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It'd be pretty far-fetched to compare this year's various political campaigns to the onset of World War II, but we seem to be enjoying a political sitzkrieg. Gore 'n' Bush are concentrating on real states with real electoral votes, like Michigan and Florida, and the other campaigns are just starting to roll. And given that no one seems particularly passionate about the national election -- let's face it, Gore 'n' Bush are both capable human beings who would make good elementary school principals -- most of this year's political heat will be generated in local races and by statewide ballot initiatives.

For the first time since the Renny Fagan/Daphne Greenwood era, Democrats have a real shot at getting one or two of their number elected to the El Paso County legislative delegation. Had a cup of coffee the other day with one of the leading lights of the Republican party, who was gloomily confident that both Ed Raye and Michael Merrifield would topple their Republican foes. Raye, he pointed out, is a tireless campaigner, a thoughtful moderate, and running against a GOP newcomer in a swing district.

Unlike his opponent, Ed's been around for a long time, and has built up a powerful support network outside of the political arena. And as for Merrifield, my Republican pal thought that he would benefit from a sizeable backlash vote from moderate Republicans/ Independents who despise his opponent, Dave Schultheis.

Despite a different party label, Merrifield is a more credible heir to Marcy Morrison's brand of moderate Republicanism than is Schultheis, and Marcy's dedicated Republican supporters might just split their tickets and vote for the Dem in this particular race.

Meanwhile, campaigns for and against several statewide initiatives will be expensive, bitter and vituperative, full of lies, exaggerations and unfair personal attacks. In other words, they'll be lots of fun, and even strangely comforting to political junkies who can't face the dreary prospect of a Clinton-less future.

Expect multimillion dollar assaults designed to delegitimize, destroy and defeat two popular ballot initiatives: the Bruce-inspired TaxCut 2000, and the anti-sprawl, controlled growth measure from the good government crowd.

These are difficult to oppose because nobody likes taxes, uncontrolled growth or sprawl. But given that passage of either, or both, would create problems for the powerful, and maybe even for the powerless, ingenious campaigns have been created to blow these initiatives out of the water.

How do you fight an anti-sprawl, controlled growth initiative? No problem; you use a kind of political jujitsu, and claim that the initiative, by imposing order on the chaotic sprawl of Front Range metro areas, will just drive the crazed developers farther from town and, yup, Create More Sprawl!! Don't vote against sprawl -- you'll get more sprawl!!

OK, now that they're afraid to vote against sprawl, how do you get 'em to vote for taxes? It helps that Doug Bruce, TaxCut 2000's principal architect, has been demonized for years as a devious, terminally irrational opponent of all government. It doesn't help that, thanks to the Dougster, we're all going to get a fat refund check from the Colorado Department of Revenue. I've opposed Doug for years, but, of the hundreds of folks I've fought with, he's the only one who got the State to send me a check. And given that we've called each other every name in the book and I'm feeling pretty kindly toward him, I suspect that a majority of the voters may feel the same way.

Yet because of its turgid language, which has allowed opponents to claim that the State could not compensate local libraries, fire protection districts or any local jurisdiction for lost revenue, TaxCut 2000 may go down. In truth, the State can do whatever it pleases; it simply can't use "excess revenue," as defined by the State Constitution, to backfill local government shortfalls. Clearly, Doug's goal is not to close libraries, but to force the State to economize. Most voters might agree with that goal, so Doug's opponents will focus on bankrupt schools, closed libraries and entire counties without fire protection. Right now, it's all in their imagination, and those tax refund checks are real, so we'll see. ...

Meanwhile, as soon as I get my check, I'm taking the Dougster to lunch. Maybe we can get take-out and find a quiet spot to sit and talk about old times ... maybe on the steps of the shuttered and deserted library.

-- johnhazlehurst@aol.com

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