Whatever you might say about state Rep. Douglas Bruce, you wouldn't call him unprincipled.
The legislator for House District 15 in El Paso County has long refused to back what he considers "ceremonial" resolutions, calling them a waste of time. One uproar during his short stint at the state House came after he refused to co-sponsor a resolution honoring veterans, a move that got him publicly booted from the State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee.
On his Web site, Rep. Douglas Bruce goes so far as to give a Bible story as justification for standing on principle.
While this evident self-regard might give you pause, it's clear some voters hold him in similar light, regarding him as a sort of crusader who has fought to limit taxes and shrink government since voters passed his Taxpayer's Bill of Rights, or TABOR amendment, in 1992.
Bruce, bruised by high-profile scuffles during his months in the Legislature, clearly is counting on those party stalwarts to rescue him now as he fights Mark Waller for the Republican Party's nomination.
Asked to visit with the Indy's editorial board, perhaps carrying his message to a different crowd, he answered with evident disgust: "Why would I want to come down there? ... I'm not interested ... What is to be gained? ... [If endorsed] I would reject and repudiate their support."
Waller, a Colorado Springs attorney, took a more measured approach and met with the Indy, offering that he shares many of Bruce's conservative convictions while still being able to work with other people.
"Legislating is a team sport," he says. "You can't pass any legislation by yourself."
One challenge for Waller is being seen as more than the anti-Bruce candidate. For voters fed up with Bruce's grandstanding, it's easy seeing Waller, who is polite and congenial, simply for what he is not.
Like most candidates battling an incumbent, Waller would likely benefit from a high turnout for the Aug. 12 primary. And signs are good that he'll get it.
In El Paso County two years ago, 56,641 voted in the primary election. But by late last week, county election officials had sent out more than 60,000 mail-in ballots, with batches of 600 to 800 still going out each night. Nearly 8,000 ballots had already been returned. Plus, in the past, more people have voted at polling places than by mail.
Another encouraging sign for Waller: Dissatisfaction with Bruce was evident in March at the Republican Party's county assembly. Delegates in House District 15 favored Waller over Bruce 139-105, giving Waller the top line on the ballot.
But not all the signs point to reasons for Waller to be optimistic. Most challengers would like to see a lot of people changing party affiliation before a primary; those people usually vote for change. But surprisingly, the county's Republicans did not have a net gain of members between May 1 and the July 14 deadline to change party affiliation; they picked up 1,993 newcomers but also shed 2,544 voters. (During the same period, the county Democratic Party gained 2,636 members and lost 1,399.)
And Bruce clearly retains some supporters. In April, Bruce made his infamous "illiterate peasant" comment as he asked to speak against proposed legislation to help bring thousands more foreign workers to the state. Fellow legislators gasped in disbelief, but the Democrat who banned him from speaking further on the bill later reported receiving death threats.
Whether Bruce's past supporters are willing to overlook his legislative escapades is another question. His Web site had counted U.S. Rep. Tom Tancredo, U.S. Sen. Wayne Allard and other prominent Republicans as supporters in the current race, but links to some of the names showed their support was tied to Bruce's 2004 commissioner race.
Waller raised questions, and the Web site now notes they are figures who "have supported or praised Douglas Bruce during his years of public service."
Another unusual aspect of the race between Waller and Bruce is that the incumbent has been the one requesting debates and so far getting rebuffed. Waller says flatly he sees no benefit to sharing a stage with Bruce, and apparently does not savor the prospect of being on the receiving end of his opponent's sharp tongue. Says Waller, "I don't know of anyone who can control him."
On Aug. 12, though, voting constituents certainly could rein in his influence.
Senate District 4: In the northern part of the county, Mark Scheffel and Bob Denny are vying for the vacant seat in the district, which extends north through Castle Rock and west through Woodland Park and Leadville.
House District 15: Bruce vs. Waller.
House District 17: Sheila Hicks, not to be confused with outgoing incumbent Rep. Stella Garza Hicks, faces off against Catherine "Kit" Roupe.
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