Secretary of State Bernie Buescher pledged to restore confidence in Colorado's elections, and Lt. Gov. Barbara O'Brien discussed $500 million in federal education funds that could be coming to the state.
But the moment that drew the most spirited reaction from the audience at the Routt County Democratic Party's annual Jefferson/Jackson Dinner fundraiser Saturday night was the announcement that longtime party advocate and Routt County native Lynn Abbott had won the party's Volunteer of the Year award.
Abbott drew a standing ovation when last year's winner, Bob Steele, thanked her "for her hard work in making Routt County a blue county." Abbott, who is recovering from a double knee replacement, was not present but listened to Steele's speech via speakerphone. Throughout the years, Steele said Abbott served the party as a recruiter, a spokeswoman, a writer of newspaper commentaries, a host of party meetings and more.
"Lynn not only canvasses, but she enjoys it," Steele joked. "It's not just something on the back of her T-shirt. : Most importantly, she likes to convey the Democratic message to people who haven't heard it from her before."
Buescher and O'Brien were the keynote speakers at Saturday's fundraiser. In addition to discussing state elections, Buescher, a former state representative from Grand Junction, also lent his support to a controversial budget-balancing plan being debated in Denver. The plan put forth by the Legislature's Joint Budget Committee would take $500 million from a quasi-governmental workers' compensation fund. Without the transfer, higher education could stand to lose $300 million next year.
Noting that Pinnacol Assurance was created by the state and is tax-exempt, Buescher deplored some Republicans efforts to construe the plan "as a raid on a private company." Buescher said the statute that created Pinnacol clearly states it is "a political subdivision of the state of Colorado."
The controversial plan was the source of much wrangling in Denver last week. The Senate is scheduled to give final approval to the plan Monday, after which it would go to the state House. Democrats control both chambers.
Sen. Al White, R-Hayden, a member of the Joint Budget Committee who also supports the plan, said last week that the contentious battle wouldn't end in the Legislature if it passes.
Pinnacol is "hiring every lobbyist in four states to fight this," White said last week. "They're threatening to keep this tied up in court until my unborn grandchildren die of old age."
O'Brien discussed another touchy state fiscal issue, the Taxpayers Bill of Rights. The legislation that places revenue limits on state and local governments has created a "starving public sector," O'Brien said.
"We have to get out of this crazy fiscal restraint we're in," she said.
But O'Brien said efforts to eliminate or weaken TABOR need to start at a grassroots level because voters are more likely to trust their neighbors, friends and relatives than politicians when it comes to increasing government revenues.
"They don't trust us to use money carefully," she said. "This conversation about changing TABOR starts at the dinner table."