The roller-coaster ride of 2006 has seen Colorado politics go blue, like those across the nation. Colorado Springs mourned the deaths of two police officers slain in the line of duty. It also grieved for Fort Carson soldiers more than 175 killed since the war began in March 2003.
At the same time, local ecodevo leaders leapt for joy when our fair city was named by Money magazine the best place to live in the entire country. City historians marked the bicentennial of Zebulon Pikes famous expedition of the area.
And now weve got a local guy finding himself at the center of the biggest doping scandal in sports history? (See 'Roid Range news story.) Yes, among the lows and highs of 2006 are those forehead-slappers which sometimes last for months that define our times. Here are 10 not-to-be-forgotten Colorado Springs moments..
1. Ted Haggard gets fired
Ted Haggard's November flame-out was quite possibly the strangest episode this city has seen since the Texas Seven escaped from jail in 2001, shot a police officer, moved into a trailer near Woodland Park, dyed their hair and started going to Bible study.
The Haggard episode was beyond surreal. First there was the accusation, from a gay prostitute in Denver, that the leader of the largest Christian evangelical church in Colorado, who weekly had the ear of the White House, had been paying him for sex for three years. And that he had watched Haggard use meth.
Then there was the on-air denial, after 9 News in Denver tracked Haggard down. Mike Jones? Never heard of him. New Life Church Associate Pastor Rob Brendle described Haggard as "the farthest thing from a homosexual" imaginable. Focus on the Family Chairman James Dobson issued a press release attacking the secular media for its scurrilous attacks against his good friend. Religious and business leaders organized a rally to support Haggard, who was also the president of the 30-million strong National Association of Evangelicals.
Then the rally was abruptly, inexplicably, cancelled. Haggard resigned his NAE post. When the TV cameras again caught up with him for an impromptu interview in his SUV, Haggard admitted with his wife sitting next to him and his kids in the backseat, an unsettling grin on his face the entire time that he had gotten a massage from Jones but never had sex with that man. And he had bought the meth, but never inhaled, er, whatever.
The rest, as they say, is history. Days later, Haggard admitted to "sexual immorality" and got fired. He's since gone into what they are calling a "restoration" process which is being overseen by Dobson's cousin H.B. London and two other men that they say may take several years to complete.
2. Joel Hefley goes out punching Doug Lamborn
A year ago, everyone was still wondering whether Rep. Joel Hefley, dean of Colorado's congressional delegation, aka "Congressman for Life," would retire after 20 years. And no one, except former El Paso County Sheriff John Anderson, dared to make a move until Hefley made his move. In fact, many were outright appalled that Anderson had even announced his intent to run before Hefley's future was known. The words "disrespectful," "unsavory," "distasteful," and "indecent," among others, came from Republican lips including those of a certain state senator named Doug Lamborn.
"I'm not running for Congress because Joel is our congressman, and he's a fine one," Lamborn said in August 2005. "He continues to do a lot for our community. I would think that people would have the decency to wait for him to announce [whether he's running again] before they start their campaign."
A few months later, Hefley indeed announced his retirement; Lamborn joined Anderson in the race, as did four other Republicans, including Colorado Springs Mayor Lionel Rivera. Hefley, whose legacy is one of ethical purity in the Tom DeLay-Jack Abramoff era of political slime, endorsed former aide Jeff Crank in the primary race.
Then things got interesting. The Christian Coalition of Colorado, which is run by the brother of Lamborn's campaign manager, sent out an attack mailer claiming that Crank and Rivera support (gasp!) taxes and (double gasp!) the "radical homosexual agenda." Lamborn ended up winning the primary in a squeaker. Then Hefley unleashed his vengeance, refusing to endorse the Republican candidate and calling his campaign "sleazy and dishonest."
Democrat Jay Fawcett, hoping for a perfect storm, ran an aggressive campaign against Lamborn, collecting a list of Republicans for Fawcett along the way. For a time, Lamborn appeared close to losing his cool like when he told an audience member during a debate, "Excuse me sir, why don't you keep your mouth shut?"
In the end, Lamborn handily won, proving that El Paso County is one of the safest seats for Republicans in the country. And as for Hefley? After the election, Lamborn told the Independent, "I'm searching my heart to forgive him, because he did slander me unfairly."
