Bernie Herpin says the "other" newspaper in town did him and all us citizens a real disservice with last week's front-page headline announcing his appointment to City Council. "Council picks firearms activist," went the tag.
"That's not all I am," Herpin insists. "Fighting for firearms rights is what got me involved initially, but it's not all I am."
Like it or not, perception is reality. And, the former longtime president of the Pikes Peak Firearms Coalition has carved his reputation promoting his passion for the Second Amendment. He may have taken his wife to the symphony more recently than he's shot one of his three firearms he's got a pistol, a rifle and a shotgun but when people think about Herpin, he's the gun guy.
This is the man who was chosen to serve Richard Skorman's last year on City Council. They are polar opposites. Take just about any issue war, government, taxes, gays, environmental protections and, yes, guns and the two men are standing there, with the Grand Canyon in between.
Yet, last week, despite having 29 applicants to choose from, a decidedly conservative majority of the remaining eight members of Council chose Herpin to fill out Skorman's term.
Plenty of people who hoped, even expected, that the elected officials would appreciate the value of a more moderate voice and appoint someone else accordingly, were shocked by the choice. Even Skorman, who left office early to go to work for U.S. Sen. Ken Salazar, was surprised. And disappointed.
"Well you know, he wouldn't have been who I would have chosen," Skorman says, citing the perception if not the reality of Colorado Springs as the socially right-tilting Protestant Vatican of the West.
"Nothing against Bernie, but it was a very wrong message to send to other communities in Colorado and the country, because we're thought of as a city that has been taken over by ultraconservative, intolerant anti-tax crusaders," Skorman says. "So to have one more notch in the belt expressing that, makes people around the state and country roll their eyes and say, "Colorado Springs is not a city I want to move to, or would feel welcome in.'
"That's a misperception, but every time something like that happens it's a bad stroke; it's just bad for business."
Not surprisingly, Herpin doesn't put much stock into such claims. In an interview last week, he cited his service on the city's Airport Advisory Commission as an example of his multi-faceted civic involvement, as well as his work with senior citizens who have been victimized by crime.
And while it would be easy to take aim with questions like, "What's the best thing about shooting your gun?" (answer: "Well, I just enjoy target shooting; it's a competition to see how well you can do")it's important to get to know him on a number of levels.
Here's the personal bio: Harpin is 62, married, with three grown daughters. He flunked out of the Air Force Academy in 1964 and is a self-described computer geek who works as a senior configuration analyst at Schriever Air Force Base. He loves the Beach Boys, his favorite TV show right now is "Boston Legal," and the last book he read was a Tom Clancy. On the nightstand next to his bed is a telephone, the TV remote control and a box of Kleenex. He starts his day at 3 a.m.
Top on the list of his 19 stated beliefs, published on his Web site at herpins.com, is this: "I believe in God; his son Jesus Christ, my Lord and Savior; and in the Holy Spirit." Herpin also believes that life begins at conception. He believes in limited government, the death penalty, marriage between one man and one woman, our armed forces and that the rights of man trump the rights of animals.
He believes in "holding doors for ladies, taking your hat off in their presence, and standing up when they come in the room. This is a sign of respect, not chauvinism."
Finally and this is last on his list "I believe in being respectful of others and their views."
Polite and soft-spoken, Herpin doesn't understand why some people are making such a big deal out of a conservative replacing a liberal on Council. After all, he supported the Trails, Open Space and Parks tax extension and the Regional Transportation Authority. And, he says, he's leaving it to others to step up and fill Skorman's void particularly Jerry Heimlicher, Scott Hente and Randy Purvis, the Council members who didn't vote for him because they preferred someone whose views were more closely aligned with Skorman's.
"There was one lady who was complaining because she doesn't think she's going to have a voice on City Council," Herpin says. "Well, as I mentioned, she'll have a voice with me if I agree with what she wants me to do.
"I mean, if she wants to march in there and say, "I want you to tell the Council we need to have health benefits for same-sex couples,' or, "We want you to champion marriage for same-sex couples,' that's not going to happen."
So just what does Herpin think about gays? Does he maintain, for example as some high-profile community leaders do that they can be "cured?"
"Um, I don't think so, no. I think there are probably some who are [gay] because of an accident of conception they are born that way, it's just who they are ...I'm not going to go out and capture somebody and take them off to be deprogrammed.
"I think "cured' is the wrong term. I mean, can I be cured of my support of my Second Amendment rights? Can I be cured of the fact that I'm a Lutheran and conservative? It's not for me to say whether somebody should change their lifestyle just because I don't approve of it. That's their personal decision."
However, Herpin doesn't really understand all the hullabaloo. Why, for example, do gays want to have pride marches?
"Why do you have to make a big issue out of it? I don't march down the street with my wife, to whom I've been married for 40 years, so I don't understand why they feel they need that kind of attention."
Got it. OK, so, bottom line: When Herpin decides to run for a full four-year term on Council a year from now, what is going to be his fire-in-the-belly issue, the position that will truly set him apart from his eight colleagues?
"I don't know," he says frankly. "I don't see myself as a ringleader; I don't know of any issue right now that I will be considered the champion of. There are a lot of things facing our city infrastructure, the fire and police departments but as the new kid on the block, I don't think I want to jump in and tell the other eight how to do anything."