(John Andrews in the Denver Post, July 17) If you go west on the Arkansas River from Pueblo, up the Royal Gorge and then north past Salida, the Heart of the Rockies, you come to Buena Vista, “the place of a lovely view.” It’s pretty much the route taken by Lt. Zebulon Pike, the first American to explore this high valley, just before Christmas 1806. Then if you branch off the Arkansas at Bueny and follow Cottonwood Creek to its headwaters between Mt. Princeton and Mt. Yale, just below the Continental Divide, with luck and a sharp eye you’ll find the old mining road that climbs into a side canyon where my imaginary hometown, Backbone, Colorado, lies hidden.
My house is down here in Centennial, but my heart is up there in Backbone. I love not only the solitude and rugged beauty of its setting, but also the timeless truths that the townspeople live by. The air is bracing. It invites you to breathe deeply. Neighborly decency and common sense, limited constitutional government, ancestral traditions, and a sturdy biblical faith – that’s the Backbone way of life.
Last week after it came out that Denver’s mayor, John Hickenlooper, had been to Steamboat Springs on July 4, flirting with a run for governor next year, I had a call from Backbone’s mayor, Mac Macavity, protesting that his town also belongs on the travel circuit for these aspiring candidates. I suggested Mac hold a forum and invite all of them at once up to the rooftop of America. Plans are underway.
In the 2006 campaign, Backbone voters won’t be easy to please. They really like Gov. Bill Owens and the job he’s done. Owens is not only the first Republican governor elected in 24 years. He’s also the first conservative reformer in the mold of Reagan and Goldwater that Colorado has ever had as chief executive. Though less than perfect (like any practical politician), he will still be a hard act to follow, many of us believe.
Contenders to succeed this governor include Bob Beauprez and Marc Holtzman in his party, along with Bill Ritter and Rutt Bridges in the other. Democrats Hickenlooper and Ken Salazar have hinted their interest, as has Republican Scott McInnis. Joan Fitz-Gerald or Andrew Romanoff may seek to move up from legislative leadership.
These are the likely invitees to our upcoming forum at the Backbone bandshell. Based on what we know of each candidate so far, how will they fare with the locals – liberty-minded citizens who admire America’s founders?
Backbone folks love the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights and recognize there is no budget crisis. They oppose Referendum C, the ballot issue that would breach TABOR for higher taxes estimated at $3.6 billion and still rising. So they will cheer Congressman Beauprez, who calls Ref C “a chainsaw for brain surgery,” leading to “government on steroids” -- former Congressman McInnis, who calls it an unwise tax increase – and Holtzman, Owens’ former technology secretary, who says it offends his conscience.
But Speaker Romanoff and Senate President Fitz-Gerald, who proposed next year’s tax hike to cover their big spending this year, won’t show well in my hometown. Nor will businessman Bridges, whose Bighorn lobby group has long worked against TABOR. Nor will former prosecutor Ritter, the first candidate to endorse Ref C – though his principled courage as a pro-lifer will win respect in Backbone.
Senator Salazar’s call to ban flag-burning may likewise earn him points for principle from some at the bandshell. Others will scent opportunism, and his zigzag voting record suggests that. Finally there’s Hickenlooper. Will he think aloud in Backbone, as he has elsewhere, about running for governor as an independent? What a wild card that would be.
Self-government, said Lincoln in 1838, is a legacy to Americans from “a once hardy, brave, and patriotic, but now lamented and departed race of ancestors.” He saw affluence weakening our backbone, even so soon after the founding. What Franklin called “a Republic, if you can keep it” demands much of each citizen. These demands should be debated as we choose the next governor. So we believe, anyway, up in Backbone, Colorado.