Any conversation with Hal Bidlack, besides being nonstop and high-energy, invariably leaves you with the same thought:
Surely, at some point there has to be a place where Bidlack could serve as an elected official in political life. Somehow, this 52-year-old retired Air Force lieutenant colonel should be able to realize his mid-life goal to make a big difference in the world around him.
But where will that be? When? And what will be his specific new path?
He tried running for Congress against U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn in 2008, but that challenge proved too steep in a Republican-dominated district. Last month, Bidlack took over as head of the El Paso County Democratic Party, which means he'll manage the Dems' county assembly and work on their state platform. With the local party heading toward a pivotal November election, Bidlack's quick thinking and smart advice could influence a handful of important local and even statewide races.
Unless another opportunity comes along.
Bidlack now confirms that he's in the mix of lieutenant governor candidates being considered by John Hickenlooper. The Denver mayor should be deciding on his choice sometime in the next month, before the state party convention May 22 at Broomfield.
There has been no official list made public of whom Hickenlooper might be considering. Most likely, it would include some state legislators, especially those facing term limits, such as Rep. Buffie McFadyen of Pueblo West. Bidlack's appeal, aside from having that campaign experience across the 5th House District, would be his extensive military experience and policy background.
"I genuinely believe I could bring something to it," Bidlack says, outlining the two basic priorities of any lieutenant governor: helping win the election, then assisting with actual day-to-day governance.
Two other factors are often involved, and Bidlack realizes they might not work in his favor. One, obviously, would be "gender balance," which would mean having a woman on the ticket. The other would be geographic balance, with Hickenlooper weighing the option of a No. 2 person from the Western Slope or another area where he might need more help.
Obviously, Bidlack has made himself much better-known in Colorado Springs, and trying to minimize the Republican dominance here can be decisive in a state race, as Bill Ritter did in 2006. But it's also true that Hickenlooper already has a recognition factor in the Springs from having launched Phantom Canyon Brewing Co. here nearly two decades ago, saving that corner of Cascade and Pikes Peak avenues from destruction.
The irony here is that Colorado Springs could have both major parties' lieutenant governor candidates, with County Commissioner Sallie Clark still in contention as a viable pick for Republican frontrunner Scott McInnis.
"I like Sallie, though we might disagree on some issues," Bidlack says, adding that in the 2008 campaign they joked about sharing crossover appeal, having seen their signs in the same yards.
Suddenly, Bidlack sounds like he's on the trail again, saying, "I absolutely refuse to demonize anyone" and asserting that "there is no miracle fix" for all that needs fixing at the national, state or local levels. He also insists that "if I could afford to run [for Congress] again, I would."
Instead, Bidlack (who's still teaching political science at the Air Force Academy) is content to work on galvanizing area Democrats behind such efforts as re-electing state Sen. John Morse and state Rep. Dennis Apuan. There are other strong Democratic candidates across the local spectrum, too, with term-limited state Rep. Michael Merrifield running for county commissioner, public trustee Tom Mowle going for clerk and recorder, and Pete Lee seeking Merrifield's state House seat.
If they could win most (if not all) of those five races, local Democrats would have a foundation for the future. That's the main goal driving Bidlack now, and he can switch on the instant eloquence while talking about any of those Democratic candidates.
Of course if the phone rings and Hickenlooper is calling, the 2010 election might lead Bidlack in a different direction. But for now, he's happy just trying to lead the area's Democrats toward new horizons.
And if he can pull that off, anything might be possible.
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