DEL NORTE— The Rio Grande County Democratic party held its first fundraiser dinner in recent history on Saturday night, Oct. 28, catered by and hosted at the High Valley Community Center.
The JFK dinner, named in honor of the accomplishments of legendary Democratic President John F. Kennedy, was attended by numerous current and former lawmakers as well as both Democratic candidates for Congressional District Three, each Democratic Candidate for Governor and the state District Attorney race. The event’s organizer and county party Chair Jesse Guerrero, along with other executive committee members Vice-chair Matthew Martinez, Second Vice-Chair Laura Conchelos and Secretary/Treasurer Joe Schlabach also took the opportunity to honor several community activists and lawmakers for their service.
Following the Pledge of Allegiance, the National Anthem was performed by Meryl Ennis of Crestone, who opened her performance by quoting Mark Twain, “Patriotism is supporting your country all the time, and your government when it deserves it.” Reverend Joe Archuleta led everyone in a prayer before Guerrero began the chair’s welcome, “Our dinner tonight is about unity, uniting the Democratic party.” Guerrero spoke about the importance of uniting behind candidates who are dedicated to standing up for an “equal and just Colorado” and emphasized the need to “begin the process of uniting and making our county blue.” He thanked the candidates for their attendance and for taking steps to show they understand the importance of rural Colorado, not just Denver and its attached suburbs.
The executive committee then presented awards to community organizations and individuals whose dedication to activism and their work to help the San Luis Valley best represented the chair’s message of strength through unity. The chairs award for unity was presented to the activist organization SLV Omega. The Rio Grande County Democrat’s Legacy award was presented to former House District 62 Representative Ed Vigil. The County Democrat’s financial award was presented to Philip and Anita Craig for their donations to the dinner, the county party and to past campaign efforts. Finally the election award was presented to current House District 62 Representative Donald Valdez for his successful 2016 election.
The keynote speaker was current House District 46 Representative Daneya Esgar, of Pueblo. Guerrero introduced Esgar as “an effective leader” at the Colorado Legislature who has passed 25 bills in three years to best serve her district and protect the interests of southern Colorado. Esgar is also the vice chair of both the House Capital Development and the Health, Insurance and Environment committees and serves on the Agriculture, Livestock and Natural Resources committee and the Transportation & Energy committee.
Esgar’s speech began by thanking Vigil for his mentorship and for suggesting committees. She joked later in her speech, “I used to call Pueblo southern Colorado, then I met Ed Vigil,” who she credited with showing her more about how the needs of the San Luis Valley and Pueblo both differed and were interconnected. Esgar also thanked her wife Heather and stated they were spending the weekend exploring destinations around the Valley. Esgar also thanked the dinner’s attendees and the present candidates for “stepping up” before transitioning to an address that also focused on the importance of unity in a changing political landscape. “We wake up every morning now wondering what the new tweet is… whether it will be stripping Americans of their rights or getting us into a war…” Esgar spoke about how even at the Colorado Legislature, some Republican legislators have been emboldened to use more extreme tactics, regularly calling undocumented people rapists and murders on the house floor and defunding energy measures and stopping vital transportation needs for Coloradoans from being met in order to achieve their goals. “It’s a whole new world for me,” she added. Esgar also spoke about divisiveness within the Democratic Party, with prominent Democrats telling her “Pueblo isn’t ready for lesbian” when she first announced and other Democrats similarly criticizing candidates telling them their districts “aren’t ready for a woman.”
However, Esgar emphasized how the Republicans are starting to faction between those who are still interested in bipartisanship for the greater good of the areas they represent and those who hold the greater good hostage for their own agendas. She discussed how the Democratic Party can not fall into the same patterns, democrats need to unify and follow the idea of doing what is best for all of the people. “We need to remind people we are the party who stands up for soil and water quality, good schools, economic rights… and for protecting the rights of all people and for protecting the environment. We need to unite and lift people up with us, because we’re working people who look out for each other.” Esgar returned often to the theme of “We lift as we rise,” to remind the dinner’s attendees of the importance of helping to promote candidates who share the values of common humanity and are looking out for the interests of southern Colorado. “It’s our turn to take back what we know we can do the best with.”
Following dinner, attendees listened to campaign points from several candidates for upcoming races.