Off Limits

Eat, drink and be wary: Don't be surprised to read about a lot of activity in the State Capitol on January 24. It's probably the coffee. Because after consuming their usual cups-a-joe at home that day, all 35 senators and 65 representatives will find coffee from Café Cartago on their desks when they arrive at their jobs.

The Denver-based company, which imports coffee beans from Costa Rica, roasts them in Denver and ships them off again, has joined in a Colorado Department of Agriculture giveaway designed to "remind legislators of agriculture's significance," according to department marketing specialist Wendy White.

Last week, lawmakers received caramel popcorn from the Rocky Mountain Popcorn Company in Lafayette. In the future, they can expect blue cheese and crackers from the Bingham Hill Cheese Company in Fort Collins, sourdough bread from Grizzly Creek Sourdough Bread Company in Loveland, green-chile powder packs from Chico's Chili and Spices in Aurora, and corkscrews from the Colorado Wine Industry Development Board in Boulder. (And why not a few bottles of the juice? White says she's not sure whether alcohol is allowed on the floor of the legislature.)

To be eligible to hand out the booty, a company must be registered with the ag department's Colorado Proud program, and its products must be grown, raised or processed in the state. Colorado Proud, which three years ago replaced a previous state effort called Always Buy Colorado, was developed "to help consumers, retailers and restaurants identify and purchase agricultural products produced or processed in the state," White says.

So is the quickest way to legislators' hearts through their stomachs? Perhaps, White admits, but she insists that the campaign is not a lobbying tactic. "This is strictly about education. Agriculture is a $16 billion industry in this state, and we're getting them familiar with what Colorado has to offer."

Tying some of the giveaways to Colorado agriculture is a stretch, however. Safeway, for instance, which joined Colorado Proud last year, will hook lawmakers up with Safeway Select sodas -- not exactly the fruit of the earth. And while Celestial Seasonings, the Boulder tea-making monolith, will give out tea, the company is no longer Colorado-owned, since it was bought out by the Hain Group, a New York-based snack-food maker.

Not that Celestial Seasonings is above a little free publicity. In November, company founder Mo Siegel announced a new product called "Tea for America," the proceeds from which were to be donated to the American Red Cross's post-September 11 relief efforts. The tenuous connection between tea and terrorism? "Many people turn to a cup of tea when they are stressed, need time to reflect or just want to relax," read a company release. The star-spangled beverage, it continued, was made from "carefully selected black tea leaves, similar to those our forefathers tossed into the Boston Harbor in 1773. Just as tea in the 1700s symbolized American determination for freedom and liberty, Celestial Seasonings' Tea for America was created to support American unity, resolve and compassion."

Added Siegel, "It seemed to be a natural fit for Celestial Seasonings."

Maybe so, but Siegel's daughter's patriotic ploy may be an even more natural fit -- or would that be unnatural? Sarah Siegel's So Low Underwear is offering "the hot, low-riding intimates line in patriotic colors of red, white and blue and donating a portion of So Low's proceeds to the Red Cross Disaster Relief Fund," reports the company's Web site. "The trio of stripes pay tribute to those lost rescue workers, and America's unrelenting spirit. Available in the principal silhouettes of the Fanny Panty, G-Thing, Boxer Brief, Boys Brief and Tiny Tank."

Welcome to America.

Golden opportunities: California's schools just can't seem to get enough of Colorado. First they tapped our down-home ex-governor, Roy Romer, to be the superintendent of the troubled Los Angeles Unified Schools, and now they're going after our teachers. The California Center for Teaching Careers, known as CalTeach, is sending recruiters to Denver on January 25 and 26 to try to steal teachers away from Colorado. The state-funded (to the tune of $1.6 million a year) initiative will then head to Washington, D.C., as its thirty-state tour continues.

"We certainly don't see it as stealing teachers," says Marny Bielefeldt of Media-Cross, the advertising, public-relations and recruiting agency hired by the State of California to do the dirty work. "We're just competing for the top candidates. It's general knowledge that there is a teacher shortage across the country, especially in urban areas, and since California is the largest state in the U.S., we have the greatest need."

Take your best shot, responds Mark Stevens, spokesman for the Denver Public Schools. "They're welcome to come and try, but we are not too worried," he says. "We're not going to pour hot tar off the parapets." Colorado's lifestyle is enough to keep most people loyal to the state, he adds.

Still, Stevens says he understands California's need. In fact, he attended the January 12 speech that Romer gave in Denver as part of an annual DPS conference; in that speech, Colorado's former governor said that 50 percent of the newly hired teachers in the L.A. system haven't yet earned their teaching credentials. "We have the same needs here," Stevens points out. "I think all thirteen metro districts are in the same boat. I don't think we raid from each other, but we do try to recruit and to put on the best face."

Bielefeldt believes California will have good luck finding recruits in Colorado. "We select states on the quality of teachers and the number who graduate from accredited programs," she says. Last year, several hundred teachers showed up at CalTeach events in eight states, and each California school district made as many as twenty to thirty on-the-spot job offers. Not surprisingly, Romer's L.A. Unified made the most.


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