Unmasking the Pikes Peak region's political addicts 

City Sage

You like to think that you're immune to the stuff / It's closer to the truth to say you can't get enough / You know you're gonna have to face it, you're addicted to love / Might as well face it, you're addicted to love — Robert Palmer

You can't be serious! It's been 27 years since those blank-faced, black-haired models did their seductive, fake-band number behind Robert Palmer in the classic video? Yup, it was 1986.

Being addicted to love seemed fun, lighthearted and eminently worthwhile, a golden thread running through life's tangled skein. Life was to be enjoyed, and love addiction, Palmer seemed to say, was self-extinguishing.

Yet amid that merriment, a less benign addiction had begun its stealthy spread. It affected an otherwise unremarkable subset of our city's residents: aspirants to elected office.

Once elected to office, infected individuals manifest gradual changes in behavior. They may begin as citizen politicians, content to serve a term or two and return to private life. But once the disease takes hold, they have no choice.

Just as junkies' lives are focused on scoring dope, the lives of career politicians are dedicated to getting re-elected, and re-elected, and re-elected until ... well, dementia or repeated voter rejection sends them into retirement.

You'd think voters would recognize such addiction, and toss victims off the stage they so love. And what about term limits?

Alas, so insidious is the condition that infected politicians become more credible and persuasive than their colleagues, not less. Just as we might find it difficult to recognize a family member's heroin addiction, voters are slow to identify "election addiction."

It's long past time to unmask the addicts — not to shame them, but to help them. Some may be beyond intervention, while in others the infection lies dormant, awaiting the next election. (And by the way, let's get rid of the word "serve," used as a euphemism to conceal the addiction.)

1. Joel Hefley. Can't forget the 20-year congressman (1987-2007), who spent a decade before that in the Colorado Legislature. That's 30 consecutive years in office, quite a standard.

2. Doug Lamborn. Hefley's successor, has held elected office since his 30th birthday. He was born in 1964, so do the arithmetic. State representative, state senator, now Congress — 19 years! So if he holds on till 2034, he'll have his 40-year pin. Term limits? What are those?

3. John Suthers. District attorney, 1988-96. Ran for state attorney general in 1998, losing to Ken Salazar. Headed state Department of Corrections, 1999-2001. U.S. attorney, 2001-05. Elected attorney general, 2005-present. Unlike most addicts, Suthers is supremely competent (see Clinton, Bill). Will he run for the Senate or governor in 2014, or maybe come back to Colorado Springs and become the city's second strong mayor in 2015?

4. Sallie Clark. Even though it may seem that Clark has been in office forever, she's only been at it for 11 years: two on City Council, nine as county commissioner. She ran for mayor in 1999 and 2003, losing both times. She makes the list because of her not-so-subtle, resoundingly successful move in 2012 to game the system for a third commissioner term. And we might as well face it, she's very good.

5. Consider Wayne Williams, Bob Balink, Larry Small, Mike Merrifield, Marcy Morrison, Tom Gallagher, Keith King, Bob Isaac, Mary Lou Makepeace, Randy Purvis and now, sadly, Bernie Herpin.

Bernie, what are you thinking? You rose to prominence as a gun-rights advocate, better informed, less strident and more substantial than the others. You served (I use that word deliberately) wisely and thoughtfully on City Council, lost a close election three months ago, and now you've re-emerged, hoping your fellow Republicans would choose you to take on state Sen. John Morse in a recall election. Your stridently partisan website doesn't seem to represent the Bernie Herpin we know.

Do you really want to throw away your nonpartisan cred for a year in the state Senate? Bernie, you're addicted. Regardless of whether the GOP tapped you on Tuesday night, you should get help.

But I was just thinking — if Morse is recalled and Bernie replaces him, maybe I should run in 2014. After all, I only spent six years on Council...


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