Imagine that you're Al Gore. Imagine seeing George W., that muddle-headed, syntax mangling, Enron-loving, draft-dodging, drunk-driving, Texas halfwit transformed overnight into Winston Churchill!

And imagine knowing that ol' George, warts 'n' all, is a far better wartime leader than you would ever be. Imagine seeing the subtly nuanced foreign policy of the Clinton era thrown out the window, replaced by the coldly unsentimental exercise of American power. And imagine realizing that most of the people who voted for you (a majority of Americans, dammit!) are glad that ol' George is sitting in the Oval Office instead of stately, plump, bearded you! Well, too bad for Al, but that's why politics are so interesting.

You can win an election, and then lose it the next day, as if by divine intervention. You're about to order up new drapes for the Oval Office and -- presto! -- instead you're the answer to a trivia question.

Here in the Mountain West, things seem pretty stable politically, don't they? Governor Owens is getting set to announce his candidacy for a second term, our El Paso County Republicans are, as usual, gliding along on cruise control, serenely untroubled by the possibility of an actual Democrat getting elected to anything.

The smart money says the status quo will prevail come November: more Governor Bill, more Republicans, and certainly another two years of Joel (E-mail? What's that?) Hefley in Congress.

Well, yeah, and as you may recall the smart money had the Rams over the Patsies by 14 points. The Patsies won, so maybe the Dems can score an upset or two. Let's imagine some scenarios. "Political novice stuns Hefley!" Now that'd be a sweet headline -- could it happen? Here's how: First, the Dems find a dream candidate. She's in her late '30s, smart, articulate, relatively conservative, owns her own successful business. She has enough money of her own to wage a fierce campaign.

Hefley runs a sleepy, lackluster campaign, relying on sheer Republican numbers to bring him home, as they always have. Sometime in September, the unpredictable happens. After all, we have history to remind us of the possibilities: Remember the unexpected details of 1994 gubernatorial candidate Bruce Benson's juicy divorce and drunk driving conviction? Or El Paso County District Attorney Bob Russell, who after 20 years in office, got bumped in 1986 by Democrat Barney Iuppa? Or how 'bout the classic -- Colorado Senator Gary Hart and his Monkey Business presidential boat sinking into the abyss?

So let's say strange things happen, and in the 5th Congressional District, El Paso County's new Wonder Woman amazes the nation, winning in one of the country's most conservative counties, and vaults into national prominence ... Well, we can dream, can't we?

Meanwhile, a slimmed-down Democratic ex-governor candidate Mike Feeley, the architect of the Democratic takeover of the Colorado Senate two years ago, decides to take on Governor Bill Owens. The electorate, already in a sullen mood because of multiple funding cuts in popular programs thanks to the governor's ill-advised tax cuts, is made even more dyspeptic by a deepening recession. Feeley cruises in ... OK, OK, it's not gonna happen.

Leaving politics, let's pay homage, once again, to Rocky Mountain News columnist Gene Amole. A previous column (Nov. 29, 2001) noted Gene's decision to end aggressive treatment of his multiple maladies, go home, and die peacefully. He didn't think he'd make it to Christmas, but he continues to write his column, which has been a fixture in the Rocky for a quarter of a century.

He's a dying man; despite that fact (or maybe because of it), he writes a daily piece. He has to take medication to stop his hands from shaking so he can type, but the medication wears off in less than an hour. For decades, Gene was a tough-minded observer of Denver's Byzantine business/political establishment; no more.

Now he's saying a long, affectionate farewell to the city, his friends, his family and his readers. And these columns are not the disconnected maunderings of a man at the end of his days. Rather, they're beautifully composed, unsentimental, elegaic, and utterly without self-pity.

They're magnificent; Gene's teaching us how to die. Let's hope that Gene hangs on long enough to pick up his Pulitzer Prize.

As security consultant Dan Hill said of his friend Rick Rescorla, who perished saving the lives of his co-workers at the World Trade Center, "There are certain men born in this world, and they're supposed to die setting an example for the rest of the weak bastards we're surrounded with."

Thanks, Gene.

-- jhazlehurst@csindy.com

For a link to Gene Amole's columns, visit http://cfapp.rockymountainnews.com/amole/.


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