Local Democrats recently lost their leader, but gained a hard-charger who vows to take back House District 17 and grow the party.
Hal Bidlack, the retired Air Force officer and former Air Force Academy professor who ran for Congress in 2008, recently went to work for U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet as a regional representative in his Colorado Springs office. His replacement as El Paso County Democratic Party chair is Kathleen Ricker, who says her mantra is, "It's a great time to be a Democrat."
"I think we're on the right side of history," she says, on issues ranging from immigration reform to civil rights for same-sex couples.
Bennet spokesman Michael Amodeo says in a prepared statement that Bidlack will be in touch with local officials, community and military leaders, and Pikes Peak area residents "to ensure our office is responsive to their needs." He'll bridge gaps with federal agencies, such as the Department of Veterans Affairs, and attend public meetings and events on Bennet's behalf.
Bidlack wasn't authorized to speak to the media about his new job, but in a letter to party members in January, he wrote, "I personally heard Senator Bennet say that he credits El Paso Democrats, and our get out the vote effort, as the key to his narrow victory. We should take enormous pride in that achievement."
The 53-year-old Bidlack also noted in his letter his "greatest satisfaction" during his year in office came from more people becoming involved with the party.
"We have had new folks showing up for the first time, and we've had other Democrats whom we have not seen in a while become active again," he says. "I think these things bode very, very well for the future of the party."
Ricker, 63, wants to pick up where Bidlack left off. A clinical psychologist, Ricker is "a great addition to our party, building on the foundation that Hal started, helping us grow up," says party executive director Christy Le Lait.
Ricker, who will serve a two-year term, says she wants to retake House District 17, which Dennis Apuan lost (after serving one term) last year to Republican Mark Barker. She also wants to assure that Rep. Pete Lee is re-elected to the House District 18 seat.
"And that takes fundraising, building our organization, which we are doing, making sure all the precincts have captains," she says. She notes the St. Patrick's Day dinner, the local party's chief fundraiser of the year, drew 245 people, more than twice the turnout of a year ago.
Her second goal is to build the party "vertically and horizontally."
"We need to spread the word it's a big tent; there's lots of opinions and agendas," she says. "As long as you're willing to problem-solve and work with us, we want you." She also wants to build coalitions with other agencies, including the NAACP and Latino communities, to advance diversity within the party.
"My third goal is, we get more visible in the community as far as having a strong voice for equal rights and inclusivity, standing up for people who don't have a voice," she says.
Other local party officers elected in February: Judy Ingelido, first vice chair; Chuck Bader, second vice chair; Carolyn Cathey, secretary, and Bob Dyer, treasurer.
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