InnerView

Martha Ezzard: Lawyer, journalist, Colorado elected official, and now wine grower in the land of sweet tea

The Colorado Statesman

Many people will remember Martha Ezzard from her days as an elected state senator from Cherry Hills Village in the 1980s and her subsequent run for the Republican nomination for the U.S. Senate in 1986. Two years later, Ezzard was a candidate for Congress in the suburban 6th Congressional District, this time as the Democratic nominee.

Ezzard has enjoyed a varied career, combining her background in journalism, the law and politics. She served as a press aide to former Gov. John Love, practiced law at a major firm, ran for the U.S. Senate, penned a column for the Atlanta Journal & Constitution, and is now a pioneer in the world of fine wine from the terroir of a Southern family farm in rural Georgia.

Along with her physician husband John, the couple resides in Tiger Mountain, Georgia where they own a farm winery bearing the same name. Ezzard recently wrote a book called The Second Bud which chronicles her experiences trying to save their fifth-generation family farm and cultivate a budding wine crop, a completely new venture for the city professional who returned to the land.

Martha Ezzard, 1988 Democratic nominee for Congress from CD 6 and former resident of Cherry Hills, has had a bountiful and fruitful life. Here she toasts her latest vineyard venture with her husband, Dr. John Ezzard.
Photo Courtesy of Martha Ezzard

Ezzard was recently in Denver to promote the book at The Tattered Cover on Colfax. She sat down with The Colorado Statesman beforehand to talk about her current life on the farm and to share her thoughts on politics almost three dozen years after having first been elected to the legislature.

Colorado Statesman: It’s been a while since we saw you last. What have you been doing since leaving Colorado?

Martha Ezzard: My life is really absorbed in this farm and my writing and John… When I left Colorado I went to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and I was on the editorial board and so for 10 years I had a regular political column and weekly column — it went out on the New York Times wire and I had a great time with it because pontificating about an issue is a lot easier than voting on it! So I had fun with that, and then it just got so busy up at the winery because Atlanta is about an hour and 45 minutes from the farm.

John had traded his busy city medical practice here for a part-time country one in this town where he grew up. Nobody leaves their day jobs to run a business so we were both still working and I kept writing even after I moved. We built a house in the vineyards and our daughter, Shelly, who is an artist, designed it, which was lots of fun.

CS: It really is a family affair.

ME: It is. I was racing back and forth in all that traffic only on weekends so I finally decided I was going back to the farm and I wrote part time. I still had a contract with the AJC. So I did continue writing for a couple of years but then I started on this book. I did some freelance writing for magazines and I didn’t continue with the paper because, as you well know, papers have hit upon hard times.

Martha Ezzard, former state senator from Cherry Hills Village, holds a bunch of grapes that she and her family grew at the Tiger Mountain Vineyards of North Georgia. The Ezzards are now in the wine business.
Photo Courtesy of Martha Ezzard

CS: Yeah.

ME: They did not really want part-timers… You know, if you’re not in the crush and rush of the daily events, it’s really hard to write from afar. I did some special projects for them, including sleeping in the top of a tree and doing a series called The Trees of our Lives (laughs). That was one of the more fun things I did. Our editor, Ron Martin at the time, had something called Special Projects and if you could come up with an idea he would let you have about two months off to just work on that and nothing else.

CS: Nice!

ME: Yeah, he really cared about good writing. He’s no longer at the AJC. I was an environmental lawyer here and so I had written all of these things about Atlanta, the City of Trees. They were just razing the trees for development and I wrote about the science and the regulations and the pollution. And it was just like this is putting people to sleep, and one day it occurred to me, probably because I grew up in Georgia. My grandfather, in south Georgia, used to give directions by trees. You know, “Go down here to this old oak tree and turn…” People in the south particularly have tree stories, they get really attached to trees.

CS: Interesting.

ME: So I just went around and collected tree stories and all of the incredible things people had done to try to save old trees or particular trees… it was fun. And so I kicked it off with the Tree Climbers International, sleeping at the top of a 200-foot tulip poplar.

CS: Sleeping in it?

