Burning down the house

Yes, it's true. Colorado is the world's largest open-air lunatic asylum. For starters, don't you feel a lot safer, now that the FBI has sent agents out to interview a bunch of harmless Denver lefties, solemnly asking them whether they're conspiring to go to New York and violently disrupt the Republican National Convention?

As far as we know, it hasn't occurred to the FBI to monitor activists of the extreme right -- who, after all, were responsible for the destruction of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. And I'm sure that they haven't sought out good ol' Charlie Duke who, while serving as a state senator from Colorado Springs, opined that the feds themselves had blown up the building.

Meanwhile, Gov. Bill Owens has refused to call a special session of the Legislature to deal with the Colorado's citizen-created fiscal crisis. Simply put, the Doug Bruce-authored TABOR Amendment to the constitution restricts state revenues, while Amendment 23 mandates increased spending on education.

Absent some sort of fix, we're in for a California-style fiscal train wreck -- that's the one thing that most Democrats and Republicans in the Legislature can agree on. But, surprise! They don't agree on the precise nature of the fix. Republicans want to alter Amendment 23, and Dems want to revise TABOR. Any fix has to be approved by voters in November, so without a special session to hammer out a deal, nothing can be done. So why doesn't Gov. Owens call the Legislature back in session? Because, he says, there's no agreement among legislators, so why bother?

Excuse me, Governor, but isn't that your job? Do you think that Arnold Schwarzenegger would sit passively by and let a bunch of girlie men tell him what to do? Leaders lead, Bill. They threaten, they twist arms, they make deals, they cajole, and they get it done. They don't just sit on their butts in their mansions and whine. And suppose you can't make it happen? Well, you're getting paid to at least try.

Of course, there's a cynical political reason for doing nothing. Given that the ill effects of the TABOR/23 combo platter have yet to hit the voters where it hurts, maybe it's best to let Colorado take a hit, and then try for a fix. That's like burning down your house to prove that the fire department is incompetent -- but that's politics as usual.

And speaking of politics as usual, I was hanging out with my geezer homies at the usual coffee shop last week when the subject of the Bush-sponsored Kerry-bashing ads came up. You know, the ones wherein a bunch of right-wing Vietnam vets accuse Kerry of not being a war hero at all; why, he didn't deserve those medals! Those weren't real bullets! He's just a girlie man! The geezers were amused; I was indignant. We argued; surely the geezers knew that the ads were partisan nonsense. But then a quiet guy standing nearby interrupted us.

"I was in Vietnam," he said, "and let me tell you, those Swift Boats were the worst place to be. They were always under fire. Anyone who was there, they were in combat, they were in danger, and they deserve our respect. It was a bad time."

We shut up. But I wondered why politics, at every level, has become so raw, so personal and so brutal. Look at the recent contests, featuring push polls, character assassination and unrestrained mudslinging -- and this was between Republicans!

Locally, this is a new phenomenon. In 1991, Wayne Fisher, an incumbent running for re-election to City Council, would preface his remarks at candidate forums by praising his opponents, and saying that he believed that any of them would make a good council member. Indeed, all of the candidates were civil and cordial and took care to emphasize issues, not personalities. None of 'em raised much money; one successful candidate, Randy Purvis, only raked in three grand.

So where did the nastiness start? Nationally, it began with Newt Gingrich, who taught Republicans to fight like pit bulls, and give no quarter. Locally, it began with the arrival of Focus on the Family, which, by commingling religion, politics and morality, created a very different Colorado Springs.

Not that everything was perfect in 1991-- note that Wayne Fisher, after running an exemplary campaign, lost to a fresh-faced hustler who would later run, unsuccessfully, for mayor as "The Colorado Conservative."

And for all you students of local history, a cuppa joe at Wooglin's to the first five correct answers: Who was that fresh-faced hustler?

-- johnhazlehurst@earthlink.net


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