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The return of Charlie Duke (sort of) 

click to enlarge Charles Duke was riding high as a state senator before - resigning in 1998.
  • Charles Duke was riding high as a state senator before resigning in 1998.

Walking this good Earth with Charles Duke is nothing if not an adventure.

It's been nearly a decade since Duke, then a state senator from Monument, was undeniably one of the most colorful characters in Colorado politics. A conservative Republican, Duke swaggered during much of the 1990s in the national spotlight, a hero in the anti-government Patriot Movement.

Among other highly publicized escapades, Duke accused then-Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich and drug czar Bill Bennett of masterminding a break-in of his Monument townhome. He said they made off with his 1996 tax files and a lucky pocketknife a charge Gingrich's spokesman denied.

In addition, Duke accused U.S. West of tapping his phone in that incident a charge the phone company denied.

He claimed that he could hear the voice of Satan cackling in the ceiling of the state Capitol. He claimed that former U.S. congressman Joel Hefley and his wife Lynn Hefley, then a state representative, were conspiring along with President Bill Clinton, the Mafia and an international Jewish banking conspiracy to manipulate the stock market.

In 1995, Duke blamed the federal government for blowing up the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, killing 168 people and injuring 800.

When he ran for U.S. Senate in 1996, Duke received more votes in the El Paso County Republican Assembly than either former Colorado Attorney General Gale Norton or eventual winner Wayne Allard.

In all, voters in his northern El Paso County district elected Duke to public office twice as a state representative, and twice more as a state senator. But in 1998 he resigned mid-term, after an episode in which he spent three days under a kitchen table, a Bible in one hand and a gun in the other, consuming nothing but fruit juice. When he emerged, he said God had told him to quit politics. So he did.

He's baaaack

Not a month goes by when someone doesn't wonder aloud always wistfully "Whatever happened to Charlie Duke?" After leaving office, only one public sighting occurred, involving Duke and the man chosen to replace him, Doug Lamborn.

Lamborn reported that Duke arrived at his office at the Capitol in Denver, about a year after he had quit. Duke casually noted that God had spoken again, saying He wanted Duke to have his old Senate seat back. "Sorry, Charlie," Lamborn replied. "God didn't tell me that."

And that was that. Until last month, when an e-mail arrived in my box, subject line: Charles Duke.

The story is vintage Charlie. It involves a would-be employer in Louisville, Ky.; a car accident that was, in Duke's opinion, clearly staged; getting arrested for driving with illegal plates, no insurance and trying to leave the scene of an accident; spending 10 days in the pokey; battling Kentucky's kangaroo court system and, finally, reuniting with family in Arkansas whom Duke hadn't seen in more than a decade.

Out of nowhere, bam!

Duke, now 65, will be the first to tell you that, among many talents, he's a computer whiz. In his previous life, he worked as a professor at Colorado Technical University. Reached by telephone, he says that since his departure from public life in 1998, his work has taken him to North Carolina, Arizona, San Diego and Chicago. He has also spent time on the road, driving an 18-wheeler.

Two years ago, he was fired from a computer job in Chicago after someone claimed he had used the term "mud people" in reference to African-Americans a charge Duke vociferously denied, to no avail. He offered to take a lie-detector test; they said no thanks, and back to Colorado he came.

He says he'd recently been living in the Drury Inn on North Academy Boulevard, sending his rsum to prospective employers.

"Once you hit 65," Duke says, "you cross a magic barrier and people want to forget about you and send you off and say, "Go have a nice retirement.' You fools! You idiots! The skills I have you can't learn in books."

But recently, he had some luck. A young man from an established technology company in Louisville, whose well-heeled company clients are household names, hired Duke for a $50-an-hour position. The man, who asked not to be identified to protect his company, knew the former state senator was low on cash, and offered to put him up in a hotel in Louisville while he got started with the job.

And so, last month off Duke drove in his 1991 Eagle Talon, with Tahoe trailer, to Kentucky and a new job as a UNIX system administrator. He was less than a mile from his destination, he says, when, out of nowhere, bam!

"I'm driving down the street in Louisville, and this woman just came out of nowhere and ran smack into me," Duke says. "I can't prove it, but it was clearly staged."

No one was injured, but when the cops showed up, they found a few problems. Duke was driving without insurance. The tag on his vehicle was not registered to the car. The cops said Duke tried to flee the scene a charge Duke denies. They arrested him and took him to jail, where he sat for 10 days. They took his vehicles to an impound lot.

"He belongs with us'

Meanwhile, the executive who had hired Duke was forced, he says, to rethink the employment. He couldn't hire Duke, but he also couldn't just leave him in jail. Nor could he see to post Duke's $1,000 bond, then bear the weight of being responsible for Duke, homeless in Louisville, wandering the streets without money or a way out.

The businessman says he spent a week tracking down Duke's family. He talked to everyone: the stepmother, aunts and finally a sister-in-law in Arkansas. They hadn't heard from him in more than a decade. But of course they would take him in. ""He's family; he belongs with us,'" the Louisville executive recounts the sister-in-law saying.

Released on a personal recognizance bond, Duke took a bus to the impound lot. The executive met him there and shelled out $600 from his own pocket to have the vehicles released. And off Duke headed to Arkansas, where he is plotting his next move which will have to include going back to court in Kentucky later in October.

Asked whether he regrets quitting his Senate seat, Duke doesn't miss a beat.

"It's probably the worst decision I ever made in my life, because the people who promised me they would uphold the Constitution do nothing but subvert it.

"If you really want to help me, though," he says, "find me a job."

degette@csindy.com

  • Walking this good Earth with Charles Duke is nothing if not an adventure.

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