ME: Well, the Tree Climbers International is a group that also strives to save trees and they have training programs. And the woman I trained a little bit with was teaching Girl Scouts to climb trees. They tie like hammocks. But they’re very sturdy, they’re more like military. And they go up and they test all the limbs and then I think there were about six of us there that night. It’s like a window washer, you have a saddle… The worst thing that could happen to you was you’ll hang by the saddle you’re sitting in. And so that was really fun.

Mary Grace Wake, Shera Eddy, Gail Karsian, Maggie Dillon, Carol Spensley and Scottie Iverson flank author Martha Ezzard, center, at a book signing event at the Tattered Cover on Colfax last month. Ezzard was in Denver to promote her book The Second Bud.

CS: You’ve got a history of the farm down in Georgia in your family?

ME: It was kind of interesting because this farm dates to the 1830s but it is my husband’s family’s farm. So when I was young we’d go back to the farm and I thought all the women were snapping beans on the front porch (laughs) and I just thought, I won’t do this. My mother-in-law actually had a PhD but she spent hours on watermelon rind preserves. Wonderful people. But John was born on this farm in a little farm house and he grew up there milking cows in the dairy farm that we’ve now restored and have a little Red Barn Café there as part of our winery facility.

And that’s a barn his grandfather and his father built. (Points to photos in her book). This land has always been part of my husband’s soul, I mean what can I say? It wasn’t just any piece of earth, it was that piece of earth that John grew up on and loved. And then his parents became ill, his mom had died… There were five kids to the family but we knew that John was the only one who was in any kind of position to keep it from being developed. The family was really cooperative, none of them wanted to see that. So it had been a dairy farm when John was growing up and his father was that generation that kept getting called back into the wars, you know, he fought in World War II, he fought in Korea.

He stayed in the army and retired as a lieutenant colonel. But then he went back to the farm and while he was gone, John’s grandparents kept it up. And it’s a beautiful rolling, southern Blue Ridge farm and it has been [filled] with apple orchards, corn and beans, Christmas trees (laughs), you know? I have to say my move was not entirely unselfish. John wanted to get back to the farm but I made the move before he was probably quite ready to go in terms of his medical practice because I was really sick, both of my law practice, and a little weary of politics. And so I wanted to get back to my writing because I had been a journalist first. I was press aide to Governor Love, that’s where I got started. I had graduated in journalism before I went to law school. I wanted to get back to my writing, I knew that, and then I had this great offer.

I wrote a letter to the editor of the paper and sent some writing samples. In fact, I sent him a column that I wrote for The Colorado Statesman. I remember that so well, and I often say to my children, “If you like to write you’ve got to keep writing because if you have something published it doesn’t have to be the New York Times.” And I sent him a couple of columns. Frankly, I would never have thought in those days of applying to the Denver Post because I felt like I had a lot of political baggage, I have a checkered past (laughs). And I just wouldn’t have thought… Now people make those switches all the time from media to politics to media.

I remember the column I sent, it was one I wrote when George H.W. Bush decided to go into Kuwait. It was about war. My son was home from college and we went down to the capitol to some kind of a protest because I really thought at that time that war should be a last resort and that they hadn’t tried everything else. The children were grown, and I thought “I really want to get back to my writing.” On a lark I just wrote the AJC a letter. I was so sick of these briefs and motions. And I said, “What I’d really be good at now is being on the editorial board.”

I really didn’t think I’d hear from him. Lo and behold, he called me up and said, “You have a really interesting background for an editorial writer.” He didn’t offer me a plane ticket but he said, “Why don’t you stop by some time?” So it kind of went from there.

Susan Kirk, Richard Kirk and Ellie Greenberg attend friend Martha Ezzard’s book signing event at The Tattered Cover on Colfax in March.

CS: Just out of curiosity are you still a registered Democrat?

ME: I am, oh yes. We have a little group in our small conservative community. It’s a cute little gender group. We’re in Rabun County, so we call ourselves The Rabun Ls, the Rabun Liberals (laughs). Sam Nunn’s daughter, Michelle, is going to run for the U.S. Senate in Georgia so it would be a miracle if a Democrat could win. But if anybody could, Sam Nunn or some more conservative Democrat. And we do know him, we do interface with some of the political people. But our lives are really caught up in… I mean as John says, when you grow beans and corn you don’t have to plant them the next year but when you plant a grapevine, it is year round. We’re pruning right now and we won’t be through until the end of March… and it’s not like we’re going to put a zillion dollars in and start a vineyard, we really did the ground work.

