Let’s see; I first engaged in Colorado Springs politics in June 1960, when I accompanied my best friend’s father, Judge Austin Hoyt, to the state Democratic convention. I was an unpaid “gofer,” an intern in today’s polite parlance. The judge, a fervent Democrat, was firmly in Adlai Stevenson’s camp. I liked John F. Kennedy, but I wasn’t a delegate and, at 19, too young to vote then anyway. To my amazed delight, Kennedy showed up, gave a speech and wowed the assembled Democrats. I even shook the great man’s hand, but conceived an instant dislike to Ted, his officious little punk brother — I would have been so much better! It was clear that Ted would never amount to anything.
Unlike most politicians I’d encountered, Kennedy seemed like a real person, someone you could relate to, someone to emulate.
That meeting had its effect, I guess, eventually triggering a modest late-life career in Colorado Springs politics and journalism. Along the way, I’ve made some obvious discoveries.
Here’s one: Political combats are like schoolyard fights or barroom brawls. The more you get into them, the more you risk injury. Communities that avoid divisive quarrels are more successful than those who eagerly embrace them.
We’ve had plenty of fights in the past 30 years. Douglas Bruce and the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights; Will Perkins and Amendment 2; “Culture Wars” of the 1990s; invented disharmony between suburban conservatives and urban liberals; turned-off streetlights and unwatered parks; the never-gonna-happen downtown convention center; the new airport terminal; the teen curfew — it’s a long list.
It’s fun to fight, especially when you believe that you’re on the side of Truth, Justice and the American Way. Politicians invariably portray themselves as “fighters,” ready to defend their constituents and march bravely into battle. In our hyper-partisan era, no one ever gets elected by promising to compromise, collaborate and fraternize with the enemy.
Our city is more secure, prosperous and peaceful than at any time in my memory. Thanks in part to the remarkable John Suthers, the adroit Chief of Staff Jeff Greene and our strangely progressive city council, we may be on the verge of amazing things. Maybe this isn’t just another transient boom, but a long-term transformation. Think Denver in 1987, as residents of the dusty little cow town listened to then-Mayor Federico Peña’s much-mocked advice: ‘Imagine a great city!’
Turned out that “Feddy and the Dreamers” were right. Becoming a great city means abandoning old fights and avoiding new ones, moving forward constructively and working together.
Here are some issues to avoid, some to debate and some to put away for good:
• They kill deer, don’t they? This one could be bitter and nasty, bring national publicity and please no one except a few gardeners, bow hunters and command-and-control freaks. Out on an early morning bike ride a few days ago, I stopped on a quiet neighborhood street as five antlered bucks in velvet ambled quietly by. It was magical and beautiful, an encounter with part of our beloved Westside herd. Yeah, they’re too tame and yeah, they ate all of my almost-ripe garden corn a couple of years ago, but we love them! They’re wild, free and safe.
• Council referral of a measure to legalize recreational cannabis to city voters? Given that city voters appear to be evenly split on the issue and given that most local cannabis users appear to have opted for medical, this might be a fight to avoid. And with Attorney General Jeff Sessions and his federal drug warriors newly empowered by President Trump, a “yes” vote might be meaningless. Better to wait for 2020 and President Michelle Obama!
• Banning-Lewis Ranch — threat or menace? Neither. When finished, it’ll likely be the most desirable, affordable, bike/pedestrian-friendly suburban community in the state. Imagine a great core city and great suburbs, linked by shared goals and common responsibilities. This is an opportunity to heal a longstanding urban wound, not create a new fight venue.
• Martin Drake Power Plant — is coal our goal? Whatever they may think about global climate change, Mayor Suthers, city council and Utilities staff all understand a coal-fired downtown power station is bad for business, so why not accelerate its decommissioning? Imagine the dreary, polluting old hulk replaced by sparkling development and grassy parkland! Downtown businesses would rejoice, visitors would be delighted, you’d love it, I’d love it and the deer might even come and visit.