Denver Rustlers anticipate setting records on 33rd outing to Colorado State Fair

Author: Ernest Luning - August 21, 2017 - Updated: August 24, 2017

Kayla Becker shakes hands with Denver Rustler Tripp Kerber, CEO of Dixie Brands, as the group makes its way to the Junior Livestock Sale at the State Fair in Pueblo. Becker was encouraging bids on her second-place market lamb named Pretty Boy with a honed presentation about wanting to pursue a career in the veterinary field. All the money she earns from raising livestock — also including hogs and goats — goes straight to her college fund, she said. (Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman)

It’s that time of year again, when hundreds of business, political and community leaders dust off their straw hats and polish their cowboy boots — not to mention freshening up their iconic, embroidered western shirts — to get ready for the Denver Rustlers’ 33rd annual trip to the Colorado State Fair in Pueblo.

The Rustlers saddle up on Tuesday, Aug. 29, first meeting for the traditional lunch — and plenty of bipartisan schmoozing — at Del Frisco’s Double Eagle Steak House in the Denver Tech Center, then boarding luxury buses for the drive to the Junior Livestock Sale to bid on animals raised by Colorado youth.

Last year, a record 324 Denver Rustlers contributed just over $175,000 to the record-setting livestock sale, which took in nearly $525,000 for kids selling prize-winning cattle, hogs, lambs, goats, rabbits, chickens and turkeys. The organization has raised more than $3 million in its history. It’s also spawned plenty of competing civic groups, including the Pikes Peak Posse and the Fair Ladies, and every year bidding groups from companies throughout Colorado show up for the friendly rivalry at the auction.

Denver Rustlers founder Larry Mizel, chairman and CEO of MDC Holdings, the parent company of Richmond American Homes, introduces political consultant Josh Hanfling as founding Rustler Tim Schultz and U.S. Rep. Jared Polis stand by on Aug. 30, 2016, at Del Frisco’s Double Eagle Steakhouse in Greenwood Village. (Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman)

Founding Rustlers Tim Schultz — he helped organize the group when he was Colorado agriculture commissioner — and Larry Mizel, chairman and CEO of MDC Holdings, the parent company of Richmond American Homes, still organize the event. Last year they brought on political consultant Josh Hanfling of Sewald Hanfling Public Affairs to help run the show. Hanfling told Colorado Politics he’s confident the group will set fundraising records this year.

“We’ll be bidding on literally every animal,” Schultz said at last year’s auction. He handles the bidding for the group with the assistance of Craig Walker. The group pools its money and then the auction experts set to work, determining what the lowest-priced animal in each grouping went for last year, and then, Schultz says, bidding it higher.

“When someone bids higher than I do, I’m gonna let them have it — we want their money in the pool, and I’m going to bid on the next one,” he said.

Conor Hall, director of advance for Gov. John Hickenlooper, chats with the governor as Hickenlooper’s Chief of Staff Doug Friednash looks on at the start of bidding in the Junior Livestock Sale on Aug. 30, 2016, at the Colorado State Fair in Pueblo. (Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman)

At last year’s auction, Gov. John Hickenlooper welcomed the Rustlers to the auction after the two-hour bus ride. The participants, he said, are “down here for one reason, because they believe in Colorado agriculture. And more than that, they believe that the future of Colorado agriculture rests in their kids — the next generation of farmers and ranchers in this state.”

While not every official makes the trip to Pueblo, last year’s light lunch was packed with luminaries, including both U.S. senators, Michael Bennet and Cory Gardner, along with U.S. Reps. Diana DeGette, Jared Polis, Scott Tipton and Mike Coffman. Hickenlooper was there, along with Lt. Gov. Donna Lynne, Attorney General Cynthia Coffman, State Treasurer Walker Stapleton, Secretary of State Wayne Williams and numerous state legislators, county commissioners and city councilors.

Last year’s Junior Livestock Sale also set a record for the Grand Market Champion beef, raised by Julia Frye of Johnstown, which went for $62,000 to Pueblo-based Sam Brown and his family. After helping bid up the top steer’s price, the Rustlers successfully bid $22,500 for the Reserve beef, raised by Kory Ridnour of Burlington, and also managed to win the Grand hog, raised by Ranya Hodgson of Greeley, for $33,000.

Hewlett Packard CEO Meg Whitman smiles as State Treasurer Walker Stapleton, U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton, U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet and Colorado first lady Robin Pringle Hickenlooper listen to welcoming remarks at the Denver Rustlers event on Aug. 30, 2016, at Del Frisco’s Double Eagle Steakhouse in Greenwood Village. (Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman)

Ernest Luning

Ernest Luning

Ernest Luning is a political correspondent for Colorado Politics. He has covered politics and government for newspapers and online news sites in Colorado for more than 25 years, including at the Highlands Ranch Herald, the Jefferson Sentinels chain of community newspapers and the Aurora Sentinel, where he was the city hall and cops reporter. After editing the Aurora Daily Sun, he was a political reporter and blogger for The Colorado Independent site. For nearly a decade, he was a senior political reporter and occasional editor at The Colorado Statesman before the 119-year-old publication merged with Colorado Politics in 2017.