August 03, 2000 News » Cover Story

Grudge Match 

Doug "The Terrorist" Bruce & Ronny "The Phantom" May grapple for power in Senate District 10

Doug Bruce has adopted the catchy campaign slogan "Ron may, but Bruce will" in his bid to beat Colorado Rep. Ronny "Ron" May in the Aug. 8 Republican primary. And Bruce's candidacy has high-placed Republicans and stodgy business interests sweating bullets pondering this scenario -- What if Bruce Does?

Following conventional wisdom -- that the candidate with the most money wins -- Ron May and his bags of cash would ordinarily be a shoe-in. But May, a state representative since 1993, has maintained an extremely low profile while serving in office -- a passive approach compared to anti-tax activist Bruce's outspokenness and well-known acerbic personality.

Either way, the legacy of Senate President and El Paso County resident Ray Powers, one of the most influential politicians in Colorado, is reaching an end. Powers, who was challenged by Bruce in a bitter primary four years ago, is term-limited out and May wants to ascend to the District 10 seat. The district encompasses east-central Colorado Springs where a strong majority of voters are registered Republicans.

With less than a week remaining until the Aug. 8 primary election, May has high-profile Republicans stumping for him, including the governor of Colorado. As of July 1, he had amassed $43,480 in contributions, mostly from non-local political action committees and lobbying groups, including the insurance and cable televison industries, the pro-gun lobby and construction, energy and banking interests. May was expected to generate tens of thousands more in contributions during the month of July. (Bruce, by contrast, is refusing to accept PAC money, and reported just $7,880 in individual contributions as of July 1.)

May apparently loves that special interest cash, but the candidate has taken a noticeably below-radar approach to campaigning. He did not respond to more than a half dozen messages from the Independent for this story, and has been regularly identified by other media as unavailable for comment about his campaign.

He has not issued press releases indicating why he's running or what he wants to accomplish if he's elected. He refused to answer a Citizens Project candidate survey to state his positions on various issues, and he refused to attend the only two El Paso County primary candidate forums that were open to the public -- one of which was sponsored by four of the city's most prestigious Republican clubs. And May, who claims to be a technology expert, does not even have a campaign Web site.

Colorado dreamin'

Bruce, noting his continuing fury over an Independent article that ran six years ago, has also refused to discuss his candidacy.

That August 24, 1994 article, titled "Bruce: the Boss of Colorado," detailed his past in California, where he grew up and became a lawyer before moving to Colorado Springs to become a landlord and political gadfly.

The story was prompted after Bruce seemingly came out of nowhere to become one of the most powerful men in the state when voters passed his statewide 1992 Taxpayer Bill of Rights (TABOR) that places tax and spending limitations on state and local government agencies. Bruce also authored similar Colorado Springs measures.

An Independent investigation revealed numerous inconsistencies in Bruce's professed anti-government philosophy and his own past. For example, though Bruce claimed to despise politicians, he had run and lost a bitter race for the California State Assembly in 1980 as a Democrat.

Despite his domineering personality, Bruce apparently did little to distinguish himself when he worked for the Los Angeles County District Attorney's office for 5 1/2 years. When he left, he had not advanced to high-level ranking and numerous other attorneys and managers who worked there at the same time couldn't remember him.

But an Internal Revenue Service attorney in California immediately recalled the bad-tempered Bruce. Court records indicate that the agency had successfully sued Bruce in 1983 for illegally deducting money he spent on his girlfriend, his girlfriend's son and her dog, claiming them as business expenses.

In a recent telephone inquiry, Bruce said he took particular offense with the Independent's quoting a former neighbor of his who said Bruce had told her he wanted to move to Colorado to find an obedient woman, as he felt women from California were too promiscuous. Bruce said he was also offended that the newspaper published a photo of him from his high school yearbook.

"An obligation to be accessible"

Both Powers and Colorado Gov. Bill Owens called Bruce's refusal to be interviewed by this newspaper ridiculous.

"It's foolish on his part if he wants to refuse to be interviewed," Powers said, adding that picking and choosing which general distribution newspapers the candidate will and won't talk to is unreasonable.

"None of them write positive stories, and you have to expect you're going to get your hits and your political cartoons, because you're a public figure," he noted.

Colorado Gov. Bill Owens, also a conservative Republican, echoes Powers' position.