CS: Do you like it?

ME: I love it and I really love the beauty of the area and we have nice hiking and birding groups and I love the outdoors. And I love the wine… and growing it is kind of like sharing a piece of the earth. I think the locally grown movement has really helped us too because if you want local foods you want local wine. But I do miss the city. I like my Starbucks and my New York Times and get the Tiger Food Mart Biscuit (laughs) and Farm Bureau News. So it was a little bit of a hard adjustment but we’re not that far away.

CS: Is it a lot different than growing grapes in California?

ME: Totally different. It’s much more humid, and we don’t have quite as long… Our grapes bud out in April and then we harvest in September. Now out in California they’re budding out probably in March, ours are more like mid-April if we don’t have to fight late frost. It’s interesting people, and John loves getting his hands in the earth and that has been fun. It’s sort of his time of life (laughs), he was so supportive of all the crazy things I did and so that has been great. Of course when we first took over the farm and then John said, “Well you know, it’s always been cultivated,” and we wanted to grow something, I said, “What about apples, peaches?”

While I was kind of busy pounding away at the paper, he went to Virginia. That was another special project I did. There were five newspapers, we backpacked the entire Appalachian Trail in relay fashion and we wrote a book called An Appalachian Adventure. So I guess my new substitute for skiing was hiking.

But anyway, Virginia has a lot of great wineries and it’s way ahead of the other southern states and so he went to Virginia and someone told him about this fellow who’d spent a lot of time studying wine grapes. We were in the business of growing Muscadines or sweet grapes, so that is what people had thought of in Georgia. You have to be at a certain altitude to grow the dry fine wines. That’s what John went to do, to his credit. And so then he came home babbling about grapes I had never heard of; Tannat and Touriga Nacional and I just thought, huh? We’re going to be selling these out of the back of the pickup! (laughs)

But it turned out that he was right because you can grow fine European wine grapes in the southeast but you need to be careful what you plant. We don’t grow Merlot, we don’t grow Chardonnay and so we don’t grow some of the more common ones. And I wondered if anybody would buy these wines when we opened the winery. But it turns out that not only did we have quality fruit, because he picked what would go with our kind of soils, but people were interested in having something different. They’d say, “Wow, I’ve never tasted Tannat,” for example.

CS: Have you always been a wine enthusiast?

ME: I wish I could tell you I have but John and I were… Oh, we belonged to a couple of supper gourmet groups or something — when we were in Colorado would pair wine and food, and we drank wine when we’d go out for dinner. But to tell you we had a great cellar or that we were great wine connoisseurs, we weren’t. Frankly, what John was interested in was the growing. And so we did have a consultant.

We’re really small, we produce about 2,500 cases a year and we have a staff of three, except for part-time vineyard workers.

But John really has a good chemistry background and read a lot, visited with different wine people a lot. We’ve been to Burgundy and Bordeaux a few times. What we do is more similar to what’s being done in the small vineyards of Europe; we do everything by hand then, and the climate and soils are more like Burgundy than California, because California is just such a different kind of an environment, so dry and rocky and…

CS: Have you been down to the Grand Valley in Colorado?

ME: I haven’t and I feel cheated. We enter contests and I see Colorado wines winning awards. And I think that’s great and that’s new.

CS: It’s a rural economic development thing down there.

ME: This is too, where we are in north Georgia. John was a pioneer, now we have about 14 vineyards and maybe 10 wineries and they’re all planting. I think we’re what they call one of the emerging wine states.

CS: There are some wineries and vineyards in Palisade and there’s kind of a cottage industry, some wine hotels and you’ve got a really large wine festival down there in September of every year.

ME: We have a Winegrowers Association Spring Wine Highway but our bigger economic base is our wine club — we have about 2,000 members now. And I remember when we said, “Oh, if we could just get a hundred people to join this wine club.” (laughs).

CS: 2,000 people in one wine club?

