Steamboat Springs According to U.S. Rep. John Salazar, it's a good thing the U.S. Capitol is not made of leather.
"There are a lot of things going on in Washington (D.C.) that you don't want to know about," the Manassa Democrat said Saturday about the culture of Congress. "My dad had a saying: 'The more you poke a cowhide, the more it stinks.' There's a lot of corruption going on."
As the keynote speaker at the Routt County Democratic Party's annual Jefferson/Jackson Dinner, Salazar spoke to about 140 people who filled the Steamboat Springs Community Center to hear speeches, talk politics, share a potluck meal and get energized for upcoming campaigns in what has become a contentious, high-stakes election year.
Party chairman and City Council President Ken Brenner said the dinner raised more than $5,000 through donations and auctions, a total that far exceeds the $1,500 raised at last year's dinner.
"If that (amount) is true, I'm thrilled," party Secretary Lynn Abbott said.
Salazar, who represents Steam--boat Springs and Colorado's 3rd Congressional District in Washington, D.C., followed state Rep. Morgan Carroll of Aurora, state treasurer candidate Cary Kennedy, state Speaker of the House Andrew Romanoff and a slew of local candidates in speaking before a lively audience so large that Abbott said she was "worried about finding enough chairs."
During his remarks, Salazar told the crowd about his experiences as a "farm kid" serving his first term in Congress, including humorous stories about a fancy dinner with President Bush and not-so-humorous stories about ongoing budget debates. Salazar said he voted against budget proposals from both Republicans and Democrats, because "neither budget was being truthful to the American public."
"If you're being truthful, you're telling the public that the country is going the wrong way," Salazar said, citing a national debt that has reached $8.3 trillion.
Salazar said he spent the past week debating the specifics of a budgetary supplement to fund the war in Iraq. A proposal he put forward for about $650 million to fund mental health care for veterans of the war, Salazar said, was turned down because of a legislative "technicality" that said the proposal did not fit under the supplement's title.
"One of the things I'm trying to do is make people realize the true cost of the war," Salazar said earlier Saturday at the Steamboat Pilot & Today newsroom. "We have to make sure that we take care of those who took care of us."
Salazar recently was appointed to the Veterans' Affairs Com--mittee in the House of Rep--resentatives.
Romanoff's comments inc--luded a list of things "to cheer about from the (state) Capitol" during this year's legislative session, such as increased spending on higher education, health care and tourism promotion and an increased emphasis on bringing new jobs to the state.
"We are intent on recovering Colorado's leadership in job growth," Romanoff said. "We are in an international economy, and it's not acceptable for Colorado to lag in the nation -- we need to lead the world."
Carroll, an advocate of health care reform and consumer rights who the state party named a "Rising Star" last year, spoke to the crowd about the importance of the public voice to counter lobbyists who outnumber legislators at the Capitol, she said, by an 11-to-1 ratio.
"The balance of power between public interests and special interests is very important," she said. "If you look at who is setting the agenda down there (at the Capitol), it is frankly a profound imbalance of power."
Kennedy, who was Roman--off's policy director last year during the formation of Refer--endum C -- a ballot initiative passed by voters in November that allows the state to use more than $3.5 billion in surplus taxpayer refunds during the next five years to pay for health care, education and transportation needs -- said if elected state treasurer, she will be "honest and ethical" about how taxpayer money is spent.
"I will never take chances with your tax dollars," Kennedy said. "We will put an end to the Enron-style accounting that's been going on with the state budget."
A live auction led by County Commissioner Doug Monger resulted in the sale of a signed painting by local artist R.C. Dieckhoff for $550, a Broncos weekend for $400, a fly-fishing trip for $300, a pair of hand-carved wooden skis for $350, two nights at the historical Fetcher cabins at Steamboat Lake for $250 and lunch with Romanoff and Carroll at a Denver restaurant for $400.
Several Routt County candidates also spoke at the dinner, including county commissioner candidates Diane Mitsch Bush and Bill Martin, county sheriff candidate Gary Wall and county assessor candidate Mike Kerrigan.
"I will do everything I can to see that your freedoms and your civil and constitutional rights are protected," said Wall, a private investigator and former Vail police chief.
Andy Gold, who is running for the House District 57 seat held by state Rep. Al White, said he has three words for the Winter Park Republican: "Resistance is futile," Gold said, earning hearty applause from the crowd. "This is a great year to be a Democrat."
The Routt County Republican Party will have its annual fundraiser, the Lincoln Day Dinner, on April 1 at the Old Town Pub in downtown Steamboat. John Andrews, a former president of the state Senate, is scheduled as the keynote speaker.
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