Tea Parties

Pick up that pencil

(Denver Post, Feb. 7) “Both ends of the political spectrum are disgusting,” said reader Bill Hoppe in an email after my Jan. 24 column on bipartisan irresponsibility. “It becomes increasingly difficult to believe in our legislature at any level.” Deborah Kelly’s letter to the editor, published here on Jan. 31, was equally despairing: “I can’t afford health insurance, and after the Supreme Court decision regarding campaign financing, now I can’t afford to vote either.” As we watch the messy process of self-government in a free society, disgust and discouragement may tempt us all. While the reaction is only human, the answer is not to drop out. Rather the American way is to pick an entry point and plunge into the process for our own good. Its openness is a marvel, too little understood. Deborah should consider that she can’t afford not to vote. And maybe with her ability to turn a phrase, she could help fellow dissidents argue down the political ads big business and big labor can now run. Bill should realize that the responsible center is wherever he is. As for “believing in” our legislators, why? They aren’t deities, just people. Motivating them is possible for that very reason, though.

We the people employ every public official in the land. Through our votes we can hire and fire them all – even the judges, who can be removed directly by state retention elections or indirectly by federal impeachment. It happens seldom, only because citizens have been lulled into forgetting our own power. Does last year’s wave of protest signal that this year we’ll finally awaken? The red tide for Brown in blue Massachusetts suggests we may.

Many of the state senators and representatives I served with were easily motivated by reminders of the next election. In some cases, too easily – it was said of Rod the Republican and Don the Democrat (not their real names) that they quaked before a few phone slips from constituents as if it were a full-on lobbying campaign. More’s the pity if good folks like Bill and Deborah yield to discouragement instead of phoning in their concerns.

One of my greatest pleasures since leaving the legislature has been getting to know a constant stream of such patriots-in-the-making who come around seeking either entry into the process or encouragement to plunge. I should have one of those “Doctor Is In” signs like Lucy in the comics. Her nickel fee wasn’t nearly as enriching as the satisfaction this over-the-hill politico gets from nurturing the new crop.

Businessman Tom wanted an introduction to tea-party leaders, which I made – along with arrangements for him to help a congressional candidate. Retired teacher Mel brought an inspirational article about the Constitution that we’ll place with a local blog. Consultant Claire had ideas for small-business activism but no audience; she’s now on the GOP breakfast circuit. Undergrad Kim and executive Joan both aspired to the foreign service, for which I tried to give age-appropriate counsel.

Candidates also come knocking, of course, and doing my bit for them feels good. But it’s the “wanna make a difference” private citizens who inspire me most. If some aim awfully high – such as Cliff from church with his health care agenda, or lawyer Mike with his plan for drafting the next president – all partake of the minuteman spirit that is America at its best. None are bogged in despair.

My friend Francisco, an American by choice and an engineer turned artist in midlife, quotes something Van Gogh wrote when all seemed hopeless: “I shall get over it, I shall pick up my pencil, and I shall draw again.” Our hope for 2010 comes not from the White House, but from citizens of all parties more ready than ever to pick up that pencil and participate.

McInnis's platform problem

(Denver Post, Dec. 6) All that is covered shall be revealed, promises the Good Book. It’s the perfect motto for America’s open society. Secrets are fools’ gold. Leaks will out. Thanks to a leaker at East Anglia University, we now know climate change isn’t cooking the planet after all. Climate alarmists are cooking the data. Meanwhile in Colorado, leakers are heating up the governor’s race. A week after the election, someone scooped Josh Penry’s plan to end his candidacy against Gov. Bill Ritter. A week later, someone else scooped Scott McInnis’s plan to unify Republicans around an issue contract. I’ve got this week’s leak. A confidential memo from inside the McInnis campaign showed up under my doormat. The authors call themselves the Skunk Works. The address line says, “Eyes Only: Mighty Mac,” and the subject reads: “The Carter Question and the Treaty of Fifth Avenue.” This is pure journalistic catnip, Pulitzer-quality stuff. Let me quote:

“Boss, to say you had a good November would be like saying Elway could pass a little. Last month was terrific. Overnight you’re the consensus nominee, endorsed by past and present GOP icons from Owens to Tancredo to Penry, and your Platform for Prosperity puts Republicans on offense with all three big issues – jobs, jobs, and jobs. Plus the platform’s tough stance on taxes, spending, illegal aliens, and crime erases your Washington taint as an ex-congressman.

“Ritter is now the one weighed down with Beltway baggage and on the defensive for his linkage to an Obama stimulus that didn’t stimulate. With total jobs in Colorado actually below 2006 levels, you can score big next fall with the old Jimmy Carter question on whether voters are better off than four years ago. Obviously not, so it’s time for Mac at quarterback.

“But since our job as Skunkers is to pipe in reality, not spin flattery, here’s the other side. With this new platform appearing to be written for you by powerful rivals, you’re in the awkward position of Nixon in 1960 when his issues were dictated by Rockefeller. Divisions over the so-called ‘Treaty of Fifth Avenue’ helped defeat the ticket. We need to change the 2010 story line, and fast.

“The potential winning message of the Platform for Prosperity is threatened by party grumbling and PR vulnerability. Pundits, both left and right, scoff that our agenda is too vague to attract swing voters. Many of the GOP faithful are saying we prefer insider manipulation instead of inclusiveness. Some worry that you won’t run hard on the platform, or fight for it if elected. What’s the McInnis response?

“To quiet the complaints on process, do three things. Hold grassroots platform hearings with Republicans across the state. Let assembly delegates choose your Lieutenant Governor, possibly Dan Maes. And gain endorsements from Bob Schaffer and Bob Beauprez at whatever cost, finally healing the breach from your ’06 and ’08 jabs at them.

“As for issues, Skunkers say go full throttle. Dramatize your platform with specifics. For job creation, pledge to zero out the corporate income tax. Colorado would boom! Roll out ballot issues to fortify TABOR and to let health insurers from any state write coverage here. Dare the legislature next spring to pass a top-10 list of prosperity bills. Call for voting down at least one member of our constitution-shredding Supreme Court, perhaps labor hack Michael Bender.

“Remember, Boss – McCain lost the presidency partly because millions of people feared his moderate mushiness would doom American conservatism if he won. If we don’t catch the wave of tea parties and townhalls, that could be your political obituary as well. But channel your inner Palin the next 300 days, and Ritter’s job is yours!”