The good thing about the Colorado Legislature is that it only gathers for four months a year. Lawmakers wound down the 2006 session this week, and it's clear what will best be remembered about this year's class sometimes, just forget about those pesky ethics.
First there was Rep. Joe Stengel, the Republican minority leader from Littleton, who last year charged state taxpayers for a record-breaking 200 of 247 days that the Legislature didn't meet. Stengel claimed he was hard at work for his constituents every single one of those days, and thus deserved the extra cash. But his story unraveled when Lynn Bartels of the Rocky Mountain News exposed that a week of that "work" was actually a vacation in Hawaii. Initially, Stengel stuck by his hard-at-work story with impressive panache; eventually, he resigned his leadership position.
Democrats who were crowing about the Stengel mess beat a quick retreat when one of their own, Sen. Deanna Hanna, found herself in the pickle jar. In an act of either supreme arrogance or extreme dim-wittedness, Hanna, who is from Lakewood, sent a letter to a realtors' group asking for $1,400 in "reparations" after she found out it had supported her opponent in the 2004 election. When exposed, Hanna did not find anything extraordinary about her actions, which Colorado Springs Republican Andy McElhany angrily called "extortion." Ultimately, Hanna resigned.
Then there was Rep. Jim Welker, not exactly doing his Grand Old Party proud. He forwarded a racist essay calling New Orleans residents stranded by Hurricane Katrina "primarily immoral, welfare-pampered blacks" who waited for the government to bail them out. Also hiding in Welker's closet was an old article he forwarded in 2003, which claimed that gays and lesbians eat their partners' feces and questioned whether they should be allowed to work in restaurants or around children and the elderly. Welker's since decided not to run for another term this November.
And so went the session. Sen. Tom Wiens, a Republican from Castle Rock, got called out after a nonprofit group he oversees received a $100,000 donation from Lockheed Martin, after he had sponsored a legislative bill that was favorable to the aerospace giant. (Both Wiens and Lockheed Martin deny the two were connected in any way.)
Then Rep. Tom Plant, a Democrat from Nederland who is also the executive director of a conservation nonprofit, was dressed down after his company received taxpayer money from a fund that he had helped create.
It's enough to make a taxpayer weep or beg for a laugh. Which brings us to our favorite anecdote of the legislative year. Colorado Springs Rep. Dave Schultheis, who spent some time swaggering around in the Arizona limelight last summer with the Minutemen, has decided he wants to be known for his zero-tolerance stance on illegal immigration. Last month, he announced that he wants to ban Colorado from printing anything official in anything but English.
That notion was bewildering enough to inspire one letter-to-the-editor writer to ponder the ramifications using Schultheis' own party headquarters as a fitting example. This is the address of El Paso County Republican Headquarters: 710 S. Tejon St., Colorado Springs, Colorado. If English-only was the rule of the land, the letter-writer noted, those names and addresses would certainly have to be changed to The Pass County Republican headquarters, 710 S. Badger St., Red Springs, Red.
Good news for humorists: This year, Schultheis is running for the state Senate. He hopes to replace Doug Lamborn, who inherited the seat in 1998 from Charlie Duke, the former statesman whose colorful career included accusing Newt Gingrich of breaking into his home and stealing his lucky pocketknife, as well as condemning U.S. Congressman Joel Hefley and his wife, state Rep. Lynn Hefley, for conspiring to manipulate the stock market.
Lamborn is now running to replace Hefley in Congress. With Duke long out of the picture, we have great hopes that Schultheis will step up to restore the decorum of old under the Golden Dome.
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