Walker Stapleton looked at me the way a bull calf must regard a castration knife. "I can't talk to you," he said, turning on his heel as I extended my hand and introduced myself. "I don't do extemporaneous interviews. It doesn't work out for me. Talk to my people."
And with that, the Republican candidate for governor of Colorado took off at a near gallop into the crowd, a cowboy-hatted herd of movers and shakers gathered at the Tavern Tech Center on Tuesday, August 28, for the 34th annual gathering of the Denver Rustlers. They were headed to the Colorado State Fair in Pueblo for their official mission: bidding, and bidding big, at the Junior Livestock sale to support the 4-H and Future Farmers of America members. "This is about the kids," said Tim Schultz, who was Colorado's Commissioner of Agriculture 35 years ago, when the economic downturn threatened to shut down the sale for good, and business leaders rallied to save it.
Before this day was over, the livestock sale would raise close to a half-million dollars for the kids. But first, lunch, speeches and shmoozing, in a crowd that included U.S. representatives Ken Buck, Mike Coffman and Jared Polis (who happens to be the Democratic candidate for governor); Lieutenant Governor Donna Lynne (Governor John Hickenlooper would join the group later); Colorado Secretary of State Wayne Williams; Mayor Michael Hancock and his chief of staff, Alan Salazar; original Rustler and CELL founder Larry Mizel; Denver Partnership CEO Tami Door, and a host of other big names in big hats. And Stapleton.
For the record, I was not trying to interview Stapleton, just introduce myself so that Westword might be able to secure an interview in the future. Or even a comment from his campaign. But those have been few and far between over the past few months. In his quest to do a Q&A with Stapleton's candidate for lieutenant governor, Lang Sias, Michael Roberts has sent numerous emails to the Stapleton campaign office; he's gotten no response. (Read Roberts's Q&A with Democratic gubernatorial candidate Dianne Primavera here.) Over the past few months, numerous calls from Westword writers to Stapleton's office for comment on other stories have also gone unreturned. Other media outlets report encountering similar difficulties getting information from the Stapleton campaign — though when I turned on my radio yesterday afternoon, Stapleton was on Steffan Tubbs's radio show, in what sounded like a pretty extemporaneous interview to me. By then, I'd left my own phone and email messages with Stapleton's "people." So far, crickets.
But others who witnessed our brief encounter had plenty to say. "In forty years in politics, I've never seen anything like that," said one insider, who's handled plenty of uncomfortable inquiries from reporters during that time.
"Isn't he running for governor of Colorado?" asked another. "Won't he have to talk to the press sometime?"
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Unlike Stapleton, other politicians, including would-be governor Polis, didn't have a problem greeting me, though Polis remained mum when I reminded him how I'd pestered him for a comment at the 2014 Colorado State Fair, which featured "Little Liz, the World's Smallest Woman." That sideshow attraction had been booted from the Boulder County Fair in Polis's congressional district earlier that month because of the "ick factor."
There's small, and then there's small, which would be a good descriptor of the Stapleton's campaign stance with the media.
"I think they have a new strategy," says Tom Tancredo, the former congressman and gubernatorial candidate who gave a nominating speech for Stapleton at the state assembly (and was definitely not at the Rustlers event): "Hide and seek."
The 55th annual Colorado’s Touchstone Energy Cooperatives Junior Livestock Sale raised approximately $495,000, according to Colorado State Fair officials. The Rustlers paid $25,000 for Cal Sidwell's reserve beef; they also purchased the reserve hog, the champion lamb and the reserve goat.
But I got Stapleton's.