Way back in the mid-1980s, when I was a struggling not-so-young rookie real estate salesman, a friend gave me a hot lead. She worked at the symphony, and a newcomer to town had just purchased season tickets.
“He’s moving here from California,” she said, “and he asked me if I’d recommend an agent. I gave him your name, so he might call you. His name is Douglas Bruce.”
A couple of days later, Mr. Bruce called. He told me that he intended to buy a dozen properties, but that he didn’t need my (or anybody’s) advice on what to buy, where to look, how much to pay, or how to obtain financing. He considered the then-customary commission structure to be absurdly inflated, and suggested that my compensation should be much, much less.
It didn’t sound particularly promising, but we met and tried to work something out. After a few minutes, it was clear that we couldn’t work together. I thought that he was an arrogant know-it-all, and he didn’t much care for me, either.
For the next 25 years, we clashed repeatedly, driven by opposing beliefs and mutual personal distaste. It’s been a long, strange trip.
In April of 1991, the always unpredictable voters of Colorado Springs approved TABOR’s first iteration in the form of a Bruce-initiated charter amendment — and elected me to City Council.
Game on. I thought that the voters would soon see the error of their ways, modify the amendment, and toss the Dougster into the dustbin of history. Instead, voters statewide approved TABOR a year later, making Bruce the most influential Colorado politician since Wayne Aspinall, the canny Western Slope congressman who sponsored the giant trans-mountain water diversion projects that created the modern Front Range.
Aspinall built - Bruce destroyed.
Once a registered Democrat who ran for a seat in the California legislature, Bruce’s beliefs had changed radically by the time he arrived in Colorado. He saw governments as bloated kleptocracies run by self-serving incompetents interested only in feathering their own nests. He knew how to stop their thieving ways; cut off the money.
And since the money came from taxes, and people don’t much like paying taxes, the way was clear. He had to persuade the sheep to stop being shorn and show the suckers how they were being fleeced.
He had to slow down, and even reverse, the inexorable growth of government.
It was a reasonable goal, one shared by many Coloradans.
But for Bruce, shrinking government was a crusade. It was a war between good and evil, and he was the white knight. He was Douglas the Lion-Hearted, leading his motley legions against the ruthless, amoral minions of a corrupt state. For such a goal, every means was legitimate. If he authored constitutional amendments containing devious and deceptive language, that was OK. It was OK to demonize your opponents, to ignore facts that didn’t support your position, and to skirt laws in the process.
After all, THEY made the laws, THEY enforced the laws, and THEY tried to stop him from revealing the truth! THEY were corrupt — not him.
Such was his contempt for government and government employees that he didn’t even bother to get an attorney when indicted on multiple counts of evading state taxes. He represented himself, probably figuring that the prosecutors were hack lawyers who couldn’t get better jobs, that the judge was an ignorant twit who would let him take over her courtroom, and that a freedom-loving jury of his peers would never convict the man who had led them from the wilderness of oppressive taxation to the sunny uplands of liberty.
Wednesday he stood in a Denver courtroom, where a jury found him guilty of all counts: failing to file tax returns, tax evasion, filing a false return, and attempting to influence a public servant. He could be fined as much as $750,000, and sent to prison for up to 12.5 years.
He’ll appeal, but that may just drag out the process. At some point, he’ll have to do a John Gotti who, when sentenced to prison, took off his Bruno Magli’s, slipped on a pair of running shoes, rose and said, “Ready for Freddie.”
And Bruce’s troubles may not be over, even if he can avoid jail time on the state charges. If he defrauded Colorado, he may have defrauded the IRS as well — and, as one who is paying off his own back taxes, I’m reasonably certain that the feds won’t let him slide.
It’s a sad coda to a significant life. For better or for worse, Bruce affected the lives of every Coloradan. Not for him the dustbin of history, where most of his erstwhile political adversaries (myself included!) now repose.
Not so many years ago, the prospect of the Dougster in an orange jumpsuit would have delighted me. No more. When you grow older, you begin to treasure your enemies as well as your friends. As Richard Skorman once told me, the trick to working with people whom you dislike is to concentrate on something that you like about them, and ignore the rest.
On the witness stand, Bruce reportedly choked up when talking about his late mother, Marjorie. She was a retired schoolteacher who moved to Colorado Springs to be near her son. She was also a writer, so accomplished that she was twice chosen by the Denver Post as one of its “Colorado Voices,” ordinary Coloradans who each write a half-dozen columns for the paper in the course of a year.
I talked to her once or twice — she called to praise something I’d written, saying “I hope you don’t mind that my son is Mr. Controversial!”
She was very much her own person.
On Nov. 7, New York magazine’s cover story celebrated the 40th anniversary of the groundbreaking first issue of Ms. magazine, published as an insert in New York on Dec. 20, 1971. The new pub’s impact was immediate and overwhelming. “These enormous mailbags (from new subscribers) would arrive every day,” said founding editor Joanne Edgar. New York published three such letters last month. Here’s one, dated Feb. 9, 1972.
“I’m encouraging every young woman I know to subscribe — those who can leave their macramé long enough to use their minds.” — Marjorie Bruce, Hollywood, Calif.
Marjorie: rest in peace. And Douglas: hire a good lawyer, and stay out of the slam!! And if you need a character witness at your sentencing, give me a call…
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