"Candidates as well as elected officials have an obligation to be accessible," Owens told the Independent. The governor said he has never 86-ed a newspaper or refused interviews because he didn't like what they wrote about him. "If I did that I wouldn't be able to talk to any newspaper in the state," he said. "Using [that] framework, I'm surprised Doug Bruce talks to any media outlet."

However, when asked whether the same theory to applied to May, who has refused to respond to repeated requests for media interviews, the governor demurred.

"Well, I just can't second guess what Ron May is doing -- I'll let him do what he wants and will let my previous statement speak for itself," he said.

In an effort to drum up support for May, on July 7 Colorado Gov. Bill Owens came to town to stump, knocking on doors to urge surprised residents to vote for his pal. Unfortunately for May, the event turned into a great publicity stunt for the governor -- and for Doug Bruce. The far less recognizable May, meanwhile, was relegated to the sidelines.

Bruce, who showed up to trail the two politicians, was featured prominently in local media with photos and news video showing him shaking hands with Owens and lugging a red wagon full of his campaign literature down the street.

The only published picture of Ron May was a background blur of the back of his head, taken while he shot a photo of Gov. Owens posing with a constituent.

"Doug did OK, he got two pictures of himself with that red wagon of his in the paper," noted state Rep. Marcy Morrison.

In his campaign Web site, at www.douglasbruce.com, Bruce alleges the governor's door-knocking visit was just a publicity stunt, and that Owens visited few houses when he was stumping for May.

The governor maintains that going door-to-door with May was "symbolic." "It was designed to show I support Ron in more than just a casual endorsement."

The $1,000 photo opportunity

The possibility that the abrasive Bruce could be elected as a Republican puts GOP lawmakers across the state in a bit of an awkward position. Specifically, during the past two legislative sessions, Republican lawmakers have embraced Bruce's TABOR-induced tax refunds, and have capitalized on the importance of giving money back to taxpayers rather than asking to keep the surplus and use it for education or to build highways.

Republican Gov. Bill Owens devised his successful 1999 TRANS initiative to borrow $2.3 billion to build and repair highways rather than ask voters to allow the state to keep at least a portion of the Bruce-inspired tax refund to pay for the highway projects. Owens now lauds May as one of his staunchest supporters during the TRANS campaign.

"Ron has been very supportive of what I've tried to do as governor," Owens said. "In issue after issue, I find myself in close and strong agreement with him."

When pressed, the governor could not cite any specific bills that May has introduced in recent years, saying, "With all I have going on I couldn't tell you which bills were sponsored by which legislator." However, the governor cited May for taking a leadership role in transportation and for his technological expertise.

In addition to the governor's support, Colorado Springs business leaders have also gotten aggressive in the push to elect May. For the first time in a legislative race, the local Chamber of Commerce issued a strong endorsement for May before the Republican primary.

In the past the Chamber has waited to endorse until after the primary, but Jeff Crank, the organization's vice president for government affairs, said they decided to give May their endorsement because "he's done so much for the community and he's been a good legislator for us."

Crank noted May's anti-union and transportation legislation as particularly appealing. "Ron's always been willing to sit down and listen to our viewpoint," he said.

On July 7, the Chamber, along with powerful developer and realtor groups, sponsored a $1,000 per head fund-raiser for May -- the cost included a "photo opportunity" with the candidate.

Bruce responded by bashing the special interest exclusivity of May's fund-raiser and the absurdly high cost of the event. Bruce also extended an invitation to have his picture taken with any constituent for free.

The famous Isaac/Bruce fight

But not everyone believes that May, who was a Colorado Springs city councilman before he was elected to the state Legislature in 1992, has been an effective lawmaker.

Senate Minority Leader Mike Feeley believes May has done little to distinguish himself.

This year, the Denver Rocky Mountain News sponsored a legislative report card, where lawmakers were asked to grade each others' effectiveness as legislators. Ron May came in 39th out of 65, ranking him a C, which Feeley said is about right.

"Ron does nothing; he's been there eight years, he hasn't stayed in touch with constituents, he hasn't endeared himself to any constituency, there's no great warmth for him, he has not distinguished himself in any way -- he's just another name on the list," Feeley said. "He's known for his temper, but he hasn't distinguished himself as a result of it. Big deal, Ron May gets mad."

Bob Isaac, arguably the most influential politician in Colorado Springs, has refused to weigh in on the Doug Bruce/Ron May race.

