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Taking a Stand

6/28/2006

Raised on a family ranch along the South Platte River in the small northern Colorado town of LaSalle, Chuck Sylvester Jr. never spent much time dealing in politics. Instead, corn, calves, horses and irrigation occupied Sylvester from before sunrise to well after dark.

Now that Sylvester has entered the race to become Colorado's next governor, he hasn't changed his tune. He still tends to his family's 130-year-old farm with the same pride and dedication he learned while growing up. With that same pride, he hopes to represent Colorado citizens with a level of class he says he doesn't see on the current campaign trail.

To put it bluntly, he's mad. Mad at what the process has become. And he's not going to take it any more. So, he's doing the next best thing by entering as a write-in Republican candidate for the Nov. 7 general election.

"I'm disturbed when they brag about how much money they're raising, and it seems like they raise the money to bash one another," Sylvester said on June 20 after making the official announcement at his family farm. "I don't think that's what elections are about. Elections should be about presenting yourself and stating your issues and letting the people decide."

Sylvester, wearing a light blue pressed long-sleeved dress shirt with an American flag-adorned tie, blue jeans, boots and a straw cowboy hat, addressed a small crowd from a large red wagon that served as his podium. His wife, Roni, stood at his side on a mild morning as he spelled out plans to improve Colorado should he be chosen to succeed Gov. Bill Owens, a fellow Republican whose term is up.

It wasn't about issues as much as principle.

"My love of this state and encouragement of good folks everywhere are part of the reason leading to my decision. It is time we start a renewed direction of the election process and get back to the basics. I want to also show young people that it's not all about money and condemning others on their political affiliation. Building a great republic, discussing and debating the issues is good, healthy and necessary. Then let the voters decide."

Sylvester has a long and distinguishable background in a variety of fields surrounding the Western lifestyle. Active in 4-H and the Future Farmers of America as a youth, he showed steers and heifers at the Weld County and Colorado state fairs. He later graduated from Colorado State University in 1961 and went to work as a chemical salesman in Longmont, Colo., and later became the county agent.

In 1969, he became the assistant manager of the Colorado State Fair in Pueblo, where he helped plan the Fair's 100th anniversary in 1972. From there, he continued to hone his managerial skills. In 1975, he was named manager of the National Western Stock Show's Livestock Center, which led to him being promoted to general manager of the entire operation in 1978.

He remained in charge of the National Western for 25 years, watching total attendance from the event increase three-fold. He retired in 2003 but came back to help direct efforts for the 100th NWSS, which took place earlier this year.

For the last 10 years as general manager of the Stock Show, Sylvester also served on the PRCA Board of Directors as rodeo committee chairman until 2003.

Even with no practical political experience, Sylvester said he's ready to roll up his sleeves for the Centennial State.

"Everything I've done all my life is helping me," Sylvester said. "Everything, from being a county agent all the way to the Stock Show, was a stepping stone. I'm definitely not a modern-day politician. I think I approach things from a practical point of view from the way I was raised. Never would I break an agreement with anybody, even if there was no contract. A handshake is good enough for me. Those are some of the principles that we have lost and should get back."

Sylvester's name won't be on the November ballot, which means Colorado voters must write in his name in the appropriate space to make it valid. Even with such odds, Sylvester sees the next four months as a great opportunity to make history.

"I think winning is possible, but it is an uphill battle because I'm going about it in a difficult way," Sylvester said. "This is what makes it fun and challenging, getting the word out without big dollars. This is grassroots, people telling people."

It's that grassroots principle that helped Sylvester build the National Western into a rodeo that ultimately won the PRCA's Indoor Rodeo Committee of the Year Award three times. In the early 1980s, Sylvester, while taking advice from another rodeo official, hired a trick-riding family named the Flying Cossacks to entertain fans at the rodeo.

Of course, one of those trick riders was Troy Ellerman, now the commissioner of the PRCA who prior to that served as chairman of the PRCA Board, alongside Sylvester.

Sylvester is prepared for either result. Political experts don't expect much impact from a short, four-month grassroots campaign. So even if he doesn't capture the popular vote, he'll still consider his time well spent.

"If I don't win, I'm still a winner," Sylvester said. "And I hope I'm establishing a new precedent in the ways elections should be, grassroots, people helping people, people having fun, smiling and not bashing other people."