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Insert Comma • A Portfolio of Leigh E. Rich
From rancher to lawyer to the final frontier

Boldly going where no politician has gone before

By Leigh E. Rich

Reporter’s Log No. 1: Sleepless with a would-be senator

Election Date: Tuesday, Oct. 19, 11:13 a.m.

Imagine our surprise in The Colorado Statesman office as the call from headquarters came in.

Do what with Ken Salazar all night long?

Over the racket of the printing presses going full-speed that day, I only got bits and pieces of my mission from my editor, who shouted instructions through the wall of her office like Captain Kirk and Scotty discussing the warp engines.

Apparently, I was to join the Salazar for Senate bus on its maiden voyage as it traveled through Denver to explore late-night establishments, seek out new voters and, according to the press release, go “where no candidate in Colorado has gone before.”

We were to “travel all hours of the day, sometimes making scheduled stops” and sometimes surprising unsuspecting Coloradans—as they ate and drank, bowled a few frames, shipped precious packages to their destinations, or rescued citizens from fires and other emergencies.

In return, we were promised “surprises, impromptu speeches and candid conversation.”

As a representative from The Statesman, I had been offered a seat on the first leg of a journey that would take the senatorial candidate throughout Colorado until the end of the election.

It was to be a political voyage, with Ken at the helm.

But as I made a mental note to pack some bottled water and Luna bars and bring along some Excedrin, I couldn’t help but wonder: What had become of Ken’s trusted green pickup truck?

Reporter’s Log No. 2: The urban—and rural—legend

Election Date: Thursday, Oct. 21, 5:01 p.m.—Salazar Headquarters

A swarm of media representatives milled impatiently about the shuttle bay—a parking lot next to Salazar’s headquarters that was empty save for the promised bus and, alas, the green Ford Ranger!

I knew Ken couldn’t abandon the truck that took him to every county in Colorado during his two previous elections as attorney general. I had yet to attend a press conference without it. It has even been a presence in his television ads.

While we waited for Ken to arrive, several photographers took shots of Salazar’s team, as they climbed in and out of the vehicles, readying both for the impending launch.

I stopped Tom Downey, one of Salazar’s right-hand men, as he rushed about.

“I’m very disappointed, Tom,” I said. “I thought perhaps you would pile all of us reporters in the back of the Ranger tonight.”

Only if there’s a chance of rain, he retorted.

Reporter’s Log No. 3: A man for all hours

Election Date: Thursday, Oct. 21, 5:15 p.m.—Salazar Headquarters

The man of the hour—or, at that point, all hours—finally arrived. And in slacks and a tie, no less. I was a bit befuddled. Where were the jeans? Where was the trademark cowboy hat?

At least he didn’t leave home without his cowboy boots. Ever the true westerner, I’d place bets on Ken dying with his boots on.

As the theme from Rocky tumbled out of the bus’ loudspeakers, a confident Ken addressed the crowd.

“We’re going to win this election,” he said, the “same as we have done in my other efforts. … No part of the state is more important than another.”

In his successful bids for attorney general in 1998 and 2002, Salazar rambled around the entire Rocky Mountain state, just him and his green truck, to visit the voters.

But “I’ve never done this kind of thing before,” he said of the bus that dwarfed his trusty green steed.

Whether he would miss those old days wasn’t apparent. Instead, he rallied, “We’re going to see a united Colorado … coming together with a loud, loud voice to send Ken Salazar to the Senate.”

And then he promised to go “sleepless” for the remaining 11-plus days and joked about “trying to break the Guinness Book of World Records.”

But time was ticking. Ken was already late for an appearance at the Denver Athletic Club and Salazar spokesman Cody Wertz needed to move the interim press corps along.

“We better go because we’re going to be late,” Salazar urged.

But before heading out, he reminded everyone: “There’s only one poll that matters in any election.”

Reporter’s Log No. 4: Salazar’s ace

Position: North High School

Ken may be attorney general. He may be a Senate hopeful in this nationally watched race to fill Ben Nighthorse Campbell’s vacated seat. But he’s first and foremost a father and a family man.

Worked into his all-hours visit “to places where men and women of America work late at night” was his daughter’s final volleyball game as a high school senior. Because of the election, this is the first game this season Ken has been able to attend.

As Salazar and former Mayor Federico Peña climbed the bleachers, the North High School Vikings were already well into battle with the West High School Cowboys.

Ken joined his wife, Hope, who with sister Suzanne Yamashita and niece Emily were cheering on Melinda—No. 7 and the elder of the two Salazar daughters. Younger sister Andrea, a junior, was watching as well.

