The famous media ecologist, Marshall McLuhan, aptly coined the phrase, “the medium is the message.” McLuhan asks us to probe into not just the content of a particular message, but to look into the surrounding presentation of a message, almost becoming another important message in itself. This famous media rule certainly has a place in Governor Polis’ daring to step into the wet cow pie by declaring a “No beef days” in our beef-ridden state.
Sometime Governor Jared Polis should take the grand staircase to the second floor of the Capitol. The second floor hosts the House and the Senate, the legislative floor in our tripartite government here in Colorado. During my 24 years in the Colorado House and Senate, I always tried to use the grand staircase up to my floor, the legislative floor. Midway up the stairs, in the middle of the largest, most beautiful red Pueblo marble, is mounted by a big brass plaque listing all the many governors who were Colorado cattlemen and members of the Colorado Cattlemen’s Association. The medium of the message is clear: we are powerful and we were governors and we want to remind you of it in a dramatic way. I always stopped to admire the plaque, horrified as I was that those running the capitol building would allow for such spoilage of the grand staircase marble.
I believe it was in the mid-1980’s when Governor Richard Lamm became the focus of fire and hot branding from the beef growers in our state. It was the annually designated Cattlemen’s Day at the Capitol. Governor Lamm, an immigrant from Wisconsin, always invited the beef growers in attendance to lunch with him and the legislature at the mansion.
It may have been a Friday in Lent and the old Catholic rule for meat abstention ruled the day for some. It may have been a French chef trying to bring a little delicate variety into the lunches at the governor’s mansion. It may have been a gluten free gubernatorial staffer trying to watch fatty intake to slim down a waistline. I don’t recall we ever found out what happened on the mansion staff side. But here is what did happen.
When the beef growers and the legislators got to the lunch at the governor’s mansion, the governor’s invited guests were faced with steaming grilled salmon and spicy grilled trout. No beef. “Where’s the beef, Governor?” sounded like a chorus reminiscent of an ancient Greek comedy. I felt like I was in a rerun of the Walter Mondale ad aimed at Gary Hart asking Gary, “Where’s the beef?” Does anyone recall that ad?
Ranching legislators and cattlemen turned their noses up at the grilled trout with buttered almonds and Scottish salmon about to be thrust on their elegant mansion plate ware. Growing up in a house where fish was served every Friday, I could not wait to dive into the steaming tender trout and crusty grilled salmon, even though it was Scottish.
Legislators and beef growers rudely handed kitchen staff back their plates and many walked out of the lunch implying they would never visit the old Boettcher mansion again. Not as long at that “mackerel-snapping governor called the shots at the mansion.” The rage dragged on for days. I don’t recall if there were calls for impeachment, but there were certainly threats of recall of the insensitive governor by thin-skinned beef growers. Rumors flew about the second floor of the capitol faster than geese at a Wyoming goose shoot, that the trout was not even Colorado trout. Editorials around the rural parts of our republic castigated him and skinned the gills off of Governor Lamm for being insensitive to beef’s role in our state’s fragile economy.
This year even the cow-punching wags over at the Great Western Stock Show shared that they thought Governor Polis declaring non-beef days in our state might endanger the future plans for expansion of the stock show. We might want to ask a good auditor to check those plans. I don’t think we need a CPA for this. A performance review of the whole project might be helpful for the tax dollars allocated and spent given their slap at Polis whose support they should be seeking. Hope they check for cow pies.
The Honorable Dennis Gallagher is a former city auditor, city councilman, state senator and state representative. He’ll be sharing thoughts and stories from North Denver’s past and future in his reoccuring column in The Denver North Star.