El Paso County Democratic Party Chair Kathleen Ricker is receiving a very special honor: The state party has named her Colorado's "Democrat of the Year."
"It's incredible," Ricker says. "I was shocked out of my mind when [state party chair] Rick Palacio called me."
Ricker says she believes she's the first El Paso County resident to receive the honor, and she says that it's also unusual for the award to go to a chair. Usually, she says, it goes to an elected official.
Ricker first became involved with the local Democratic party in 2008 when she threw a fundraising party for Barack Obama in her backyard. The guest of honor was Bill Richardson, the former New Mexico governor, congressman, United Nations ambassador and secretary of energy. Ricker says the event brought in about $75,000, and local party leaders took notice.
That year, Ricker also planned the county Democrats' election night party, a sold-out event at the Antlers Hotel. Ricker says over 1,000 people attended and the event raised nearly $10,000.
Ricker stayed involved and, in 2011, was named party chair. She says she didn't expect to serve three terms, but she's enjoyed contributing to growing the size and power of the local party.
"I feel like we've brought this party into some recognition in state politics," she says.
Asked why she thinks she's getting the award this year, she says, "I've done a lot of fundraising for El Paso County — we are the only county [in Colorado] that has a paid full-time executive director."
She adds, "I've been part of the team that's really built a very strong party here, and I've raised money for Michael Bennet, for Mark Udall."
Ricker also had messages of support for her nomination sent in by some big names in the party, including U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, who praised her leadership and fundraising abilities in a glowing letter.
"One of the keys to my victory in 2010 was the performance in El Paso County," he said, saying Ricker had fought hard on his behalf. "NO, we didn't win, but did better there than anyone expected."
Ricker's award will first be presented at the 2016 Colorado Democrats Annual Dinner on Feb. 13 at the Sheraton Denver Downtown Hotel, where she will be honored alongside other award winners, including Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia, who is receiving the Chair's Award for Service. Both Democratic presidential candidates, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, are attending the dinner.
A second presentation will take place at the El Paso County Democrats' Will Rogers Gala on Feb. 27 at the Antlers Hotel. The special guest speaker at that event is Ari Berman, journalist, contributing writer for The Nation magazine and author of Give Us the Ballot: The Modern Struggle for Voting Rights in America and Herding Donkeys. The former was recently named a finalist for a National Book Critics Circle Award.