A do-gooder delegation of more than 300 state and metro Denver politicians and business leaders descended on Pueblo, the Home of Heroes, Tuesday for the Junior Livestock Auction at the Colorado State Fair.
The Denver Rustlers rode again for the 33rd year.
Wearing white Rockmount Ranch Wear shirts with flowered embroidery, they gathered Tuesday morning at Del Frisco's Double Eagle Steakhouse in Greenwood Village. The posse loaded into buses for a trail ride to the fair to drive up the auction prices and reward young livestock-raising competitors.
"This is one pork project we can all support, and that's getting down to the state fair and buying some of the livestock from these kids who have worked so hard around the four corners of Colorado," said Sen. Cory Gardner, a Republican from Yuma, after marveling at the number of "Yuman beings" from his hometown in the crowd.
He was introduced by one of the founding Rustlers, businessman and philanthropist Larry Mizel, who joked, "We'll take short comments, starting with Cory," and the crowd groan and laughed. Mizel added of his own height, ". Our U.S. senator, one of the guy's my size."
Gov. John Hickenlooper, a former pub owner, turned the subject to beer, noting 33 years of the Rustlers made him think of 1933, the year the Volstead Act was repealed ending Prohibition. He noted that a bottle of Rolling Rock beer (brewed in St. Louis, by the way) has the number 33 on the front of the bottle and 33 words on back.
"Now I'm not superstitious but I'm just saying 33 is a good number, so this better be a good trip," the governor said before shoving off.
Hickenlooper told the dignitaries that the state fair is a "big deal," and so is their annual trip.
"This expedition is a big deal for the entire state, because it allows us to support agriculture in a very powerful way," he said.
Tim Schultz, another of the founding Rustlers, talked about how it all started. There was a great concern at the time about cancelling the junior livestock auction at the state fair, because the bidding seemed to be in a deep wane.
"This is one of the rare times folks from the metropolitan area can reach out and help kids from all across Colorado," Schultz said.
The late Tom Farley, a former state legislator from Pueblo, approached Tim Schultz, who was then the state agriculture commissioner, along with Mizel and Denver dairy operators Dick and Eddie Robinson, who enlisted their friends.
State Rep. Steve Lebsock, a Democrat from Thornton running for state treasurer, is a veteran Rustler. He was born in Sterling and comes from generations of family farmers in northeast Colorado.
"I think it's important as a legislator to understand all the different parts of our economy," he said. "Because I was born in the rural part of Colorado, I get it."
Rep. Paul Rosenthal, a very urban Democrat from Denver, said the event opens pathways of communication that hopefully pay off later when legislation, partisanship and pressure are intertwined in the House and Senate.
"This is so Colorado, people coming together," he said at Del Frisco's. "This is what we say we do, but this is us actually doing it. We bring people together, we have conversations across party lines, across socio-economic lines. It's just people getting together . This is that one time you chat with that person from the other side who you've meaning to get ahold of, but you just never were able to. Now you can. We're together all day."
Sen. Larry Crowder, a Republican from Alamosa, said good economic relationships are forged, as well, and rural Colorado needs both. He supported reclassifying the state's hospital provider fee to an enterprise fund for two years. The legislation passed this year, when lawmakers understood more clearly that in big cities healthcare is big business. In rural Colorado they are a literal and economic lifeline.
"I'm from rural Colorado, so i don't always understand how metro (areas) work," he said outside Del Frisco's. "I couldn't imagine going to school with thousands of students. It's a two-way street on a lot of issues."
State Sen, Tim Neville, a Republican from Littleton, built on that point, "We're state legislators," he said. "We should think of all of Colorado and what's best for Colorado as one all the time. Things like this remind of us of that."
His son, House Minority Leader Patrick Neville, a Republican from Castle Rock, had a simpler answer that nearly Republicans and Democrats could all agree with on a hot summer day.
"It's always good to get out of Denver and see the rest of Colorado," he said.
Would he buy a cow at the auction? No, he said, though his money was in the Rustlers pot to bid. He already has chickens that provide him eggs. The steak can come from elsewhere.