six were killed during a shooting at a similar event in Tucson in January.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman
U.S. Rep. Ed Perlmutter, second from left, prepares to take a photo with Lakewood police and Safeway employees after the return of his Government in the Grocery on Feb. 26 at a Lakewood Safeway on West Colfax Avenue.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman
Nancy Henderson, an Arvada teacher who married U.S. Rep. Ed Perlmutter late last year, catches up with Democratic political consultant Steve Welchert.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman
U.S. Rep. Ed Perlmutter, second from left, meets with constituents in the produce aisle on Feb. 26 at a revived Government in the Grocery event at a Lakewood Safeway. It was the first event of its kind since U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords was injured and six were killed during a shooting at a similar event in Tucson in January.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman
Perlmutter Chief of Staff Danielle Radovitch-Piper, left, chats with Nancy Henderson.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman
Lakewood Police officer Dustin Smith, left, stands watch while Perlmutter’s director of constituent outreach, Jerry Pifer, examines sign-in sheets.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman
A shopper at a Lakewood Safeway gets the attention of U.S. Rep. Ed Perlmutter. She said she wants Congress to do something about Daylight Savings Time because it’s too dark when she goes for her morning run.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman

It was the first event of its kind in the nation since U.S Rep. Gabrielle Giffords was injured outside a Tucson Safeway while meeting constituents in a shooting that killed six and wounded another dozen.

“Probably every other person said, ‘Thank you for doing this, we know what happened in Tucson kind of changed things, and we appreciate you doing this again,’” Perlmutter said after the event, which he extended by two hours to accommodate the crowds.

Of those who attended, roughly 80 filled out cards seeking a five-minute sit-down with Perlmutter, and about half of those made it to the table set up between the supermarket’s floral and produce departments. The congressman’s staff buzzed about — an in-store Starbucks was just feet away — answering questions and initiating casework for constituents who couldn’t wait or who didn’t make it to the chairs across from Perlmutter.

Since taking office in 2007, the Golden Democrat has held more than 70 of the events, but his office cancelled one that had been scheduled three weeks after the Tucson shootings. After meeting with law enforcement and supermarket officials, Perlmutter said he was confident he could resume the program.

Three Lakewood Police officers and several private security agents supplied by Safeway kept a watchful eye on the proceedings — a first for Perlmutter’s grocery store meetings, which have usually drawn about 20 or 30 constituents and have gone on without incident.

“We met with law enforcement, and they felt they could provide reasonable precautions, reasonable security that wouldn’t be an obstacle to customers and anybody else,” Perlmutter said. “We then met with some stores — Safeway, in particular, has taken the lead on everything, they’ve really stepped up to the plate for us.”

“Today’s event was fantastic — we had a lot of people, a lot of good dialogue, and overall we’re very pleased,” said Safeway Director of Public Affairs Kristine Staaf. “It was a little bit more casual in years past, but we’ve really stepped things up,” she added, noting that the smooth proceedings were the result of weeks’ worth of planning. “We would be glad to have the congressman back,” Staaf said after the event.

And what did all those constituents want to talk about?

“It was everything under the sun today,” Perlmutter said after finishing with the last conversation — a man who wanted to know about the FasTracks line to Denver International Airport and also wanted Perlmutter to do what he could about a direct Denver-to-Hong Kong flight — and being waylaid by another shopper on his way to talk to reporters. “The last little lady, she’s buying her water and stops me and says you’ve got to do something about changing Daylight Savings time,” Perlmutter said with a smile, adding that the woman was distressed to have to go on her morning run while it was still dark out.

Other topics included the deficit, immigration — “both pro-immigration and anti-immigration,” Perlmutter noted — rising gas prices, health concerns of former Rocky Flats workers and fears about a potential government shut-down.

Perlmutter said he’s “hopeful” there won’t be a shutdown, that both sides can reach an agreement “that takes into consideration the need to manage the expense side but realize you don’t pay all the bills overnight, that this country has to keep going. We’re focused on it, but there’s no great policy manual on this.”

“If you want to liken it to the family budget,” Perlmutter said, “the breadwinner’s had a heart attack — you’ve got no income and a lot of bills, hospital bills, and you don’t pay those hospital bills overnight, first you get healthy and you start paying them according to some legitimate plan, which we need, but you don’t do it overnight.”

He said he heard “so many different opinions on so many different things, a lot of times conflicting,” noting that he talked to a family with a disabled son who relies on Medicaid and the next constituent told him, “Medicaid isn’t going to work, we should just get rid of it.”

“I’ve got to try to digest all this stuff,” Perlmutter said, “but that’s what the world is all about, that’s how our country operates — differing opinions, you try to come up with the best solution you can. They’re never perfect, but you try to do your best. It helps make me a better representative.”

Liane Rockley, a Lakewood resident and owner of Rockley Music Center just down the street, said she came to talk with Perlmutter about the importance of music education in public schools. “Nothing’s more important to the music business than music education,” she said.

This was the first time she’d attended one of Perlmutter’s grocery store events, though she’s discussed music education with him before.

“I saw this one is so close, I thought, I gotta be here,” she said. “My hat’s off to Ed for braving to be the first one to do this since the shootings in Arizona, and it’s really exciting to see so many people concerned about their government and wanting to have their voices heard.”

Another constituent said she didn’t want to talk with Perlmutter but stopped by the event to let him and his staff know she believed in what they were doing.

“I came just to be supportive,” said Arvada resident Jelena Woehr. “I really appreciate that he does this. I think it’s essential to the fabric of our democracy.” She added that she planned to pick up some groceries while she was there. “I’m happy with Safeway, so I’m going to my shopping while I’m here. I’m glad that they’re supporting him.”

The congressman’s staff collected get-well cards for Giffords and plan to deliver them, along with cards from a fifth-grade class in his district.

Perlmutter said the last conversation he had with Giffords was the day before she was shot, when they traded recommendations on iPad apps, including the one he used to jot down more than 40 pages of notes from Saturday’s meetings.

“She’s making unbelievable progress, but it was a terrible wound,” Perlmutter said, “and for her to be alive is a miracle.” He added that he’s encouraged by her recovery. “She has a couple-hundred word vocabulary and she’s singing ‘Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star’ as part of her rehab.”

Perlmutter’s staff rescheduled the event from a week earlier when debate on the House Republican majority’s spending plan spilled over into the weekend. The next Government in the Grocery is set for March 12 but the location hasn’t been nailed down, said Perlmutter’s spokeswoman Leslie Oliver. She said the office is in discussions with Vitamin Cottage, Whole Foods and Sprouts grocery stores and hopes King Sooper’s gets back on board.

Ernest@coloradostatesman.com