So George W. is gonna be president! What a boon for comics (it's like having Quayle all over again, plus a goofy dad to boot), not to mention for environmentalist organizations (imagine the fund-raising possibilities!).

And, looking at the assembled Bushies, what a full-scale fashion emergency we have here! Time for Emme and the crew to fly out and do a dozen makeovers.

Seeing Cheney, Baker, Powell, Rice and all the other figures of the ancin regime emerge, blinking, into the sunlit corridors of power after eight years in the wilderness, one's thoughts turned, naturally, to Maurice de Talleyrand.

He was the supple, unprincipled, and infinitely adaptable French diplomat who, when the Bourbons were restored to the French throne by the Congress of Vienna, remarked: "They have learned nothing, and forgotten nothing."

The media have made much of George W.'s supposed crusade to end the reign of the Evil Libertine who humiliated Bush the Elder, with its delicious overtones of revenge, restoration and triumph. It's a great little myth, but to understand the likely path of a Bush presidency, we don't have to look beyond the borders of our own fair state.

When George W.'s buddy, Colorado Gov. Bill Owens took office just two years ago, his situation was eerily similar to that of the president-elect. Owens' predecessor, an enormously popular Democrat (whom, it should be noted, was caught in a embarrassing extramarital hanky-panky with his female chief of staff), had used his unmatched political skills to thwart a Republican legislative majority for years.

Colorado was bitterly and noisily divided over the usual insoluble social issues; Guns, God, Gays and Abortion. Tax policy sorely needed an overhaul, but Owens' predecessor, despite his skills, had been unable to overcome legislative gridlock.

The Republican right greeted Owens' election with undisguised glee; at last, one of our own! Surely, the time had come to put those pesky moderates and Democrats in their place.

But Gov. Bill didn't see it quite that way. He had beaten Roy Romer's hand-picked successor, Lt. Gov. Gail Schoettler, by only a handful of votes. Schoettler, although as smart and knowledgeable as any Colorado politician, was stiff and awkward on the campaign trail (sound familiar?). In her campaign, she characterized Owens as a lackey of the extreme right and, in an overwhelmingly Republican state, came within a few thousand votes of victory.

So what did Owens do? Moved sharply to the left. Reasoning that the vast majority of Coloradans, whatever their political stripe, want their governor to solve problems, Owens looked for ways to get the government's work done.

Stuck with the lunatic TABOR Amendment to the state constitution, which made it impossible to spend "surplus" tax revenues upon public works, Owens supported a massive bond issue to improve our transportation system, which included hundreds of millions for light rail. Sensing that, in post-Columbine Colorado, the gunnies had lost most of their political power, this year the guv threw his support behind measures to close the gun-show loophole.

Throughout his tenure, Owens has sought to project a sensible, cautious and moderate image. Even when his lieutenant governor, Joe Rogers, who is black, played the race card in a fit of pique, the governor's response was low-key and dignified (with any luck, George W. will take Rogers off his hands by appointing him to a high-visibility, low-responsibility position in Washington).

In retrospect, Owens followed precisely the path that Romer or Schoettler might have followed; he simply supported policies that make sense to the overwhelmingly white, mildly conservative suburbanites who decide elections nowadays.

So when George W. and Bill Owens get together, it's easy to guess what our own governor Bill is telling the new prez.

For example: Forget about right-wing Republicans like Dick Armey and Tom DeLay -- what are they gonna do, turn Democrat? And remember how those damn right-wingers in the Texas Legislature fought your tax reforms in '97, not to mention your education plans? Avoid stupid fights -- find some respectable, moderate judges and appoint 'em to the Supreme Court.

Take care of business, be your open and likeable self, and laugh along with the comedians who make fun of you. And ease out some of your Dad's geezers; get some of those smart guys who worked for Clinton to help you out with economics and foreign policy. Suck up to the Dems, hire lots of women and minorities, and get ready to run against Clinton in 2004.

And, the guv will say, "I'll be there to help you; after all, I know how to win a race against a smart woman." Ten bucks says it'll work.

-- jhazlehurst@csindy.com


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