On a balmy November day, Colorado voters went to the polls in record numbers, and, no doubt inspired by our crystalline Colorado sky, turned the state blue.
Around noon, moseying up Tejon to get a snack at Poor Richard’s, I found myself in the middle of a giddy, enthusiastic crowd of Democrats, waving signs, wearing Bill Ritter T-shirts … and sure enough, there he was, the governor-to-be himself.
He didn’t look like a guy who had been campaigning non-stop for the last year, much less like someone who had risen at dawn, stood in line for an hour and a half to vote, and then gotten on the campaign bus for a last barnstorming tour up and down the Front Range.
He looked like a guy who’d just won the lottery — as indeed he had. And as I watched the governor-elect and his noisy, happy acolytes march down the sidewalk, I was struck by the incongruity of the spectacle.
C’mon people, this is Colorado Springs! Democrats don’t come here on Election Day to rally the faithful! What on earth is going on?
What was going on, of course, was an historic political shift, one potentially as far-reaching as those of 1974 and 1994.
Think back four years. Remember?
Bill Owens had just been elected to a second term, the GOP controlled both houses of the state legislature, and our Washington delegation included two Republican senators, and five of seven representatives to the House.
The Democrats control the legislature, the executive mansion, a seat in the Senate and, with Ed Perlmutter’s easy victory in Congressional District 7, four of seven seats in the House of Representatives.
Was this the nastiest political season ever?
Sure — if you measure nastiness by the content of political advertising. Consider Doug Lamborn’s “sleaziest primary campaign ever,” succeeded by a general election campaign of equal sleaziness, in which he (or his surrogates) accused decorated Iraq veteran Jay Fawcett of being pro-terrorist.
But in years to come, potential candidates considering whether to go hard negative will only look at three magic words: Congressman-elect Lamborn.
Except for Lamborn’s victory, the local GOPsters had little to cheer about.
Mike Merrifield held his seat in the State House of Representatives and John Morse easily knocked off incumbent Republican Ed Jones in the race for Senate District 11.
The Republicans, who swept into office with the aid of Newt Gingrich’s brilliant “Contract with America,” were able to demonize the remaining Democrats because they were, for the most part, doctrinaire liberals from safe districts, sadly out of step with the times.
Could they same thing happen to this year’s crop of Republican state legislators? Will they, like so many turtles, retreat into their shells and chant the same old mantras — what one wag refers to as the T-GAGG manifesto (taxes, gays, abortion, God and guns)? If they do, and if the Democrats stick to their campaign line, pushing moderate policies and restraining the loony left, the state GOP may spend a long time wandering in the political wilderness.
As the evening wore one, and the size and scale of the Republican debacle became obvious. I wandered from one party to another, in search of my pal the Seasoned Political Observer.
First stop: the back room at Sonterra, where County Commissioner Jim Bensberg was quick to declare victory in his bid for re-election … understandably so, since he had no opponent. I asked Bensberg for his take on the returns. He was as non-committal as any canny politician would be, saying only “I’m happy to be ahead at this point in the evening.”
On to the Democratic wing-ding at Phantom Canyon, where an ecstatic crowd of the formerly powerless screamed joyfully at television screens announcing the results. Remember being at a bar, watching the Broncos win their first Super Bowl? For the Dems, this was the 4th of July, Christmas and the Super Bowl, all wrapped up in one fat package.
I ran into Mike Merrifield and John Morse, both smiling broadly, savoring their election victories.
So Mike, how does it feel?
“I guess my prayers were answered,” Merrifield replied, in a good-natured dig at his opponent, the Rev. Kyle Fisk.
I expected that I’d see SPO there, leaning against the wall, smiling cynically … but my pal was elsewhere.
It was almost 11 p.m. when I ran into SPO, sitting on the patio at Shuga’s, far from the normal haunts.
“You couldn’t have invented last week” SPO said, “or last month, or last year. You know, when Bush invaded Iraq, I remember that one of those obnoxious New York Times columnists said he was betting his presidency on it … and you know, he was right. All this stuff — it’s all Iraq and Katrina, and all the dead kids. The rest — Ted Haggard, Bothways Bob — is just a sideshow. The Dems don’t have a plan, or a program, they aren’t that smart. But all they had to do was to say ‘we’re not them,’ and of course they won.”
So, I asked SPO, what it means for us in Colorado Springs? Will Lamborn be able to get anything accomplished as a minority congressman? And what will happen in Denver, now that the Dems control everything?
The SPO sighed, and ordered another shot of tequila.
“I dunno, but I think we’re screwed. I mean look, except for a few smart guys like McIlhany, Merrifield, Bob Gardner and Morse, the delegation’s 100 percent meatballs. They can’t make deals, they’ll just fight with the Dems, and the Dems, aside from throwing bones to Merrifield and Morse, don’t have to do anything for them. And look at Ritter — El Paso and Teller were the only counties he didn’t carry, and he lost them 60-40.”
And then SPO felt the need to emphasize why I’m not quite ready to assume the role of seasoned political observer.
“I read where you wrote that (Ritter would) be kissing up to us — but you’re wrong. Even if we’d voted 90-10 for Bothways, Ritter still would’ve won. We’re gonna take it in the chops.”
I mentioned to the SPO that Mayor Lionel Rivera had predicted, in a chat that we’d had a couple of days before, that Ritter’s election would mean higher utility bills.
“You know, I never much liked Lionel, but he’s right — that pipeline’s gonna cost a billion and a half before it’s finished …”
And what about Lamborn?
“He’s winning 60-40? Looks like he’s the man — I don’t see anyone knocking him off in the primary in 2008. But it doesn’t matter. He’ll just sit there and vote and shoot off his mouth and get nothing done. Not his fault — he’s a minority freshman. But when’s the next BRAC? 2008? I don’t want to think about it.”
And with that SPO suggested we go inside and have another shot.
“To tell the truth, I’m sick of politics — after all, I’m still a Republican.”
John Hazlehurst can be reached at John.Hazlehurst@csbj.com or 227-5861.