According to Hope, it also happened to be parent appreciation night, though Ken missed the opening ceremony where the players presented flowers to their parents. And it’s not just Melinda the Salazars are proud parents of, Hope said. “A lot of these girls are my employees at the Dairy Queen, too.”

During the three-game spread that the Vikings played well but ultimately lost, Salazar and Peña huddled in conversation about election details, while still rooting for his daughter’s team. Ken’s shouts of “There you go!” and “Nice serve!” added to the home team’s drum-laden battle cry of “All the way, Vikings, all the way!”

“He knows when to holler,” Hope explained, herself plagued with questions by the reporters in tow.

In some ways, she said, the Senate campaign has been the easiest of the three, in that it’s the shortest. But even patrons to the Dairy Queen she manages, she added, often tell her they’re tired of all of the excessive political advertisements that have recently dominated Colorado’s airwaves and want this election season to end.

And it will end in victory, the entire family claims. As a teacher and a mother, Suzanne said she wouldn’t campaign for brother-in-law Ken if she didn’t believe in him.

“Those are my two priorities, obviously,” she said. “So I need someone who represents me.”

By the end, Ken seemed to be the chosen representative for the entire crowd. As he chatted with the players and the coach from the West team, the Viking cheering section played on.

“Let’s go Salazar, let’s go! Let’s go, Salazar, let’s go!”

But for Ken, No. 7 was still No. 1.

“Did you see my kid?” he proudly asked while climbing back on board the bus. “I can’t believe she’s a senior already. It seems like she was born yesterday.”

Reporter’s Log No. 5: A centrist for central Denver

Position: Mead Street Station Grill and Pub

We climbed out of the bus at the 32nd and Lowell retail section of Highland, the first true campaign stop of the night.

Salazar and Peña wasted no time, shaking hands with customers who were eating dinner on the patio.

“Are you all registered to vote? … Are you going to vote for my buddy?” Peña asked, joking quietly with the customers.

“He needs more beer,” Peña shouted to the crowd, as he tallied the responses from the impromptu senatorial dinner-table poll.

While telling others that he would appreciate their support, another patron asked Ken, “How’s the battle?”

“You know, we’re working hard,” Ken replied in his understated manner.

But there were more to greet inside. And despite the bustle that was practically unnavigable, Ken made his way around the restaurant to visit with the inhabitants, many of whom were decidedly pro-Salazar.

At one table, “diehard Democrats” Rich Browne and Allison Martinelli threw their support behind Salazar, even though “he’s pretty centrist,” Browne said.

Martinelli, an employee with an environmental consulting firm, said she bases her decision on Salazar’s record as attorney general. “He’s tried to do his best and tried to play both sides fairly. Hopefully, he’ll try to do the same as a U.S. senator. … That job is a difficult one … (but) I think he’s an honest guy and a hard-working guy. And I think he’s the better choice.”

While Ken encouraged East High School student Jasmine, who was having dinner with her parents, to “get all your friends that are 18 years old” to vote, patrons at another table, Roy and Brigitte Mazzola, spoke with Peña and emphasized that they’re “voting Democrat no matter what. We’ve got to get a handle on things. … It’s too terrifying.”

For Brigitte, it’s the war in Iraq that has her most concerned. “We support our soldiers. We don’t want them to be in harm’s way. They’re just kids,” she said.

“I’m glad you’re doing this,” Brigitte also told Peña, who concurred with her estimation of the importance of this election.

“We need a really large turnout in northwest Denver,” he replied.

Part of that turnout will include former Alabamans Richard McDonald and Jamie Spencer-McDonald, who moved to Colorado three years ago.

“I’ve been paying very close attention” to this election, said Richard, who believes that Salazar can take Colorado in the right direction. “Campbell did an OK job. But I really like what Salazar has to say. I’ve been considering the alternative of Coors and it’s scary.

“Unlike Coors, he’s not hung up on these ideological things.”

Reporter’s Log No. 6: Educating the public

Position: Chipotle, Sushi Hai, Heidi’s Deli, Common Grounds

Across the street at Chipotle, Ken talked about what he believes are the five most important issues he will take on as a U.S. senator: homeland security, jobs, education, health care and the environment.

For example, he said, “I care very much about making sure we have educational opportunities for our children,” including promoting early education, funding No Child Left Behind, and giving “our children an opportunity to go to college.”

“In my family, all eight of us are first-generation college graduates,” he reminded the crowd.

Not everyone was convinced that night that Salazar is the man for the job, however.

Two undecided voters eating at Sushi Hai said they want more information before casting a ballot.

Steven Nichols, a Republican, told Ken he is “undecided about your race.”