ME: A lot of them are couples so it’s probably more like 1,200 or 1,500. I expect the Palisades area has the same thing. You want people to be regular buyers so they join the wine club and by buying a case up front, they get 20 percent off. They have to buy another case the first year and then after that they have to only buy one case a year to stay in the club.

And they get 20 percent off on everything they buy, they never have to pay a tasting fee so they get rewards. And we have a couple of huge parties, one is in the book, the Awakening the Vines, that will bring 300 to 400 people to our vineyards and the parties are for our wine club and their guests and media and the stores and all. Our wine’s now in Savannah, Augusta, they’re all over Georgia.

CS: Who does the marketing, how do you get them into restaurants?

ME: You’re looking at the marketing department for Tiger Mountain. But we’ve gotten a lot of great free publicity, we do run a few ads and we have a broadcast email list for our wine company and for about 1,500.

CS: And of course when you were running for office here we didn’t have email.

ME: That would have been a dream come true, wouldn’t it? Isn’t it amazing how far we’ve come?

CS: And when you ran it was before websites.

ME: We don’t do Twitter but we have a Facebook and then there are a number of free websites that run, the Juice is one of them. We have the Georgia Winegrowers Association and they run a calendar of events and we do pourings and wine tastings. We’re in, I’m proud to say, all the Whole Foods. In Georgia but not out here (laughs). We don’t have a distributor out here and it wouldn’t be worth it to us. The wine laws are so complicated that when you go into another state you have to have a distributor authorized to sell in that state and you can’t just go in and sell — even if you have a Georgia wholesale license, I can’t go into North Carolina to sell.

CS: I imagine the learning curve is somewhat…

ME: Very steep (laughs). We just learn as we go. And we have partners on the business side of the winery and without their investment side it would have been hard, so that was good. We’ve poured everything back into it, it’s a capital intensive business and I guess our worry now is what’s going to happen to it when we’re hobbling around (laughs). But we’re glad we have Lisa, though, and all of our kids are interested but they have their own lives so…

CS: Lisa’s the one who got married to…

ME: To the farmer, yeah, up the road, um-hmm.

CS: And Shelly?

ME: Shelly’s husband is our in-house connoisseur. He has a great wine cellar. He’s a doctor and he took over John’s practice, so he’s a urologist. And he now is in this Colorado urology practice. I remember when Shelly started dating Brian he was in medical school but then when he went into urology and I said, “How about ophthalmology or something more conversational?” (laughs). But that really enabled John to phase out. John and I commuted for three years, Denver to Atlanta to make this work. He was out here and I was in Atlanta in my condo. I took the job at the paper. Well, it was too much for one guy so we had to wait for Brian to find a new partner and the first one Brian found went into academic medicine at the last minute so it was really a three-year wait. But you know, it worked.

Barbara Holme, who served in the state Senate with Martha Ezzard during the 1980s, waits to get The Second Bud signed by author Ezzard.

CS: Was that tough?

ME: Well, it got old but we promised not to let more than two weeks go by without one or the other of us coming. And I remember John would pick me up, take me to a nice restaurant. The Normandy. I used to love that place and I said, “You know, when I was hanging around Denver you didn’t do this,” (laughs). But he started planting the grapes before he actually got there full time. It takes three years before you can harvest and we did so much of the work ourselves. We had one farmhand, we’ve got 1,500 plants. We actually did the work. We’re small, we only have about 10 acres of grapes. Now we have two growers in our county because we like to be 100 percent Georgia grown, so we have maybe 12 acres producing but that’s still small. That’s all we want (laughs).

The local food movement has really helped us get into some top restaurants in Atlanta because there are chefs who are doing fresh and local and they want a local wine if they can find one to go with. But it was hard at first, wherever we went people would say, “Oh, what kind of Muscadine are you growing?”

CS: Can you discern the different varieties of wine yourself?

ME: We can now. At first it was hard. And what’s really interesting, I think, in terms of a taste of the earth is that a Cabernet Franc, which we grow and is a really good east coast wine grown at Tiger, is not one to taste like a Cabernet Franc grown in France at the Loire Valley. They’re both really good, they have similar qualities but that’s all about the dirt and the soil.

CS: What are you going to be talking about at the book signing?

