In 1989 I volunteered with the campaign to pass a bond issue for Colorado Springs School District 11. Despite the district’s obvious needs, the ballot issue failed at the polls. While dejected volunteers tried to console each other at what was meant to be a celebratory occasion on election night, Douglas Bruce crashed the party.
As you might expect, he had opposed the measure.
“What?” he said. “No cookies and cake for visitors?”
Bruce had led a campaign of disinformation, replete with fake news and counter-factual assertions — in other words, lies. The city’s economy was shaky, the anti-public school right was gathering strength locally and a majority of voters bought into Bruce’s fabrications.
I knew then that Bruce was a relentless, intelligent and vicious politician. I thought that city voters would soon understand the error of their ways and ignore his anti-tax screeds, but I couldn’t have been more mistaken.
Two years later, Bruce persuaded Colorado Springs voters to approve a tax-and-revenue-limiting charter amendment that turned out to be the first iteration of the statewide Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights amendment. At the same election, city voters also OK’d another Bruce-authored measure that phased out a half-cent sales tax earmarked for capital improvements.
That 1991 election still resonates. Bruce’s charter amendment led to a quarter of a century of public sector underinvestment.
“If that capital improvement tax had remained in effect,” said Mayor John Suthers at a recent pre-election forum sponsored by Leadership Pikes Peak, “we would have had nearly a billion dollars for infrastructure — for roads, for stormwater and everything else.”
But egged on by Bruce, voters decided to kick the can down the road, and let someone else pay for it.
That’s been a common (but not invariable) theme in local politics, and Bruce has always been there. Interestingly, he always reads from the same script, makes the same unsubstantiated charges and often succeeds.
Makes sense, I guess. If the rubes still love your shtick, why change it?
Last week’s forum (which I moderated) featured debates on the proposed city stormwater fee and District 11’s mill levy override (see page 16). Suthers and Laura Carno spoke for and against (respectively) the stormwater fee, while Lauren Hug and (you guessed it!) Douglas Bruce discussed the D-11 issue.
The latter was an interesting match-up, one that seemed to pit future against past, optimism against pessimism, young against old.
Hug, an articulate, enthusiastic 30-something attorney whose children attend D-11 schools, spoke of D-11’s triumphs and challenges, of eager students and dedicated teachers stuck in buildings with an average age of more than 50 years, many without modern HVAC systems or air conditioning. She noted the effects of the statewide teacher shortage as well as the rapid changes in education, technology and workplace environments in the last two decades.
Bruce recited his standard tropes. D-11 has plenty of money, but it’s all used to fund useless government administrative employees. Saying that the tax increase is “for the children” is false — “D-11 holds little children captive for the purpose of enriching D-11. They want more money from struggling families.”
In one of the more interesting segments of the debate, Bruce railed against the city’s 8.25 percent sales tax. Ironically, the 1991 Bruce-inspired phase-out of the Capital Improvements Program tax made necessary the .625 percent “road tax” and the stormwater fee, so Bruce bears some responsibility for that 8.25 percent total sales tax rate (including levies from the state, county, city and the Pikes Peak Rural Transportation Authority).
During and after the debate, Bruce was in fine fettle. Despite his recent travails (a couple of stints in the slammer for tax evasion and parole violation) the old warrior still has plenty of rhetorical tricks. At the beginning of the debate he announced that he would sit rather than stand to debate, because it put him on the same level as his listeners.
Bruce is our own Don Quixote, brandishing a rusty sword, and still spoiling for a fight. Good for him — but bad for our city.