Bad karma bites Doug Bruce 

City Sage

About 30 years ago, my old pal Kathleen Collins called me with a referral. I was a not particularly successful real estate broker in a not particularly strong market where buyers were few and far between.

"This guy just moved here from California," she said. "He's going to buy a dozen rentals, all cash. I gave him your name — go ahead and call him."

I dialed the number as soon as Kathleen hung up. A man with a deep, resonant voice answered immediately.

"This is Douglas Bruce," he said.

We met that afternoon. To say we didn't hit it off would be an understatement. I thought he was a controlling, bullying know-it-all, the kind of buyer who drives agents nuts, deals directly with sellers and stiffs you out of a commission. I told him I couldn't work with him, and he left in a huff, making it clear that he thought I wasn't smart enough to work with him anyway.

As a young lawyer in California, Bruce had wrestled with his political identity. He ran for the California State Assembly as a Democrat (!), losing the primary by 5 percentage points. He switched parties, moved here and soon created a network of anti-tax activists who thrice succeeded in getting enough signatures to put Bruce's "Taxpayer's Bill of Rights" initiative on the state ballot.

The measure failed in 1988 and 1990, but the Dougster had a backup plan. He initiated two city charter amendments in 1991. One phased out a city sales tax earmarked for capital improvements, while the other was a local version of TABOR. Both passed easily.

In that same election, I won a four-year term as an at-large City Councilmember. Bruce and I quarreled repeatedly. He denounced me as a tax-loving liberal, while I warned all who would listen that TABOR would fatally damage our city.

Bruce prevailed. The city didn't collapse, and Gov. Roy Romer and Republican legislators refused to enact sensible tax-limitation measures, opening the door for the statewide TABOR amendment's passage in 1992.

Whatever your opinion of TABOR, passing it was a monumental achievement — and it was all Bruce's work. He wrote it, organized its backers and never, never, never gave up.

Once the measures became law, Bruce redoubled his local advocacy. He strenuously opposed city financial support for construction of the World Arena, and urged voters to reject airport revenue bonds. He was a formidable, even fearsome political figure, especially as TABOR became unassailable holy writ for conservatives nationwide.

During a Council meeting, World Arena funding was on the agenda and I voiced my support for city funding. I noted that El Pomar's just-revealed $17 million commitment had changed my mind.

"I'm sure that it would take a whole lot less than $17 million to change Mr. Hazlehurst's mind on any issue!" Bruce sneered.

Furious, I jumped out of my seat to confront him. I couldn't believe that he'd publicly accused me of taking bribes. Mayor Bob Isaac restrained me, called a break and had Bruce removed from Council chambers.

"I should have let you beat the crap out of him," Mayor Bob said with a grin, "but that son of a bitch isn't worth going to jail for."

It seemed like an isolated incident at the time, but it may have signaled the beginning of Bruce's long decline. The man who once led a crusade to fix government became a scofflaw, convinced that laws were for him to interpret, taxes were for other people to pay, photographers could be kicked, judges could be bullied and scammed — and TABOR-lovers would forgive any transgression.

I ran into the Dougster shortly after his release from jail four years ago, having served 103 days on tax evasion charges. He'd shed a lot of weight while in custody, and looked great. I thought perhaps he'd learned a hard lesson — and would age gracefully into the role of elder statesman.

Didn't happen. As he was led off to jail in handcuffs again last Friday for probation violations, defiant, angry and unbowed, I thought of a line from Oliver Wendell Holmes' great speech, given at Keene, New Hampshire, on Memorial Day 1884.

"I think that, as life is action and passion," Holmes said, "it is required of a man that he should share the passion and action of his time at peril of being judged not to have lived."

Old foe, I salute your passion. I'll miss you ... maybe!

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