ME: The idea of taking a giant risk. In this day and age we all have a chance to change careers. People thought we were crazy to leave all of our Colorado contacts and we loved it here, we loved Denver… it’s the idea that sometimes that works, it’s not financially infeasible, I think people ought to do it. And then the second one is saving a family farm has been really rewarding. John and I both love the outdoors and we’re pretty good environmentalists and so saving green space and conserving a family farm is important.

But what I learned from my husband that I think is maybe even more important is it isn’t just saving the farm, it is the values that family farms represent that are sort of part of the fabric of America. We have the most authentic, down-home kind of people around us. We still have some hayfields on our farm, we have blueberries, we have the box in front that says, “Put your money in the box and pick your own blueberries.” Well, that dates generations and we still do it. It restores your faith in humanity, they just put their money in the box. And they’re organic blueberries!

There are wonderful people there, the farmers and the old-timers, but there’s also a nice new arts community and there are a lot of professional people. We are fortunate in terms of the business to be near three major resorts. North Georgia is kind of like… what’s that area north of New York where everybody goes, the Catskills? Everybody is flooding into North Georgia’s recreation. We are near two lakes, Lake Rabun and Lake Burton and then we are near Highlands, North Carolina, which you may have heard of. We call it our little Aspen, it’s a beautiful town, resort area. And those people come to our winery. We have a distributor now, so we’re not selling directly, but in Georgia we have a distributor. And we do sell a little bit in North Carolina — we have a guy up there who is a small distributor but it’s only because it’s so close, we don’t sell all over North Carolina. We are lucky in that we sell 80, 85 percent out the door so we don’t have that middlemen deal. We’re in Fresh Market, Whole Foods, small gourmet shops that are interested in a little boutique wine.

CS: Is it really different down there?

ME: Well, Atlanta is very cosmopolitan, but rural Georgia is still very, very conservative and I think religion plays still a much larger role in the South than it does maybe in some other parts of the country. And I mean on the good side. Especially our rural community, a very family oriented place, lots of community picnics and things. In our little community we have a potluck dinner where everybody brings a dish. We just talk and I’ll take a couple of bottles of our wine. It’s not by-laws, is not an organization, it’s just kind of a sharing. We have all kinds of local farmers markets now. It’s wonderful. I wrote a little cookbook with a fellow, a local chef. He goes to the farms that locally grow their own food. I belong to Georgia Organics.

CS: Is your farm organic?

ME: Our blueberries are but we don’t really grow anything but blueberries. We have some old Concorde grapes and we are moving more in that direction. John put red worm cuttings on the soil this year and we’re trying to use more organic fertilizer. You’ve got to fertilize a lot with grapes, they don’t like real rich soil. And I have grown two rows. We have one Native American grape, we have I think seven others that are French, and you buy the little plants. But this one Native American grape, you can put right in the ground, it’s called Norton, and it was grown at Monticello.

We call it our Thomas Jefferson grape, but it’s a dry red wine, it’s not sweet. And so I’d asked John if I could take two rows and would he please not spray them at all? We have so many varmints in the South that he does spray some systemic things to get rid of Japanese beetles and mildew, and so the Norton is much hardier. And we have just bottled my 24 cases of Norton. I put milky spores down on the ground, that’s organic for Japanese beetles and my leaves have more holes in them, but this is a very prolific grape and I decided that if I lost a few leaves it wouldn’t matter, and it hasn’t. And so they’ll just have a little sticker on them that says, “Grown chemically free,” but they’re not totally organic.

CS: After you harvest the grapes who turns them into wine?

ME: We do everything. We have an assistant winemaker to John, we have a winery manager who does the tasting room and the business. And then we have one full-time farm worker, then Lisa is now doing a lot with the wine, she studied a little bit about winemaking, and she is the special events person. So this Red Barn Café has been a big boost for our business because it makes us more of a destination.

And it’s darling because it’s a barn and the doors open up, wherever you sit you can see the vineyards. It’s only open for lunch on Saturday, Sunday and dinner Friday night but we have some special wine dinners out there. And we just hire a caterer. John and I don’t want to be in the restaurant business, so it works. Lisa manages all of that.

CS: Did you get hit with that cold spell that had snow in Atlanta? Did it affect your grapes?

