"Whoever you are, I have always depended on the kindness of strangers." — Tennessee Williams, A Streetcar Named Desire
That line, spoken by Blanche DuBois as a kindly doctor leads her offstage to a mental institution, came to mind as I read a pleading missive addressed to Colorado's congressional delegation, and signed by every significant local elected official.
In it, Mayor Steve Bach joined all five county commissioners, all nine City Councilors, the Colorado Municipal League, Colorado Counties, Inc., Larimer County commissioners, the city of Greeley, Colorado Springs Utilities and the Colorado Springs Regional Business Alliance in seeking support for a $19.8 million appropriation for emergency watershed protection.
Such pleas are fairly routine in the wake of disasters such as the High Park and Waldo Canyon fires last summer. The need for such funding is particularly acute for Colorado Springs and El Paso County, since any rainstorm could result in significant damage to highways, water pipelines and drainage infrastructure. And should there be a major storm — say, a 25- or 50-year event — the damage would be catastrophic. Imagine U.S. Highway 24 cut in half by a flood at Waldo Canyon and closed for weeks, or pipelines severed and shut down.
In such cases, state congressional delegations close ranks. This isn't like funding a bridge to nowhere or giving away tax money to underinsured property owners. This is critically important. And that's why there are 435 members of the House of Representatives. Their primary job is to represent the vital interests of their districts — not to preen, posture and sacrifice their constituents on the altar of their own half-baked ideology.
That, sadly enough, is what U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn is doing. He declined to support disaster aid to New Jersey and New York after Superstorm Sandy, and he's not supporting Colorado's appeal for relief funds now.
I've known Lamborn for 20 years or so, and I've always enjoyed his company. He's a smart, earnest man who combines unshakable conviction with a certain affinity for gutter politics. I'm sure that Jeff Crank remembers the smears of the 2006 Republican congressional primary, when pro-Lamborn factions accused Crank of being a pro-gay activist, and Lamborn let it slide. Successful politicians often have an instinct for the jugular, but few revel in it as much as Lamborn.
Of those few, several score are among Lamborn's House colleagues. They're end-of-days ideologues, convinced the nation will fall if their visions don't prevail. They know their cause is just, and any means is justified. They may not publicly agree with syndicated columnist Cal Thomas, who recently suggested that Republicans dismayed by Obama's re-election should simply refuse to pay taxes, but in their hearts they likely believe he's right.
Even if you believe that the federal deficit is bloated and unsustainable, and that the bill with funding for emergency watershed protection is pork-laden, there's a time when you have to make a deal. This is one.
So what if the bill stinks? So what if you have to hold your nose and abandon deeply held principles? That's your job, Congressman. You're not Ayn Rand, Karl Marx or Milton Friedman.
You're a politician, not a philosopher. Represent your district!
So here we are, the Blanche DuBois of Western cities, abandoned by our friends and forced to rely upon the kindness of strangers. And who might these strangers be? Gov. John Hickenlooper, Sen. Michael Bennet and Sen. Mark Udall. El Paso County voters rejected the candidacies of all three by almost the same margin (60 to 40 percent) that they supported Lamborn. If we're lucky, those kind strangers will do Lamborn's job for him, and provide for the health, safety and future prosperity of our community.
If not, we'll likely continue in our delusional path. We'll assume others will bail us out when our own folly leads us astray, and those who appeal to our fantasies make better representatives than those who live in the reality-based community. We'll hope the weather gods will look upon us benignly, and shield us from fire and flood, not to mention pestilence and famine.
We can always pray, but remember one thing: Even if your lawn is brown, don't pray for rain.
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