3. Voters recall D-11 directors
It was hard to keep track of just how many times was it four, five or six? that Eric Christen threatened to resign from the board of the city's largest school district. Then voters finally finished the job. On Dec. 12, they recalled Christen, along with Sandy Shakes, from the seven-member board (csindy.com/csindy/2006-12-14/news4.html).
The next day, Craig Cox, the third of four school board members that voucher proponent and local developer State Schuck helped install three years ago, submitted his resignation.
Their departures end a three-year run of the district of 30,000 students. And, oh, what a run it was. Christen kept claiming that he wanted to reform D-11, an effort that apparently called for employing bullying tactics, calling people namesand posting half-naked modeling photos of himself at his self-publicized Web site (ericchristen.com).
Shakes, a retired teacher, vacillated from being part of the gang, to turning on it, to joining back up when she was ousted from serving a second term as president of the board. When she helped orchestrate the firing of Sharon Thomas, the district's superintendent of one year, community activists had enough. They organized a recall election, and when all was said and done, far more people voted to oust Christen and Shakes than voted them into office.
The voyeurs in us can't help but savor the old days, when Christen would unload his bile in the middle of televised board meetings, call his colleagues "buffoons" and such, and send e-mail accusing them of engaging in "pathological episodes" and being "unbalanced" and "incompetent."
But perhaps the board can now focus on more important things. Or, as president John Gudvangen said shortly after the recall, "Previously, it's been, "How do we keep this train on the tracks?' And now we have the opportunity to strategically plan, and be vigilant about outcomes. Now we can focus on the problems of school achievement and adequate staffing. We need to have some serious conversations. How do we invest in teacher training, and get the best math and science teachers to work in this district? How do we get the best teachers and pay them appropriately?"
4. Mind games revealed at Fort Carson
In April, Colorado Springs Independent reporter Michael de Yoanna chronicled the shocking stories of several brave soldiers who stepped forward to detail how they were suffering the effects of war (csindy.com/csindy/2006-04-13/cover.html).
"I wake up in the middle of the night with cold sweats," said former Army Sgt. Jeana Torgerson. "I can't have walls next to me because I wake up with bloody fists. I talk in my sleep, violently. I have flashbacks of memories, sound. Any moment I can go into crying episodes, and I don't know why."
The soldiers, de Yoanna reported, were having difficulty getting treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder and other mental health issues. In some cases, they were disciplined for drug use and other behaviors that psychologists agreed could be symptomatic of PTSD.
After the story appeared, Fort Carson spokesperson Dee McNutt accidentally released an assessment of the story prepared for her supervisors to numerous media outlets. "This is a story about former Fort Carson soldiers who supposedly suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder," McNutt wrote. "The article states that many soldiers have trouble getting help at Fort Carson. This is a slanted story with a negative impact on Fort Carson." [Italics hers.] In July, de Yoanna reported on this again (csindy.com/csindy/2006-07-13/cover.html).
In December, after a National Public Radio report on the same topic, three U.S. senators asked the Pentagon to investigate claims that Fort Carson soldiers were not receiving adequate treatment for mental health problems and in some cases were even being punished for seeking help.
5. Immigration issue invites skirmishes
The immigration debate heated to the boiling point this year in Colorado Springs and across the state (csindy.com/csindy/2006-02-16/publiceye.html). We got treated to screaming matches like the following, outside the Sand Creek library branch on South Academy Boulevard in February, where Mexican nationals were being issued matricula consular identification cards.
"They're messing with my future!" yelled Amanda McNabb, 16, visiting from Thornton.
"Prove it! Prove it!" responded James Tucker, publisher of the African-American Voice newspaper.
In May, thousands of immigrants' rights supporters flocked to Memorial Park as part of a national May Day rally to remind people of the important role that immigrants play in the nation's economy. In July, the state Legislature convened in special session to tackle immigration after a proposed ballot initiative to bar people in the state illegally from receiving emergency services was struck down by the state Supreme Court.
