Mr. R. goes to Washington

Quick! What's the best, easiest and most prestigious job in Colorado Springs?

I'll give you a hint: You make a nice six-figure income, your employer pays most of your job-related expenses, the health care and retirement plans are the best in America, you're the boss with a hand-picked staff and you can hold the job 'til you drop dead.

There's only one requirement: You gotta be a Republican -- and not just any run-of-the-mill, beer-swillin', Bush-lovin' GOPster. Nope, you'll have to be a visible, respectable, suit-wearing, pro-life, pro-gun, pro-God, pro-gays (in the closet), anti-tax, war-supporting, Hillary-hating El Paso County community leader, preferably male.

If you pass all those screens, you're probably already dreaming of the ultimate prize: to be selected in 2006 as the Republican candidate for Colorado's 5th Congressional District in the United States House of Representatives.

If what the political wags are saying is true, nine-term Congressman Joel Hefley likely will announce his retirement early in January. To the best of my knowledge, he hasn't officially told anyone yet. And if it's true, good 'ol Joel -- suddenly visible nationally, thanks to his courageous and honorable actions on the House Ethics Committee -- will be missed.

Courteous, unpretentious and thoughtful, Joel was a throwback, a man who would have been comfortable among the amiable compromisers who built Colorado in the '50s and '60s. Never a name-calling, bomb-throwing ideologue, he was just a guy happy to work with his colleagues on both sides of the aisle to get things done.

Who's gonna take his place? The 5th CD may be the safest Republican seat in the country. If you're a smart guy in your 30s, you can ride that baby all the way to ... speaker of the House? Senator? Governor? Or maybe even The Big One!?

So we can anticipate a remarkable display of cutthroat politicking as the sharks begin to circle. There are at least a dozen of 'em out there. Let's handicap the field.

State Senator Doug Lamborn has gotta be the early front-runner. He's smart, articulate and relentlessly conservative. Party activists like him, and the kingmakers at Focus and New Life won't oppose him. Put Doug at 3-1.

County Commissioner Wayne Williams is smooth, amiable, smart and impeccably conservative. He's put in more than his time in the trenches, most recently as party chair. You can bet that he's spent quality personal time with every potential delegate to the County Assembly -- and you can bet that they like him. 3-1.

County Commissioner Sallie Clark is the wild card in this race. She might not be able to win at the County Assembly, but in a multi-candidate primary, say hello to Congresswoman Clark. 4-1.

Lionel Rivera has been a competent, unruffled leader during his term as mayor. He's a Focus favorite and an extraordinarily canny politician. Has he been able to cultivate the worker bees of the Republican Party? Don't count him out. 5-1.

Jeff Crank, senior vice president of governmental affairs at the Chamber of Commerce, wants it soooo bad ... and Hefley, his former boss, may be inclined to help him out. If Joel announces he's leaving, that's gonna make things difficult for potential candidates who are serving in the Colorado legislature. The legislative session starts in mid-January, and legislators can't raise campaign money for the next four months. But even with Hefley's endorsement and a head start, Crank's got a steep hill to climb. He's never held elected office (strike 1), Hefley's out of favor with the party hierarchy (strike 2) and Crank hasn't really paid any dues (strike 3). 7-1.

You can throw a dozen more names into the hopper here, and they've all got a shot. State Sen. Andy McElhany, state Rep. Keith King, County Commissioner Jim Bensberg, and even the wildest card of all, County Commissioner Doug Bruce! The field: Pick 'em, 10-1.

Of course, the Democrats will nominate someone who, regardless of competence, basically won't have a prayer. But at least he or she can have fun, railing at the Republican loonies. And there's always a chance, however remote, of a major sex or money scandal on the eve of the election, and a Democratic victory by default. Any Dem: 1000-1. (And no, I don't make book!)

-- johnhazlehurst@earthlink.net


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