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Independence Institute set to announce which Coloradan will be named Californian of the Year

Author: Ernest Luning - December 26, 2017 - Updated: December 26, 2017

Independence Institute President Jon Caldara strikes a pose during a recent interview at the conservative think tank's Denver offices. (Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman)Independence Institute President Jon Caldara. (Photo by Ernest Luning/ Colorado Politics)

Awards season is upon us, and the conservative jesters at Colorado’s right-leaning Independence Institute are bestowing the inaugural “Californian of the Year” award Wednesday on the lucky Coloradan who has “done the most to turn us into California,” in the words of the think tank’s president, Jon Caldara.

While the award has been generating some guffaws, Caldara says it comes with a serious point, if not a cash prize.

“Being Californian is a state of mind. It’s very simple. While being Coloradan means one who craves the freedom to make one’s own decisions, being Californian means demanding to make decisions for other people,” he said in an email announcing Denver’s answer to Tinseltown.

The rules are simple: Nominees don’t have to have set foot even once in California. (Upon further examination, that appears to be the only rule.)

Each day last week, Caldara unveiled a nominee — including an activist mayor, a Democratic congressman, the backer of a municipal ballot measure, a Republican state lawmaker and a man who signed a petition. The winner will be announced Wednesday.

Here are the nominees, as described by Caldara:

Our first nominee is Christine Berg, Mayor of Lafayette, for her leadership and vote to make Lafayette the first city in Colorado to bar local restaurants from advertising “sugar drinks” on kids’ menus. The ordinance limits children’s default choices to water and milk, among other offshoots, such as sparkling water and non-dairy milk alternatives.

(Read about the ban here.)


Our second nominee is gubernatorial hopeful, multi-millionaire, U.S. Congressman Jared Polis. While Jared’s nomination is hardly a surprise given his support of Obamacare, budget-busting initiatives like the spending mandate Amendment 23, and dressing up like ‘Mork from Ork,” our panel of judges were particularly impressed by his plan to have all of Colorado energy be renewable by 2040.

(Read more about the Polis renewable energy plan here.)

Our third nominee is citizen activist, Bernie-sycophant, and manager of a Red Robin restaurant, Brandon Rietheimer, for his work in forcing Denver building owners to plant lawns on their roofs.

(Read more about Denver’s “green roof” initiative here.)

Our fourth nominee is hero of the rural man and protector of the taxpayer, State Senator Jerry Sonnenberg. This week Republicans in Washington passed a historic tax cut. So, it is perfectly fitting that we honor the Republican in Colorado who led the effort to do the exact opposite here: raising taxes without even asking voters first.

(Read more about Senate Bill 267 here.)

Our fifth and final nominee is animal rights activist, buster of mutton-busting, and snazzy millennial-beard aficionado Aidan Cook. Aidan is a symbolic nomination. He is only one of the 1,200 Colorado-Californians who signed a petition demanding the Western Stock Show end its reign of cruelty known as Mutton Busting. What is Mutton Busting, you ask? It’s the time-honored sport of the mile-high gentry where five-year-olds get to play cowboy. Instead of riding a dangerous bucking bronco, the little guy or gal hops on a sheep and tries to hang on as long as they can.

(Read more about the effort to ban Mutton Busting here.)

According to results compiled early Tuesday morning of an unscientific poll conducted by the Independence Institute, visitors to its homepage thought Polis should win the Californian of the Year award, with 46 percent support, followed fairly closely by Sonnenberg’s 35 percent. The other three trailed, with the green roof guy polling at just under 8 percent, the Mutton Busting Buster getting 7.5 percent and Lafayette’s mayor getting just 3.5 percent.

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.