ME: Our grapes love cold, we do not mind cold in the winter. What we mind is a warm March and early bud growth because then in April, given that we are at 2,000 feet… Doesn’t sound much to you but in Georgia, our mountain is probably 2,800 feet and we’re right by the slopes of the mountain. They will bud out if they get too warm in March, and then we’ll have a late frost and we are out there with smudge pots all night. The Japanese beetles John has to spray for, they make lace of your leaves overnight with the late frost. April is a very nerve wracking month for us. And then we have black bears.

The more development there is in the mountains, the more bears we seem to have. So we’ve had trouble with that, they love grapes. They don’t even bother with it until it’s harvest.

CS: Do you belong to a wine association?

ME: We participate in the Winegrowers Association of Georgia, better known as WAG (laughs). And we have won about 200 awards since 2001. And two years ago, 2012, we won a Double Gold Best of Class in the Los Angeles International. So John said, “Thank heavens for blind tastings or they’d never give a Georgia winery that.”

We have gotten ourselves on the map with some of those awards. There are two or three other wineries in Georgia that are winning awards in some significant contests. And I think some of the West Slope wineries are entering and winning some of those too. We have a couple of wineries in Georgia that have huge estates and chandeliers and all that, they do weddings and conventions. We are not that kind of winery, we really try to be a farm winery, so we really try to just focus on wine. But we are glad to have this little barn — we saved all the old barn wood, it was really cute.

CS: Sounds like you’re pretty busy these days…

ME: Well you know, I probably have 10 book signings this spring, it’s been great, more than I thought. And I have been to places like Savannah, which is a really good town to be in. I’m pleased about the book, but don’t hold your breath until it’s on the New York Times Bestseller List (laughs). It was a story I wanted to share because I think it’s encouraging. It came out the end of October. It’s selling really well. I love supporting the independent bookstores and I’ve been to a number of book festivals; Nashville, New Orleans, I’m going to one in Columbia, South Carolina. It is on Amazon and it is also on Barnes and Noble, on the web.

Down to Politics

CS: Do you miss the Legislature?

ME: No I do not miss the Legislature. But I do love public affairs and you’ll find me reading the New York Times and reading a lot of the political books. And as we speak, I have a bumper sticker on my little yellow farm truck that one of my friends gave me that says, “I’m ready for Hillary.” You know, Hillary Clinton taped Primetime Live in our home many years ago. When we moved downtown, kids were grown, we moved to 9th Avenue, and I had been a Democratic candidate. And somebody who was raising money for Hillary called… This was at the height of the Gennifer Flowers affair. Was it Gennifer Flowers? I think that was the first one.

CS: Yeah.

ME: And I was at Davis, Graham & Stubbs and Gary Hart was at Davis, Graham & Stubbs too. Somebody called and said, “Hillary is in town and Sam Donaldson wants to do a show with her and we need a nice setting downtown because she’s staying in some hotel…” And so they asked if she could come to my house and I said, “Sure,” and so it was just very interesting because that was the first time I really met her or anything. And then she came back later and spoke again when we had something at our house, I don’t know if it was for Roy Romer or for… But she was really good in that interview…

And Sam was so funny. He came in and ABC News had set up the whole thing, all the white sofas in the living room. And he turned to me and he said, “You know, I can’t sit on that sofa. Barbara Walters could do that but I can’t do that.” He said, “I need a chair.” I said, “Look, all my chairs are yours,”(laughs). And it was like the Three Bears. ABC got one chair, it was a wingback — he’s short and it was too tall, the next chair was too… It was hysterical. And finally they went upstairs and got a chair out of my teenage son’s room and it had ballpoint ink spots on it. And I said, “Well, what if my mother-in-law’s watching?” It was pretty interesting.

Attorney Mike Massey, former Arapahoe County GOP chairman in the late 1970s and Martha Ezzard’s longtime friend, waits to get his book signed by the author at the Tattered Cover.

CS: Do you have any regrets changing party affiliation?

