Dems talk party at dinner

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Colorado Democrats have been riding a wave of energy since winning control of the state House and Senate in November.

Now they need to use that momentum to strengthen the party's base and focus on key issues including health care, education, homeland security and the state budget.

That was the resounding message at the Routt County Democrats Jefferson/Jackson fund-raiser at Olympian Hall on Saturday.

About 100 people attended the dinner, which featured state Rep. and Colorado Speaker of the House Andrew Romanoff, Colorado Democratic Party Chairwoman Pat Waak and other guest speakers.

"The trick to our victory, and the way we ought to use our power, is to focus on a bread and butter agenda," said Romanoff, who is the first Democratic speaker of the House since 1975.

In the state Legislature, issues such as gay marriage have, for too long, overshadowed the core concerns of Coloradans, many of whom live in poverty and have no health care, Romanoff said.

Progress on those issues may start with the Democrats' challenging goal to resolve the state's growing budget crisis.

Romanoff and Gov. Bill Owens announced last week that they reached a bipartisan budget reform plan, called the Colorado Economic Recovery Act.

The measure would remove the Taxpayers Bill of Rights' so-called ratchet effect, which limits the state's ability to recover after recessions.

The proposal, which will come before voters in November, also would allow the state to keep an estimated $3.1 billion in tax revenues that otherwise would be refunded to taxpayers during the next six years.

The plan is not a radical proposal -- it's one most states follow -- but the campaign to convince voters it's a viable solution will be tough, Romanoff said.

Considering the enormous budget deficits and needs facing state departments, the plan will keep the state "above water." Ultimately, Democrats have higher aspirations for strengthening education, health care and other systems, he said.

"Unless we solve this budget crisis, there's not much point in being in the majority," Romanoff said.

Another big concern among Colorado Democrats is homeland security, said state Sen. Dan Grossman, D-Denver, another guest speaker at the event.

Grossman presented a sobering picture of the state's preparedness for a terrorist attack or other crisis situation, noting the lack of in-depth analysis of statewide emergency services and infrastructure needs.

The state also has been disorganized in the way it has handled federal money doled out to states to strengthen emergency services.

"This governor has failed to make one person accountable for homeland security issues," said Grossman, who will be traveling across the state with other legislators to visit and talk with first-responders about their needs.

Financial security and the dramatic rise in identity-theft cases in Colorado is another issue legislators need to address, Grossman said.

He stressed that identify theft should be a felony crime and individuals should have more control over how their personal information is shared among companies.

Rep. John Salazar's Chief of Staff, Ron Carelton, was on hand Saturday to thank the crowd for their support of Salazar. Salazar represents Colorado's Third Congressional District. He received 57 percent of the vote in Routt County in November.

Carelton emphasized that Salazar will have a tough upcoming campaign for re-election in 2006.

"They (Republicans) are going to come after him with a significant amount of money and resources to do everything they can to defeat him," Carleton said.

Carleton touched on the freshman congressman's stance on various issues, including President Bush's proposal to revamp the Social Security system.

"John Salazar disagrees with the president's proposal to partially privatize Social Security ... it will weaken the program and eventually destroy it," he said.

Saturday's event was the first Jefferson/Jackson fund-raiser the Routt County Democrats have held in at least a year. Judging by the size and excitement of the crowd, the organization will be hosting the event again, Routt County Democrats Chairman Ken Brenner said.

Speaker Bill Winter further energized the upbeat mood in Olympian Hall with a speech confirming Democrats' values and destigmatizing the "liberal" tag.

Winter is president of BeTheChangeUSA, a grassroots group that grew out of Mike Miles' campaign for senator.

"When I think of a liberal, I think of someone who wants to help other people, make a difference and change the world," he said to a cheering crowd.

Organizations such as BeTheChange are indicative of the ground-up efforts needed to recruit new Democrats in Colorado, Waak said.

"This is an inclusive party, no matter where you come from. ... I know there is at least one former Republican here," she said.

To do that, however, the party needs to make its values and goals less "fuzzy" and clearer to those who may question the differences between Democrats and Republicans.

"We've got to make that message clearer and teach others how to stand on that message," she said. "That's how we're going to win."

-- To reach Tamera Manzanares call 871-4204 or e-mail tmanzanares@steamboatpilot.com

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