Isaac, mayor of Colorado Springs for 18 years until he resigned in 1998, served on the Council with Ron May. And Isaac's fiery run-ins with Bruce -- who relentlessly badgered the City Council over tax issues during the mid-1990s -- are legendary. During one particularly venomous and memorable exchange, the mayor thundered at Bruce, "If you were a man, I'd take you out." Bruce responded by offering to pull down his pants for the mayor to prove his manhood.

Isaac declined to comment on the race between his former colleague and most notable foe.

The chameleon

When it comes to the way that either May or Bruce would vote on actual bills in the Senate, there would likely be very little difference between the two.

Both claim they are rigid social conservatives who oppose abortion and any efforts to enact gun control laws.

While representing House District 15, May has a strong record supporting gun rights and tax cuts, and in 1998 was given an A-plus rating by the Firearms Coalition and a nearly 90 percent approval rating by the Colorado Union of Taxpayers. The Sierra Club, by contrast, gave him a 30 percent approval rating for his votes on environmental issues.

Bruce, who in the past has not been particularly well-known for being an ardent gun rights or anti-abortion activist, has adopted both issues as cornerstones of his campaign. His Web site which was designed by Bernie Herpin, a vocal pro-gun radical, indicates his opposition to abortion and gun control measures are two of his most important issues (the others are reducing wasteful spending, strengthening tax limitation and supporting petition rights). He is endorsed by the Firearms Coalition of Colorado, the Pikes Peak Firearms Coalition and Rocky Mountain Gun Owners.

Bruce has also cozied up to Betty Beedy and has been allowed to attend fund-raisers for her at Sen. Ray Powers' ranch. But Bruce is otherwise banished from the Republican's most frequent fund-raising venue because of Powers' contempt for him. "He's not welcome here," Powers said.

Bruce claims to be "100 percent pro-life," and at a Republican forum last week called abortion "the great moral crisis of the past quarter century." In addition, he boasted that because he is a former prosecutor, "I know more about crime than anyone in the legislature."

Democratic Sen. Feeley was amused when told of Bruce's newly adopted stance. "I wouldn't imagine that Doug Bruce wants to tell people what to do in their bedroom," he said, referring to Bruce's typically libertarian philosophy.

The only real difference between Bruce and May, it appears, would be their style of leadership.

State Rep. Morrison said if Bruce is elected, he will likely be marginalized and ignored by many lawmakers because he has spent so many years badgering and outright insulting them.

Font of knowledge

May frequently boasts of his technological prowess, and Colorado Gov. Bill Owens concurred, calling May "actually, probably the most technologically adept legislator" in the state, responsible for "bringing Colorado into the 21st century."

But some suggest that, much like Al Gore's inflated claims that he practically invented the Internet himself, May's actual contributions have not been that outstanding.

"We could be further along in terms of technological development in the state if May hadn't insisted on being so deeply involved in every aspect of technological advancement," Feeley said.

"Ron believes that he's the only font of computer knowledge and if you don't agree with Ron, you're wrong."

Given his self-proclaimed computer prowess, it's surprising, then, that May does not have a campaign Web site -- now commonplace for political candidates. May does have a personal Web site, which can be connected through the state's legislative Web page at http://www.sni.net/~ronmay/. But the site has not been updated for more than a year, and the only press release posted at the site is his March 27, 1998 announcement that he was seeking reelection to the House of Representatives.

In that release, May boasted of his work on the Colorado State Information Management Commission, whose mission is to help provide technology upgrades throughout state government.

When asked about May's lack of a Web site during his Campaign 2000 efforts, Gov. Owens called it a "political judgment call."

"I'd let the voters decide whether to have a Web site is important. I won't second-guess [May's] campaign strategies," Owens said. "I understand Doug Bruce has a Web site, but I've never looked at it."

The Devil and the Antichrist

Further complicating the picture is May's legendary anti-union zeal. Mark Johnson, the president of the Colorado Springs area labor council AFL/CIO, says May has established himself as the most rabid anti-labor politician serving in the House of Representatives.

"He's homo-labor-phobic," Johnson said. "There's something about labor, that workers might have a say in their destiny, that just enrages him and makes him want to take it away."

Every year May introduces legislation designed to strangle Colorado's already strict right-to-work laws.

For several years, May attempted to pass paycheck protection bills, which labor groups call "paycheck deception," that would prohibit government employees from contributing part of their wages to their unions for political purposes.

Johnson cites May's response to the King Soopers/Safeway strike two years ago as an indication of how passionately he opposes unions.