ME: No, I don’t have any at all. I’m glad that I resigned my seat to do it. I still believe that part of what influences your vote is what party you’re voting for and so I’m a believer in the two-party system. And I don’t have any regrets about it. You know, I served as press aide to Governor John Love, a pro-choice, pro-ERA, good environmentalist Republican governor and then I grew up in the south and when I was old enough to vote I registered Republican for one reason. My mother, thank goodness, had been reasonable on race. And so I thought I was joining the party of Lincoln, the party of Teddy Roosevelt, and then I felt the party left me. I resigned my seat when the Christian Voice started sending me Bible verses on how to vote. And I remember saying to John, “You know, this is not politics as usual, this is really dangerous stuff and this is not me — the party has left me.” Right after I left the Republican Party, Duane Woodard, the sitting attorney general, left also. And I thought at that time, this party cannot go any further right.

CS: Yeah, well who knew, right?

ME: I’ll never forget what Steve Durham (former Republican legislator from Colorado Springs) said to me when I changed parties. Somebody told him I had resigned my seat and changed parties and he said, “What? She’s becoming a Republican?” (laughs) I have to hand it to Steve, he was fun to work with.

CS: And then you went on to run for the U.S. Senate…

ME: I ran for the U.S. Senate, and lost the nomination in 1986. By 19 votes and I lost it to Ken Kramer who fancied himself the father of Star Wars and who belonged to the Christian Voice. Go figure, I mean he was a lovely Jewish man, I do not know why he belongs to the Christian Voice. A nice man. I liked him. But my spoiler was Terry Considine. I probably would have made the ballot if he had not come in and run. And I liked Terry too, but he came in at the last minute and he was Bo Callaway’s son-in-law, so there were lots of fun cartoons about Bo Callaway being chairman of the party. I have one of those where Terry is in it and Bo is in the ring, it’s a boxing ring. It says, “Okay, a fair fight,” and Terry looks up and says, “Right, dad,” (laughs).

I think I probably shouldn’t have run for Congress in ’88. I ran against Dan Schaefer and he was the sitting incumbent. And the Democrats, of course, begged me to run and I was the nominee, I had no primary. But you know, things have changed so much. I don’t even know if I raised $500,000 when I ran for that congressional seat against Schaefer.

CS: That’s nothing these days.

ME: I would hate it, you’d be dialing for dollars all the time. My concern is that both parties keep moderates in them because I think the vast majority of the country is moderate. I remember an article I used to quote from by Walter Lippmann way back, famous journalist who said, “The reason the two-party system has survived is because both parties have always had room for the middle.” And that was back when Franklin Roosevelt was trying to pack the Supreme Court, he was really talking about the Democrats trying to get rid of the New Dealers.

But I think the Republicans have really driven out the middle and that is very sad to me because I’m probably still a more conservative Democrat. I am not crazy about a lot of regulation and big government entities and I’m probably still more fiscally conservative than a lot of Democrats are. But I also think, because I spent a lot of my life, as have wonderful women out here like Dottie Lamm and lots of others, trying to stand up for women’s issues; for equal pay, for equal rights, for choice. And all of those issues I feel so sad to see that we are still fighting those battles. So that is really distressing to me and I do try to keep up with those groups in Georgia and I do go to some of the women’s groups there, but I’m not directly involved in any of the politics.

My daughter is very involved politically in education issues and accountability and she’s working with some legislators in Colorado on some education issues that she finds controversial. I think maybe because she feels, as I did, that our kids all got such a good education in the Cherry Creek schools and now some of the funding issues are really tough.

CS: At the legislature we now have term limits, so that has changed things.

ME: You do have more women, though, don’t you?

CS: We do. In fact Colorado, I think, has more women legislators than I think any other state legislature.

ME: I remember when I was first elected to the Colorado Senate there were only two women. That was 1980. I only served in the House one term, ‘78, ‘80, then I went to the Senate and Ruth Stockton and… I believe it was Barbara Holme. And then Claire [Traylor] came right after that, I may be mixed up, it could have been Claire and Barbara came after that. But there were the four of us for quite a while and not many more.

I love Barbara. She was a smart lady. And you know, one of the nice things about Colorado is the four-year terms for the Senate. That’s not true in Georgia, most states it’s two years. All they’re doing is raising money for reelection, can’t get anything done. So I was always grateful for that.

