Quite possibly the loudest hoot of the day came as former Colorado Congressman Ray Kogovsek, a Democrat, introduced Pueblo Chieftain Publisher Bob Rawlings, who is undeniably the “biggest Republican in Pueblo” – to toast newly-elected Democratic Gov. Bill Ritter.
Rawlings, a loud and longtime critic of Colorado Springs – especially its water policies that include recently sending hundreds of thousands of gallons of sewage spills 40 miles downstream to Pueblo – held a glass of clear water aloft.
Behold, Rawlings said, the “sludge,” sent downriver, by all those Republicans in Colorado Springs.
Ritter, at his last stop after a several days worth of inaugural ceremonies and festivities, burst out laughing. On Saturday night, Ritter was joined by 600 or so supporters at a spaghetti dinner at the Pueblo Depot after a day traversing the Front Range on a vintage train, starting in Greeley, with stops in Brighton, Denver and yes, Colorado Springs. It was the final event of a weekend full of festivities that carried an estimated pricetag of $750,000. The train tour started out at all of 1 degree in Greeley, with the thermometer rising to 16 by the time the train pulled in at Brighton. “A kind of a warming trend,” Ritter said.
Small crowds gathered along the way, and an estimated 100 or so supporters got to experience riding a train from one end of the Front Range to the other – along tracks that are otherwise used to transport coal and freight and which for decades has been envisioned as a high-speed commuter rail corridor.
The group included Ritter’s wife Jeannie and their four children, Lt. Gov. Barbara O’Brien, state Treasurer Cary Kennedy and her family, Democratic Party Chair Pat Waak, Ritter’s Chief of Staff Jim Carpenter and dozens of supporters, many of whom shelled out $300 each to ride the train.
By the time the train pulled into downtown Colorado Springs at midafternoon the temperature had dipped again, bringing a few snow flurries – and a sizable number of Ritter supporters.
Colorado Springs Mayor Lionel Rivera, a staunch Republican, could briefly be seen as he popped his head out from the depot to take a look at the vintage train that has also carried Clark Gable and George H.W. Bush.
Seeing Rivera as he briefly braved the cold to gander at the Democratic entourage evoked a memory of another blustery day back in 2004, when the mayor took the microphone at a local rally featuring Vice President Dick Cheney and whipped up a crowd of 500, claiming that Democrats would have never shown up in such force for their guy.
Democrats, Rivera declared then, are “weak; they can’t take the cold.”
Even the power of being governor couldn’t stop a coal train from taking precedence on those tracks, leaving Ritter’s train idling south of downtown Colorado Springs for an hour. By the time the Union Pacific pulled into the Pueblo Depot, it was nearly two hours behind schedule. And the crowd, which has alternately been estimated at more than 600 and nearly 1,000, went crazy.
Nearly every elected official from Southern Colorado, it seemed, was onhand – from Congressman John Salazar to Rep. Liane “Buffie” McFadyen, to a score of county commissioners and city council members. Pueblo, rich with its history as being a steel city, a union and Democratic stronghold, was a fitting end to the journey, a place “we really feel at home,” Ritter told the crowd.
“We are Puebloans,” he declared.
And, the governor evoked laughter of his own. Before launching into a speech that largely echoed his first State of the State address to lawmakers on Thursday, Ritter invoked the Salazar name – an extensive family with long ties to Colorado’s San Luis Valley whose brothers include a U.S. Senator and a member of the U.S. House of Representatives.
“Most of the time if I was campaigning with the Salazars they would always have one or two siblings,” Ritter said. “You know what? I have 10 brothers and sisters. I’m gonna start taking my brothers and sisters – we’re never going to be outnumbered by the Salazars again.”
Cara DeGette is a longtime editor and columnist at the Colorado Springs Independent.