When King Soopers workers went on strike in 1998, Safeway employees who belonged to the same union were locked out until the strike was settled. When they returned to work, they were able to get unemployment benefits. May responded by sponsoring a law to stop unemployment benefits for workers in such instances, Johnson said.

So when it comes to deciding which candidate to support, Johnson said Bruce is a slightly more appealing -- albeit uncomfortable -- choice. Bruce has agreed to "at least talk to us and that his door would be open," Johnson said.

"We're not really going to sleep with him, we'll just turn the bedspread back; it's disgusting but we can't help it," Johnson said. "Ron May is the Antichrist and Doug Bruce is the Devil but I would rather have the Devil than the Antichrist; he at least has agreed to listen to us on right-to-work issues."

"If old Doug Bruce could actually beat Ron May in the primary," Johnson added, "then maybe we could have a shot at electing a Democrat."

Fun to watch

Senate Minority Leader Feeley refused to identify them, but said several high-profile Republicans have already promised they would actively campaign for the Democrat in the race, Daniel Tafoya, should Doug Bruce win the primary. Tafoya, an administrator at Pueblo Community College, will challenge whoever wins the August primary in the November general election.

But Bob Beauprez, chairman of the Colorado Republican Party, said he isn't particularly worried that Senate District 10 could go to a Democrat. After all, with 35,806 registered voters, Republicans have a 68 percent advantage over the 16,893 Democrats that are registered in that district. (Another 27,116 voters in Senate District 10 are unaffiliated.)

"Whether it's Ron May or Doug Bruce, people are going to wish for the good old days of Ray Powers," Feeley said.

Colorado Springs has never been a union-friendly town, but with a union workforce that comprises an estimated 15,000 families, Johnson said he and other union leaders are getting more aggressive. Only about half of those union members voted in the 1998 election, when Republican Colorado Gov. Bill Owens squeaked by his Democratic opponent and into office with just 5,200 more votes.

"We know how bad we screwed that up," Johnson said. "If we would have gotten our members more involved, then Owens wouldn't be governor."

This year, union leaders have hired a political coordinator and are not just urging workers to vote, but are urging them to switch political parties if they are not Republican already. Every elected officeholder with a partisan seat in El Paso County is a Republican, so Johnson and other liberals are now urging people to become Republicans so they can vote in the Aug. 8 Republican primary.

"It's shameful, but that's how it is," Johnson said. "You have to be involved in the one-party system. I never thought I'd say that because I'm a yellow-dog Democrat, but we need to try something else."

At the very least, most pundits agree Senator Bruce would be fun to watch.

"He would go up there and be so far out of the Republican's platform that he would disrupt the whole thing," Johnson said. "He'd probably do more to hurt the Republican Party than any Democrat in Colorado."

Doomsday scenario

Plenty of other Democrats throughout Colorado are also pushing for Bruce to win, arguing that the Republican Party deserves him.

But Feeley, who is term-limited out of office this year and wouldn't actually have to serve with him, believes a Senator Bruce reign would be a disaster.

"He wouldn't make a good senator, Republican, Democrat or otherwise," Feeley said. "He'd abuse the process like crazy."

To illustrate his point, Feeley offered up this doomsday scenario should Bruce be elected: Say the Democrats pick up two seats [in the November election, making a Senate of 17 Democrats, 17 Republicans and 1 Doug Bruce.

"All of a sudden Doug Bruce would become the most influential person in the Senate -- he has no loyalty and he will cut all kinds of deals," Feeley said. In his nightmares, Feeley envisions Bruce agreeing to support a colleague who wants to be Senate President; in exchange, that dealmaker would promise to make Bruce, say, the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee.

So, bingo, all of a sudden Bruce would be overseeing one of the most powerful committees in the Legislature. There would go, down the sewer of insurrection, any rational debate over the state's budget, including education funding, prison funding, health care funding, and even the plumbing bill.

Just as bad, Feeley said, is Bruce's refusal to listen to opposing viewpoints. Equipped with a pretty good intellect, Bruce could, as senator, single-handedly bring basic government operations to a screeching halt.

"He has no impulse control, he can't sit quietly and listen to anyone else's opinion," Feeley said. "If your 4-year-old acted like Doug Bruce does, you'd correct him."

He will be a disgrace and embarrassment, even more than [former El Paso County state senator] Charlie Duke was. Charlie could at least shut up."


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