When I ran for the House the first time I replaced Betty Anne Dittemore, I think she was a whip or something. She’d gotten a little ways up there for her time, and she said to me, “You know, Martha…” — she was kind of crusty — “Martha,” she said, “The first time you run you run because you think you can do something for the people.” And she said, “Every time after that you just run to get back at folks.” (laughs). I just thought that was hysterical, and it’s kind of the way I feel about it now, you’re just trying to get back at everybody.

CS: The marijuana legalization. Were you surprised it passed?

ME: I cannot believe that. I don’t understand how that ever got through, I don’t get it, I don’t get it. We get all kinds of national news about that…

I was flabbergasted, I don’t think of Colorado as that kind of state. And I don’t particularly like it. I don’t have young children growing up here now but it seems to me it just sends a message that it’s okay. And of course my husband, being in the medical profession thinks you can pickle your brain that way. I’m not a scientist so I don’t know, but if you start with marijuana it can lead you to other drugs and it seems that that is kind of a green light to people who are more addiction prone.

I just think it’s horrible, I am shocked, really. I’m down in the Bible Belt, trust me… I mean what is funny is when John told me he was going to grow wine grapes I thought, you’re going to grow wine grapes in the land of sweet tea? And we’ve got the Baptist Church right down the street (laughs). You know, it’s really a conservative little community and I just thought you’ve got to be crazy. I grew up in Atlanta, and my mother grew up in south Georgia near Jimmy Carter’s home, a little town. I don’t think my parents ever had a drop to drink. My father might have drunk beer now and then but they would go to the office Christmas party and my father would be angry if mother didn’t take a little glass of wine because that was kind of what you should do. And she would go pour it in the flowerpot when nobody was looking (laughs), she never drank it. So I come from the southern Baptist family.

Whatever happened to Roy Romer?

Denver City Councilman Charlie Brown, vintner/author Martha Ezzard and Suzanne Brown pose at the Tattered Cover on Colfax Avenue in Denver after the book signing in March.
Photos by Jody Hope Strogoff/The Colorado Statesman

CS: He’s still around.

ME: He went out to L.A., I know.

CS: Oh, he went out to L.A. but he’s been back for awhile.

ME: You know, I ran into him when I was backpacking on the Appalachian Trail. It was in the early ‘90s. He was still governor at that time. I was doing that newspaper story and I backpacked half of it with my daughter and half with my son, 80 miles. There were five newspapers involved.

We were crossing the Blue Ridge Parkway, it was raining, and a car pulled up right to where we were crossing. It was the only place we ran into civilization. And I looked up and there was Roy Romer driving the car, so I knocked on the window and I said, “Governor Romer, it’s Martha Ezzard!” And you know who was in the car with him? BJ. [Thornberrry, his former chief of staff.]

And he said, “Oh, you remember BJ, don’t you?”

I thought yeah, indeed I do remember BJ.

He said, “I was just showing BJ this beautiful parkway.”

Well, the fog was like this thick, you could not see anything. It’s just very funny because of course I never saw Governor Romer driving a car because he always had a driver. And then he said — I’ll never forget it, it was just a weird conversation — and then he said, “Well, I had to come back here to check on my John Deere stores.” I know he does own some John Deere stores in Colorado. So I just thought…

This was before it came out in the press (that Romer and Thornberry were romantically involved) and it did cross my mind to write something about it. Then I thought no, don’t do that. But I had fun with it because he said, “And Martha, I know you moved back to Atlanta, but I’ve forgotten what you’re doing.” I was about to get the hang of this. I said, “Oh, I’m with the newspaper, governor,” (laughs).

CS: Does John get out to Colorado much?

ME: He comes out, he still loves to fish up on the North Platte, Wyoming and he and my son-in-law and my son who’s in Virginia plan these regular fishing trips, and now one grandson who can do that, so the generations… And I know he’ll be out again this spring. He’s still practicing part-time.

CS: Is he really?

ME: Well, he flunked retirement. He said he was going to retire the end of April on the practice and then they just need him so badly. It’s a little rural area, he’s just seeing patients one day a week. But of course that is just a myth because there are things to do. But we’re also finishing up pruning and we’re hiring a new winery manager, so it’s like any small business, you know?

jody@coloradostatesman.com