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Founding beverages?

JERRY McBRIDE/Durango Herald

Christina Rinderle, Durango city councilor, and her friend Erik Salkeld talk with Heidi Risberg, 20 months, while dad, Todd, holds her during a re-election campaign kickoff party for Rinderle at the BREW Pub & Kitchen on College Avenue. Heidi is also the daughter of Angie Buchaman. Durangoans are adherents to a time-honored American tradition: politics and ale.

By Jim Haug Herald staff writer

Local candidates for elected office carry on a democratic legacy of the Founding Fathers.

They campaign for votes at places where people drink.

Recently re-elected City Councilor Christina Rinderle had a get-out-the-vote party at the new BREW Pub & Kitchen on College Avenue the same day ballots were mailed for the city election.

Michael Rendon and Jack D. Turner announced their candidacies for the board of La Plata Electric Association at the Carver Brewing Co.

Gov. John Hickenlooper, one of the founders of the Wynkoop Brewing Co. brew pub in Denver, has attended fundraisers and rallies for candidates at Carver’s too, said proprietor Bill Carver.

“He certainly has dinners and beers while he’s here,” Carver said.

Carver connected campaigning at pubs to America’s democratic tradition.

“Pub is short for public house,” Carver said. “When you think about it, this country was founded by guys sitting around drinking beer and getting this crazy idea of having independence from England. The public discourse just keeps coming out of public houses.”

One of the most popular craft beers, Sam Adams, is named after one of the signers of Declaration of Independence and a brewer, although historians think Adams made a malt for the making of the beer and not the actual beer.

George Washington had a rye whiskey distillery at Mount Vernon, but liked his beer, too. The New York Public Library has Washington’s beer recipe in its collection.

Alcohol, however, is believed to have contributed to Washington’s first campaign defeat in 1755, when a rival for the House of Burgesses, the legislature of Colonial Virginia, plied voters with free booze at the polls – this was during a time when election day was considered an excuse to party, according to historians such as Dennis Pogue and Daniel Okrent.

A quick learner, Washington won election three years later with a boost from free rum, hard cider and beer, too. Okrent, in his book Last Call: the Rise and Fall of Prohibition, estimated that Washington gave a half of gallon of alcohol for every vote he received.

In this age of liability lawsuits, it’s pretty much buy your own beer at local campaign events.

Besides being “the social lubricant,” Carver thinks there’s another reason why local politicians ply for votes where people drink.

Durango is home to five breweries. Candidates like to identify themselves with the local industry.

“It’s made in Colorado, and they love to brand themselves: The idea of going to a local establishment that’s doing something unique rather than at a chain (restaurant),” Carver said.

New City Councilor Keith Brant celebrated election night drinking Smithwick’s Pale Ale at The Irish Embassy Pub. He did not think he was so different from any other politician in America.

“Go to New Orleans. Where do they have their campaign parties? Or anywhere in Louisiana?” he said.

Supporter Cherie Morris said “Durango is casual,” too.

Morris noted there was another benefit to having an election-night party at a bar.

“You can buy a beer for them whether they win or lose,” Morris said.

Jack Turner, who is not the Jack D. Turner running for LPEA, thinks Durangoans congregate in bars on election night out of necessity and not necessarily for a nip of beer.

“The polls always close around 7, right? Well, all the schools are closed. Churches are empty. Where else do you go? Elks Club? Oh, wait, that is a bar,” Turner said.

“Partially, it’s not that Durango is such a debaucherous town. It’s (just that) nothing else is open.”

Candidates for the Durango School District 9-R Board of Education are not quite as uninhibited about celebrating a campaign victory at a bar or campaigning in pubs.

“You have to be careful,” said Joe Colgan, who has served on the City Council and is a member of the Durango school board.

School-board members think of themselves as role models for young people, but there’s another difference as well because races for the school board are such low-key affairs.

Seats are often not contested. School-board candidates typically don’t even bother with yard signs or paid advertising.

“For my first campaign, I spent around five to 10 dollars for a small flier to hand out at any forums held,” said board President Jeff Schell in an email. “For the second campaign, no money was spent. Quite a difference from some of the school board campaigns in Denver or Colorado Springs where candidates can spend thousands of dollars.”

“If there’s no need to fundraise, who’s there to celebrate with (on election night)?” Colgan asked.


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