“How about the stand I have on issues? I bring people together,” Ken persuaded Nichols, mentioning Republican Sen. John McCain’s name and their mutual emphasis on fiscal responsibility. “I hope you vote for the person as opposed to the party.”

As for Nichols’ dinner date, kindergarten teacher Kate Giacomini, Ken urged her to check out the education section of his Web site. “I’m a strong believer in early childhood education,” standards of accountability, scholarships for those who want to go on to higher education, and after-school programs, he said.

But Giacomini was not completely swayed. “I’m still undecided right now. … I think he has some good points, (but) I’d like to hear a little more.”

Matt Morris, another Sushi Hai patron, pressed Ken on the topic of Amendment 36, a ballot initiative that would break up Colorado’s nine electoral votes proportionately according to the popular vote.

“It’s really the only issue I’m undecided on right now,” Morris said. “I don’t want to give all the votes to the conservative party.”

But Salazar spoke against it. “Electoral College reform is something we should do on a national level, not just one state at a time.”

Balancing out the undecided electors, others admitted already having voted for Salazar in Colorado’s early election process.

Talking with passersby on the street, Ken pleaded, “I hope I have your support.”

“You already have it,” they replied.

Though many Colorado electors vote early to avoid the long lines on Election Day, waiting has been the case even in these weeks before Nov. 2.

But like the sign in Heidi’s Deli says, “If you see a line, it’s worth the wait.”

Reporter’s Log No. 7: Sign of the times

Position: Lowell Street

The Salazar team did deliver on its promise of those “impromptu” moments, as Ken and company traveled down Lowell Street on foot to plant signs in several front yards.

Knocking on doors—while lightheartedly teasing, “Trick or treat?”—Ken was four-for-four by the end of the block.

One abode happened to be home to Richard and Gayle Montoya, delegates to the state Democratic convention in Pueblo, and another to local jazz musician Laura Newman.

Newman told Salazar that she voted for former Mayor Wellington Webb and even played two of his inaugural balls.

“And I’d like to play yours,” she offered the Senate hopeful.

“With your help and the help of all of your friends, we’re going to get this done,” Ken replied, as one of his campaign staff retrieved Newman’s business card.

Reporter’s Log No. 8: Scoring political points

Position: Bowlero

Perhaps Ken will die with his cowboy boots on, but he certainly wasn’t going to bowl in them.

As the candidate made a quick pit stop, we reporters ganged up on Wertz, promising that the chance to see Ken bowl would make a great photo-op—as long as he didn’t throw a gutter ball.

“I’m sure it’s going to go to the left,” Wertz jokingly replied, and we knew we had convinced him.

But Wertz wasn’t the only one being playful at Lakewood’s Bowlero, where it was league night. Jimmy Smith hesitated when Ken asked whether he was voting for him.

“Well, it’s going that way,” Smith said.

“Well, it better,” Ken prodded. “This is tough stuff.”

But Smith later told reporters that he was just giving Salazar a hard time. “Nah, I’ll vote for him.”

Perhaps urged on by Smith’s levity, a smiling Ken next picked up Rick Torrez’s league card and read that night’s scores for all of the reporters to hear.

“235, 215, 239.”

“Not very good tonight. Not very good,” Torrez self-consciously said, even though he and his “D Loungers” teammates currently hold first place.

As Salazar pulled off his cowboy boots to suit up for a game, Amy Howard, a mother of two, talked about the presidential and the Senate races. Undecided all around, she said of the presidential election that “it’s difficult to vote for someone when you don’t believe half of what they say. You already know what one’s doing and you don’t know what the other will do.”

And while she does like some things about Coors, she thinks that “Salazar’s already been in there and he’s done a lot for us. … It goes back and forth depending on what they say. It’s pretty much up to the line.”

Borrowing a ball from leaguer Rick Deangelis, Ken joked with his campaign staffers about how well he’d do in the bowling polls.

“I expect it to go down the middle, Ken!” Wertz told him.

And because bowling scores, even of politicians, aren’t exactly public record, we refrain from repeating Ken’s here.

But Salazar certainly has a ways to go to catch up with Torrez.

Reporter’s Log No. 9: Signed, sealed and … delivered?

Position: United Postal Service

From leaguers to Teamsters, it was back into the cowboy boots and on to greet UPS workers during a shift change.

Standing at the edge of the UPS parking lot, Local 435 Vice President Dave Ring and others waved yellow “Teamsters for Salazar” signs as Ken leaned into car windows to talk with employees both coming and going.

Ring said he’d already voted for Salazar, because “he fights for us workers.”

Fellow union member Sam Thomas agreed. A UPS “feeder driver” for six years and a father of an 8-year-old, Thomas said his main concerns in this election are jobs and education. He’s voting for Salazar, 7th CD candidate Dave Thomas and Kerry and Edwards.