Then in October, in the midst of running for the state Senate, Rep. Dave Schultheis, who has taken on the topic of illegal immigration with a passion, sent an e-mail to the Greeley Tribune after a horrific accident killed three members of a family with the last name Bustillos. It was the day the youngest victim, a baby, died.
Specifically, Schultheis wanted to know: "Was the driver properly licensed? Was the vehicle properly registered and insured? Was this person the child of parents in the U.S. illegally? Or was she here illegally? Why is it that the investigative reports we read in the papers and see on TV do not point out the fact that these accidents and the resulting cost to taxpayers (hospitalization, etc.) are a direct result of our lax immigration policies and enforcement?"
In the resulting firestorm, the Bustilloses noted they are indeed legal residents, and their car was properly registered and insured. They also asked for a formal apology from the lawmaker, which they never received. The following month, Rep. Schultheis ascended to the state Senate with 69 percent of the vote.
6. Bernie Herpin replaces Richard Skorman
When the last liberal on the Colorado Springs City Council resigned in March to go to work for Sen. Ken Salazar, 29 people applied to replace him. Richard Skorman, owner of Poor Richard's and a host of other downtown businesses, and a longtime champion for gay rights and the environment, hoped he would be replaced by someone who shares similar viewpoints.
At the time, we joked that the obvious choice was Bernie Herpin, aka "Gun Guy," the friendly former longtime president of the Pikes Peak Firearms Coalition who had carved his reputation by promoting his passion for the Second Amendment.
"That's not all I am," Herpin insisted. "Fighting for firearms rights is what got me involved initially, but it's not all I am."
Lo and behold, the remaining City Council members actually picked him (csindy.com/csindy/2006-04-06/publiceye.html)! On just about every issue war, government, taxes, gays, environmental protections and, yes, guns Herpin and Skorman are polar opposites, standing there with the Grand Canyon in between. In an subsequent interview, Herpin claimed that from now on, gays and lesbians and progressive-minded folks could likely get a sympathetic ear from the remaining "liberals" on council. Those would be RepublicansJerry Heimlicher and Scott Hente.
7. Groups fight back against Christian soldiers
For many Jewish leaders, the start of 2006 was characterized by a fight against Christians intent on implementing their worldview, especially at the U.S. Air Force Academy. Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, blasted a "sophisticated, coordinated, unified, energized and organized coalition of groups" in a speech in late 2005.
Among the groups Foxman singled out was Focus on the Family, the powerful evangelical ministry in Colorado Springs whose founder, James Dobson, has called for restoring America's "biblical foundations."
"Make no mistake," Foxman said. "We are facing an emerging Christian right leadership that intends to "Christianize' all aspects of American life, from the halls of government to the libraries, to the movies, to recording studios, to the playing fields and locker rooms of professional, collegiate and amateur sports, from the military to SpongeBob SquarePants."
Rabbi Eric Yoffie, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, joined Foxman in his criticism, warning that Christian "zealots" are trying to "make their religion the religion of everyone else," the Independent's Terje Langeland reported.
Not to be outdone, Mikey Weinstein, the Air Force Academy graduate who sued his alma mater over religious intolerance at the tax-funded institution, weighed in (csindy.com/csindy/2006-03-02/cover.html).
"People say this is a Christian country founded on Christian principles," said the Military Religious Freedom Foundation founder, in a March profile in the Independent. "The real essential aspect of this country, woven into the tapestry of the embroidery of how beautiful this country is, is one concept above all others, which is tolerance of diversity.
"The biggest crime I accuse the religious right of and it's a blood libel, a crime against humanity is torturing that concept, by bludgeoning it and assaulting it, so that what it comes out as "tolerance for diversity' equals "intolerance for us in the majority.' My response is: Fuck you. Fuck you. How dare you?"
In October, a federal judge threw out Weinstein's lawsuit, ruling the parties named could not have had their First Amendment rights violated because they no longer attend the academy. Weinstein has vowed an appeal.
8. Colorado Springs revealed as divorce mecca
Pastor Steve Holt of Mountain Springs Church in northern Colorado Springs was dismayed early this year when he learned the divorce rate in El Paso County is as high as 70 percent. That's higher than anywhere else in Colorado, which has the fifth-highest divorce rate in the nation. "I could not believe it. It was just shocking," Holt said (csindy.com/csindy/2006-02-02/publiceye.html).
