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Of honor and history and presidents

For about the 20th time, here we are talking about the fate of the City Auditorium.

During its informal session on Monday, Council heard yet another report on the cost of fixing up the old building. There were few changes from past updates. It'll cost around $2.5 million to catch up with deferred maintenance, including installing air conditioning, a sprinkler system, and making long-overdue improvements to water and sewer lines, lighting and the sound system.

There was clearly no consensus on Council. Three -- Mayor Lionel Rivera, Jerry Heimlicher and Darryl Glenn -- are clearly ready to give it away to an unholy alliance consisting of the Colorado Springs Conservatory, Chris Jenkins and the Downtown Partnership. Two or three others, led by Randy Purvis, are strong proponents of continued public ownership. And the rest, led (if that's the word) by waffling Richard Skorman -- who, after listening to his colleagues express strongly divergent views on the issue and remarking plaintively, "I agree with everything that's been said." -- would like to find an acceptable compromise.

Rivera & Company did everything they could to push the power structure agenda. Beth Kosley of the business lobbying group Downtown Partnership was invited to address them; the "Friends of the City Auditorium," which 400-odd folks signed up to join at a massive public meeting a couple of weeks ago, were officially ignored. (Full disclosure: I helped organize that meeting.)

Having spent too many years trudging the corridors of power, I've learned a couple of things. And here's the big, simple thing: Politicians don't know what the voters want; the voters know what the voters want. And that's why, if we want to save the City Auditorium, we have to construct our own initiative, carry the petitions, and put it on the April ballot.

So how about an initiated ordinance that would simply instruct Council to renovate the Auditorium over a period of several years? We'd just be forcing them to step up to the pump. Of course, they'd squawk and holler and complain -- why, they might even have to stop subsidizing some of their favorite boondoggles. But if you stretch out renovations over a five- or six-year period, it'll only cost a few hundred thousand annually -- a considerable sum, but easily manageable. After all, our annual city budget is just over $300 million (not including Utilities or Memorial Hospital).

It's appropriate, I think, to spend some time considering the legacy of Ronald Reagan.

I never much liked Reagan; never voted for him, never gave him any credit for the accomplishments of his administration, and blamed him for everything that went wrong.

Somehow, I didn't notice that inflation dropped from 13 percent to 4 percent during his time in office, or that the Soviet Union collapsed, or that we, as Americans, became more prosperous, more confident, happier and more unified. Reagan was either very lucky or very good -- and maybe both. It was easy to underestimate him -- and he encouraged his foes to do so.

It suited him just fine to be thought of as lazy, inattentive and disengaged; as he once remarked, making fun of his own image, "It's true that hard work never killed anyone, but I say, why take the chance?" When felled by a would-be assassin's bullet, he treated it as a minor, even faintly amusing event -- remember his famous line, "Honey, I forgot to duck"? Seemed corny, but it was his way of telling Americans that his deep belief in our country's radiant future remained unaffected. And it was that optimism, that clear-eyed sense of self, and that understated courage that so endeared him to so many.

Unhappily, we've thrown away Reagan's greatest legacies and kept some of the worst. Since Reagan, Republicans have become just as fiscally irresponsible (deficits, anyone?) as the worst tax-and-spend Democrats. Reagan was a cheerful compromiser who talked like a hard-line conservative; the Bushies are hard-line conservatives who pretend to be cheerful compromisers.

And despite his sometimes inflammatory rhetoric, Reagan was a risk-taking peacemaker, pushing through historic arms limitation agreements with Mikhail Gorbachev. Reagan was tough and principled, but he treated both foes and allies with careful respect.

George W. Bush would like us to think that he's Reagan's heir and successor. He's not. Reagan played dumb; Bush is dumb. Reagan was tough; he didn't have to dress up in a flight suit to convince the voters of his toughness. Reagan was far from perfect, but he was one of those presidents, like Roosevelt, Kennedy and Eisenhower, who called upon our better natures.

He was a unifier, not a divider. ... Now where have I heard that line?

-- johnhazlehurst@earthlink.net

  • Of honor and history and presidents

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