The “Head On” debate between former state Sen. John Andrews (R) and former Denver councilwoman Susan Barnes-Gelt (D), seen daily on Colorado Public Television since 1997, began its January series this week. Andrews praised President Bush for his aggressive monitoring of Al Qaeda, under what he called inherent constitutional powers of the executive. Other topics this month include the Abramoff lobbying scandal in Congress, the Colorado legislative outlook and governor's race, and a possible ballot issue decriminalizing marijuana possession. 1. NSA EAVESDROPPING
Susan: The New York Times revelation that Bush’s National Security Agency has been evesdropping on U.S. citizens is a scandal on a bunch of counts: Why did it take the Times a year to publish the info? And why did the administration play legal games with the Constitution and not seek court approval?
John: We are at war. The enemy is Al Qaeda, who wants to nuke our cities and destroy us. The President as commander-in-chief has a right and duty to monitor Al Qaeda communications everywhere, for the purpose of self-defense and survival. Three decades of court decisions confirm this.
Susan: C’mon John. It’s exactly because we’re at war that the courts would approve selective wiretapping. There’s no point in fighting for democratic values in Iraq if we lose those values at home. Rumor has it the Bushies are eavesdropping on journalists, too. Shame, shame on the White House and NSA.
John: Rumors? Tut tut. Look, Susan -- the death toll from Al Qaeda terrorism in this country since 9/11 is zero. From London to Bali to Baghdad the death toll is thousands. Part of the difference is Bush’s aggressive surveillance of Al Qaeda. This is a presidential duty, a constitutional power that Congress and the courts cannot infringe.
2. 2006 LEGISLATIVE SESSION BEGINS
Susan: With so much at stake, this election year bodes for a tough session at the statehouse. Voters approved modest budget relief, but both sides must proceed with caution. Norma Anderson’s retirement is bad news for the Republicans – it will be tough to identify another strong voice of reason.
John: My former colleague Sen. Anderson was the John McCain of Colorado Republicans -- a master manipulator, towering ego, and frequent Democratic ally. Her exit sharpens the contrast between Republicans as the party of limited government and Democrats as the party of unlimited government. That is the 2006 legislative battle line.
Susan: We disagree. The 2006 battle line is the fall election. Too much is at stake for either party to default to tired shibboleths. Moderation, respect and accountability will rule the day. If the legislature gets tied up in a bunch of rhetoric over choice, immigration and guns, all Coloradans lose.
John: Not so fast with the ’06 election. We elected a hundred legislators in ’04. We gave them extra billions to spend from the voters in ’05. Democrats want to spend it on new programs. Republicans call for fiscal responsibility. The Owens-Romanoff honeymoon is over. Stand by for vetoes.
3. ABRAMOFF SCANDAL
John: How disgusting – sleazeball lobbyist Jack Abramoff and the congressional fatcats who ate his candy. They deserve jail terms and public shame. As a Republican, I expected better from a Congress we’ve controlled for so long. Abramoff corrupted Democrats too, but the GOP must lead the house-cleaning.
Susan: Republican congressional and executive greed should be a major issue in the mid-term elections. However, I don’t have confidence that a thorough housecleaning or a revised, transparent and enforceable ethics code will come out of DC. The perks of power have become an entitlement myopic politicians will be loathe to change.
John: Both parties in Congress have had their bad actors through the years. Republicans took over a decade ago, promising to be different – not by superior virtue, but by caging the big government beast. That hasn’t happened. They need a new crop of leaders, conservative and squeaky clean. We the people are not happy.
Susan: You’re half right – the squeaky clean part. What America needs are leaders who love the country more than they love themselves – a tall order. I don’t believe in term limits but secret earmarks, sleazy lobbyists and greedy politicians must go. It’s time for voters to pay closer attention.
4 WHAT NEXT IN GOVERNOR'S RACE?
Susan: Dems smell victory in this watershed year for Colorado. Not only will they hold control of the legislature, but Beltway Bob and Marc Holtzman will have a nasty primary. If the’Looper gets in, it’s all over but the inaugural. If he doesn’t, Ritter looks good statewide without a bruising primary.
John: Bill Owens has governed Colorado with a decent spirit and a steady hand, through all the challenges from Columbine in his first year to TABOR in his final year. To succeed him, Coloradans will want another common-sense conservative, someone like Gov. Owens or President Bush, not like screamin’ Howard Dean. The odds favor Bob Beauprez.
Susan: Party conventions are less than 6 months away and the silence from both parties is deafening. Both parties are looking for the common sense moderate you describe – someone who cares more about Colorado, its people, resources and opportunities than his – or her – own political playbook and ambitions.
John: Methinks you hyperventilate. Roy Romer was not a bad governor, and I say that having run against him. Owens was better, although we disagreed on last year’s tax increase. Ritter as governor would not be bad. Holtzman or Beauprez would be better. Colorado is going to be fine.
5. MARIJUANA BALLOT ISSUE
John: Get out your Grateful Dead records, Susan. We’re learning that old hippies never die, they just keep getting high. Marijuana legalization, one ounce worth, did so well in Denver last year that it may go statewide this year. The potheads are laughable, but their argument isn’t. Why outlaw marijuana, but not tobacco or alcohol?
Susan: Why John, we have a left-right doo-see-doo – maybe there’s hope for this legislative season! I completely agree – The state and cities spend enormous resources prosecuting and incarcerating small time marijuana users. Those resources can be deployed more effectively on behalf of public safety.
John: Well, now I’m concerned. Our apparent agreement on marijuana may mean one of us is smoking something. It’s true that drug prohibition seems to be working no better in our time than alcohol prohibition in our grandparents’ time. But decriminalizing minor possession while criminalizing major distribution is absurd. I’m still a no-vote.
Susan: You had me worried, John. Sometimes I think you smoke what you grow but I know the crop is perfectly legal – though often misguided. I still say legalizing certain drugs is the best way to mitigate criminal distribution and free up resources for more serious threats.