On top of that, despite our well-established reputation as Scripture Central, it turns out that only 21 percent of us actually go to a house of worship on any given weekend, well below the national average of 35 percent.
"The notion that Colorado Springs is a religious city is a mega-misnomer," Holt says. "We have a ton of religious organizations, but we do not have a very spiritual city."
But who better, he figured, to take up the battle for marriage than religious leaders like himself? Joined by dozens of other local ministers of varying denominations, Holt, with the blessing of Mayor Lionel Rivera, kicked off a countywide "Marriage Covenant" at City Hall in February, designed to inspire church leaders to incorporate couples' mentoring and marriage counseling programs into their places of worship.
9. Westboro Church protests at soldiers' funerals
The Fred Phelps clan has made Colorado Springs a regular stop over the past couple years visiting Focus on the Family, the Air Force Academy and even Palmer High School, to bash gays and lesbians. But the members of his Topeka, Kan.-based Westboro Baptist Church took a new tack this year when they started protesting at the funerals of soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan (csindy.com/csindy/2006-03-16/news3.html).
One March flier announcing an upcoming protest read: "Thank God for IEDs (Improvised Explosive Devices). God Himself has now become America's terrorist, killing Americans in strange lands for Brokeback Mountain fag sins." In Phelps' mind, America, formerly a great nation, is doomed and committing suicide, having reached the bottom rung for being "profoundly gay."
"This is beyond ..." said Ryan Smith, a Fort Carson-based soldier who spoke with the Independent. "I can't even come up with a description for it. It's inhumane. It's sick. It's just wrong."
That month, Phelps and three minivans of protesters showed up to jeer the funeral of Sgt. Gordon F. Misner II, a 23-year-old husband and father of three who was killed by a roadside bomb near Balad, Iraq, some 50 miles north of Baghdad. It was just one of dozens of funerals across the country that was similarly attended. In response, a countermovement of bikers, called the Patriot Guard, organized. Members have traveled by the hundreds to create human barriers between the Phelps clan and the funerals.
And at least two dozen states introduced legislation in direct response, to restrict or outlaw protests at funerals. After Misner's funeral in Colorado, state lawmakers quickly adopted a funeral protest ban sponsored by Rep. Michael Merrifield. "It's limiting, not shutting them up; it's dictating when and where they can spew their message of hate," said Merrifield, a Democrat from Manitou Springs.
Phelps, of course, was unrepentant.
"I just love it to death," he said of the new laws. "It focuses renewed attention on how many states in the nation are willing to stomp on the Constitution."
10. Citizens, city leaders hush Douglas Bruce
The biggest loser in Colorado this year was not GOP gubernatorial candidate Bob Beauprez. No, that award goes to El Paso County Commissioner Douglas Bruce, whose efforts to dismantle the city of Colorado Springs otherwise known as proposals 200 and 201 went down in flames in November (csindy.com/csindy/2006-11-30/publiceye.html). The measures would have eliminated property taxes, whacked the city's 2-cent sales tax in half, and restricted the city's ability to borrow money, which undoubtedly would have resulted in a slashing of city services.
In addition, statewide Amendment 38, a Bruce-pushed proposal to make it easy to petition issues at all levels of government, failed by a wide margin. Now community leaders are looking back at Bruce's record, and they like what they see. The author of Colorado's 1992 Taxpayer Bill of Rights, a complicated tax-and-spending-limitation law, has not enjoyed much success since other than being elected to help oversee the government he scorns.
And this year Bruce, previously famous for calling people he doesn't like nasty names, found himself on the receiving end.
In addition to City Manager Lorne Kramer deriding Bruce in the daily newspaper as someone who "believes that he's smarter than you, he's smarter than me, he's smarter than the elected people that you have put into office and he is smarter than everyone else," County Attorney Bill Louis got in on the act.
Several weeks before the November election, Louis who is appointed by the five-member board of commissioners that includes Bruce took the podium and attacked one of his own bosses. He called Bruce a "narcissist," a "sociopath," a "bully" and a "crackpot enabler" whose guerilla tactics threatened democracy.