by Ted Manna
American Reporter Correspondent
January 15, 2008
POLITICAL HEAT BRINGS EARLY SPRING CLEANING TO THE ROCKIES
DENVER, Jan. 14, 2008 -- The political climate here in the intra-mountain west heated up this week, and it was not global warming or the brilliant Rocky Mountain sunshine.
With only 220-oddme days to the Democratic National Convention in Denver, Colo., three weeks to the Colorado caucuses, and less than a week until the Nevada caucus, Denver's politicos are locked and loaded at the National Democratic Party activities leading up to the convention, at political rallies with candidates ramping up efforts in the state and at the city government, where officials will rule on free speech and security issues during the Convention.
Just in the last few days, former Transportation Secretary Federico Peņa and former Colo. Senator Gary Hart, once presidential candidate himself, helped escalate Barack Obama's campaign operation in Colorado.
The same day, former Vermont governor Howard Dean, Democratic National Committee (DNC) Chairman, and his staff, lent a hand to the Volunteers of America, helping paint a classroom in the newly reopened Manual High School.
The day before, the Parks and Amenities committee of the Denver City Council wrestled with security and free speech issues related to the hosting the convention Aug. 25-28, soliciting comments and suggestions from the ACLU and Re-Create '68, a conglomerate of over two dozen groups involved in protest planning at the convention.
Friday, the DNC's 30 member Executive Committee met at the Hyatt
Regency Denver to vote on procedural matters and get to know the city
hosting the Convention. Saturday, the Colorado Democratic Party sponsored an "Engaged Spirituality Forum" at the Iliff School of Theology, designed to help Democratic officials and candidates welcome people of faith into the Democratic Party. Politics is in the air, on the streets, on cars, yard signs and banners, in the headlines and on every channel. Sweeping statements of hope and change swirl around like the snow on the mountain peaks.
"Barack Obama, single-handedly, is going to end race as a factor in American politics," Hart said Thursday night in a basement campaign office crammed with more than 500 supporters, mostly younger voters. "Barack Obama is going to represent a new generation of leadership that this country desperately needs."
Sen. Ken Salazar (D-CO), predicted that Democrats will win Colorado's nine electoral votes in November.
"The challenge is to provide authentic and powerful leadership for the Presidency," Salazar told the DNC Executive Committee Friday morning. "We will take back the White House in 2008."
"We want Denver to be a model city for the expression of free speech," promised Assistant City Attorney Dan Slattery at the city meeting.
Responding to suggestions from the ACLU and Re-Create '68, the committee axed a clause giving government priority for event venues, and hammered out new language regulating permits during "extraordinary events" like the convention - rules that will affect freedom of expression while the whole world watches.
"We will have a red letter day in Indian political history," intoned DNC member-at-large Frank LaMere, a Native American from the Nebraska Winnebago tribe, whose teenage daughter, he said, has never missed a national convention. "The Lakota people say 'mitakuye oyasin'. This is universally accepted among the tribes, and it means 'we are all related.'"
LaMere noted in an interview after the meeting that there are now five Native Americans on the DNC's standing committee, "all with a history of service to Native people." He estimated that there will be over 100 Native American delegates at the convention, while at the Republican Convention in Minneapolis, "there will only be a handful.
"I just want to thank the DNC because we have never had the attention paid, and when they throw down the gavel at the Convention, it will be with a record number of Native delegates in attendance," LaMere said.
"The Democrats are the party of the future, of the next generation," Dean, also a former Presidential candidate, said. "The Republicans look like the party of the 1950's when women, people of color, gays and Native Americans were invisible. The people want fairness, freedom, and a party that helps them face the future. The people do want change."
Dean cited statistics from polls taken in the last few weeks showing "an incredible turnout in Iowa and New Hampshire" among younger voters. A 61 percent showing among young people increased to 80 percent in Iowa. Twenty-five percent more New Hampshire voters turned out last week than in 2006, while Republican voters were down three percent, he said.
If these are high-minded words voiced by people who operate on a higher plane than most, with even loftier ideals, they back them up with good deeds.
The pace can be grueling for the true public servant. One day recently, Dean slammed into one of Denver's oldest schools, first opened in 1896, with no entourage or guys with wires in their ears, skidded to a halt in the still-beautiful school entrance, and started talking to anyone with a question - kids, staff, volunteers, school administrators, reporters and political notables - wearing his paint-stained New Balance running shoes.
Commenting that he had just had some practice painting his own porch at his home in Vermont, the former small-town physician grabbed a brush and paint pan, climbed a ladder and started helping out, painting with a sure and steady hand around window framesm (the hardest spot, as any painter will tell you) - all the while talking, encouraging, being available to anyone who wanted to talk to him. He really looked like he knew what he was doing.
The next morning, donning his Chairman suit (the running shoes presumably back in the hotel room) he welcomed a diverse and powerful group, all focused on a single goal - the Presidency of the United States. His confident smile and enthusiasm filled even this larger venue and never wavered.
Leading a chant of "Yes, We Can," popular former Denver Mayor Peņa, who has a highway to the Denver International Airport named after him, called for help in Colorado's upcoming Feb. 5th caucuses. Flanked by paintings of Obama hung beside renderings of Martin Luther King, Jr., the word "Hope" painted in large red, white and blue letters across the windows, he exhorted supporters to "deliver the state of Colorado to Barack Obama.
"I'm excited because I am, with you, supporting a man who has a different view of the world, who comes to the presidential race with an extraordinary personal story, a fascinating background, in a way that no other candidate ever has in our country," Peņa said.
"And I am fired up because Barack is speaking to the issues and the American people are listening."
Ray Rivera, Obama's energetic Colorado campaign coordinator, warned "we're ready to take government back in our hands, to take back the power of this democracy, but folks, we have to do the work. We have to show up to the caucus on Feb 5th. Get involved. We are going to need every single person."
Rivera, recovering from numerous trips to Iowa last month, opened six new volunteer headquarters along the front range of the Rockies Thursday as he prepared to send supporters to Nevada this week. Both party's officials predict record turnout for the caucuses, traditionally shunned by all but the most faithful of party die-hards.
In Nevada, Obama has the support of the powreful, 15,000 member Culinary Union, whose members will vote at eight casinos and may make up 10 percent of Nevada primary voters. He is also heavily favored in South Carolina where Sen. Hillary Clinton was once considered a shoo-in and Sen. John Edwards was born. Edwards is trailing both now in most S.C. polls.
Pat Waak, state Democratic Party chair, said she expects the number of participants in the Colorado caucus Feb. 5 to triple, noting that county chairs are already looking for larger sites.
While Dean acknowledged a "down to the wire" convention fight in Denver would generate huge public interest, he said it would actually be "a nightmare" for him."I don't believe it will be over by Feb 5 by any stretch of the imagination," he said.
He hoped it would be decided by mid-March, when a nother tier of state primaries taks place, "because we have a lot of work to do."
So do activists targeting the August event, as organizers develop a sophisticated protest plan including a different demonstration "theme" each day.
"We know people are going to come to Denver from around the country, and it seems silly not to take advantage of it," said Mark Cohen, one of those involved in the protest planning.
His group is planning a community meeting Jan 19 aimed at updating a number of groups about developing plans, among them "Days of Resistance" beginning the day before the convention. He had made a list of the hotels where various state delegations will be staying so protestors can demonstrate there.
And the Denver City Council is expected to take up legislation on Jan. 22 that would refine the permit issuing process during the convention, possibly complicating Cohen's job.
AR political writer Ted Manna covers the Democratic National Convention for The American Reporter. He is based in Colorado. Write him at firstname.lastname@example.org.