Eat, drink and make merry with the Colorado Restaurant Association

Colorado Secretary of State Wayne Williams, Rep. Barbara McLachlan, D-Durango, and Grand Junction Sentinel reporter Charles Ashby at the Colorado Restaurant Association’s Blue Ribbon Reception Wednesday night. (SOS photo)

When I covered the legislature for the Rocky Mountain News the editors loved it that the Colorado Restaurant Association’s reception occurred on opening day, meaning I actually made deadline so I could dash over to the event that night.

My first Blue Ribbon reception was in 2000 and one of the first lawmakers I talked to was Rep. Marcy Morrison, a Republican from Manitou Springs. Where’s that? I asked. She explained it was west of Colorado Springs and I remember thinking, “El Paso County! She must be really conservative!” Talk of an example of why stereotypes don’t work.

These days I don’t have to worry about deadlines, but I still can’t wait for the legislature’s opening day and the best legislative reception of the year. My tweet from last night’s Blue Ribbon reception:

On Wednesday night, Senate President Kevin Grantham, R-Cañon City, and House Speaker Crisanta Duran, D-Denver, welcomed guests to the Restaurant Association’s 27th annual Blue Ribbon Reception, which was held at History Colorado Center. Duran talked about how being a former busgirl and waitress prepared her for hard work.

Lobbyist Josh Hanfling and Westword editor Patty Calhoun at the Blue Ribbon reception. (SOS photo)

Over the years at these receptions I’ve learned a whole lot about the restaurant industry, where risks are great and profit margins are not, which is why laws the Colorado General Assembly pass have such an impact. Eleven percent of Colorado’s workforce is employed at eating or drinking establishments, and the industry generates almost $700 million in local and state taxes.

No politician has understood that more than Gov. John Hickenlooper, who owned a series of restaurants before switching to an even riskier career.

I’ve met some amazing spouses at the receptions, from Democrat Nancy Todd’s husband, Terry Todd, to Republican Nancy Spence’s husband, Pete.

I loved running into Westword’s Patty Calhoun and the Rocky’s Penny Parker and Peter Blake. Penny and Pete are no longer with us, but they enjoyed the event, too, Penny for the schmoozing and Pete for the politicking. And let’s not forget the restaurant association’s longtime lobbyist, Bill Artist, and longtime leader, Pete Meersman.

Maybe my favorite moment was talking to Rep. J. Paul Brown, R-Ignacio, after he was elected. Brown raises sheep in southwestern Colorado and he pointed out the delicious lamb chops one of the restaurants was serving. I shuddered. I can’t do lamb, I said.

“My first job was in Gallup, N.M.,” I said.

The lawmaker burst out laughing. He understood. I had tasted mutton.