Optimism, unity rule at Lincoln Dinner

Republicans meet for annual gathering

John Dustin, left, of Bayfield, and Gary and Bernice Vogelsberg of Durango attend the Lincoln Day Banquet put on by the La Plata County Republicans on Saturday evening at the Sky Ute Casino Resort Events Center in Ignacio. Enlarge photo

STEVE LEWIS/Durango Herald

John Dustin, left, of Bayfield, and Gary and Bernice Vogelsberg of Durango attend the Lincoln Day Banquet put on by the La Plata County Republicans on Saturday evening at the Sky Ute Casino Resort Events Center in Ignacio.

IGNACIO – It’s been a tough year for Colorado Republicans, who have struggled to find their footing since November’s election, when the state, which just 10 years ago flickered a bright purple, seemed to turn a ruddier blue.

But Saturday evening at the annual La Plata County Republican Party Lincoln Dinner at the Sky Ute Casino, the ballroom thrummed with local conservatives’ optimism and palpable camaraderie.

Party members managed to acknowledge recent defeats with a combination of candor, grace and a self-deprecating sense of humor.

Emotionally, the night climaxed before the speeches really commenced with Willow Jean Brown, former president of Southwest Republican Women and mother of former Rep. J. Paul Brown, winning the lifetime achievement award for her 60 years of activism in the La Plata County Republican Party.

Brown seemed genuinely taken aback by the honor. “What a surprise, and I thank you very much. That’s all I can say,” she said.

The room was a veritable who’s who of local Republicans, with Sen. Ellen Roberts serving as the keynote speaker and David Saleh – one of the chief strategists behind the recent, ultimately unsuccessful effort to recall Rep. Mike McLachlan – greeted by the crowd like a beloved soldier returned from the trenches.

Both Roberts and Rep. Don Coram, R-Montrose, spoke about a widening political chasm between urban and rural areas, and Jim Huffman, the dinner speaker, brought some people to tears with his description of the sacrifices made by veterans and their families.

For the most part though, the tone of the evening was light.

Tory Aggeler, the master of ceremonies, reminded the crowd of 250 that this wasn’t the first time he’d been drafted into that role, pointing out he’d also emceed their “victory party” on election night last November, when the local and state Republicans parties suffered electoral disaster.

“But tonight, I’ll dwell on the positive, unless the negative is funny,” he said, before joking that if anyone wanted a copy of the evening’s program, they should apply to the NSA for a recording – a punch line that seemed all the richer when the words “God Bless America” suddenly splashed across the two big-screen TVs behind the podium.

Still, amid the laughter about their recent history, Republicans’ eyes were trained on the future.

When Coram was at the podium, he gave one of his biggest shout-outs to Jean Brown’s son.

“J. Paul Brown – what a great man we had in J. Paul Brown, and we look forward to having him again,” he said, as the room responded with vehement nods and rapt silence.

cmcallister@durangoherald.com

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