“I’ve never been so worried about a job in my life. And that’s even with protection,” he said, mentioning how certain industries have looked into cutting pensions. And he doesn’t think losing his own could be far off. “You know how America is: Monkey see, monkey do.”

He also worries about his daughter’s future, emphasizing that education needs to be a top American priority.

“It just amazes me that everyone’s on the bandwagon to cut taxes,” he said, explaining that, growing up with a blind father who sold tamales on Broadway, his family survived because of government assistance.

Without it, “we would have been living on the street.”

But Thomas keeps such struggles in life in perspective.

As Ken signed his poster, Thomas told the candidate, “We work a half-day at UPS: We only work 12 of the 24.”

Reporter’s Log No. 10: Bean counting

Position: Paris on the Platte

Whether a coffeehouse was on the itinerary for the sake of the campaign or the caffeine, none of us cared. Even Ken had a cup in hand before he was through the establishment’s front door.

“You’re working really hard,” a fellow caffeine fiend told Salazar.

“That’s what it’s all about,” Ken smiled. “It’s like bar-hopping … all night long.”

Interrupting investment banker Matt Kanda’s late-night paperwork, Ken asked for his support. Though he’s still undecided, Kanda said he watched Salazar and opponent Pete Coors as they were grilled on Meet the Press earlier in the week.

“I saw you guys on TV the other day. It was pretty interesting,” Kanda told the candidate and asked how he was surviving the close race.

“I’ll be good for America,” Salazar promised. “I’ve been a good attorney general. … I’ll be a good U.S. senator.”

That’s what former Californian Carl Youngblood thinks. He shook Salazar’s hand as Ken made the rounds.

“This is quite a day,” explained Youngblood, who says he wasn’t a Democrat until this year. “I spoke with Chris Heinz earlier” at a rally at the Ogden Theatre.

“We were on our way there,” Ken admitted, but had to abandon the plans because of time.

“I had a nice conversation with him (Heinz),” Youngblood told Salazar, saying that they spoke about the election and Amendment 36. “(Heinz) thought it would be a great idea if the entire country did it rather than state-by-state. Unfortunately, that’s not the way it happens.”

Though not undecided about Salazar, Youngblood isn’t sure how he’ll vote on 36. “I would be in favor of it, but I think Kerry has a chance of winning.”

And he only had one explanation for how he switched to the Blue Team.

“George Bush. He did more for the Democratic Party than anybody’s done.”

Reporter’s Log No. 11: From polls to poles

Position: Denver Fire Stations Nos. 11 and 12

Calling off the Denver Diner at the 11th hour and saving the first responders for last, we stopped at two local fire stations so Ken could deliver bags of Paul Sandoval’s well known La Casita tamales.

“Has it been a busy night?” Salazar asked firefighter Ernie Marranzino, who replied, “It was slow and when the baseball game started, it got busy.”

While working their 24-hour shifts, Marranzino explained that “some nights we get to sleep. Weekends we’re usually up 24 hours,” particularly if there’s a Broncos game or inclement weather.

“Whenever I see a firefighter … it’s always uplifting to me,” Ken told the group that had crowded around him. As your U.S. senator, he promised, “I’m always going to be a champion for the first responders.”

“You’re really busy, too,” firefighter Aaron Jonke empathized. “The next couple of weeks are really going to be busy.”

At this point, however, only the Salazar staff and the media were dragging. Ken seemed bright-eyed and quite bushy-tailed.

As he checked out Station No. 11’s fire pole and vintage 1927 fire truck as if he might like to try both of them out, Jonke told me, “We’ve typically only supported Democrats … for the labor issues” and because Republicans typically are “not responsive to the needs of labor.”

Reporter’s Log No. 12: First-class fatigue

Election Date: Friday, Oct. 20, 12:07 a.m.

My shotgun seat on the Salazar for Senate bus was rapidly turning into a makeshift bed, as bus driver Bill Cody swung us back toward headquarters.

But the night was yet to end for Ken. “I’ve got to go to the office. I’ve got to pick up thank you notes,” he told his crew.

All in all, however, the first voyage of the Salazar ship seemed a huge success.

“Everyone’s been very cooperative,” Wertz said through bleary eyes, knowing full well he would be back aboard before six that same morning.

But “this is how we wanted to finish the election,” he admitted.

“Go places where no one is expecting you.” 

Rich, L. E. (2004, October 29). From rancher to lawyer to … the final frontier: Senate candidate Ken Salazar is boldly going where no politician has gone before. The Colorado Statesman, pp. 13–15.

Second Place – Government and Political Writing – Colorado Press Women – May 2005

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