Jerry Kopel

On any objective test, Tom Strickland should be way ahead of Wayne Allard in the U.S. Senate race, but he is either tied or narrowly losing, depending on which poll you read. Strickland is more photogenic, more intelligent, has better command of the English language, and actually understands the issues he would be voting on. If this were TV comedy elections, it would be Jerry Seinfeld vs. George.

So why isn't Strickland doing better? Rep. Allard has definitely stamped Strickland as a very rich lawyer-lobbyist, with some earlier help from Strickland's Democratic primary opponent Gene Nichol. Strickland has tried to put a positive spin on his wealth by claiming to be a poor boy who made good the American way.

The problem is voters are rightly suspicious of wealthy lawyer-lobbyists who want to be U.S senators, especially those who are very stingy in revealing income, taxes and clients.

I remember a conversation with the late Ira Rothgerber Jr. of the then Rothgerber, Appel and Powers firm back in the late 60's when my small law firm wall was adjacent to that large firm on the 29th floor of the old Security Life Building.

Ira and I were working together on some bar association committee work in his conference room when he suddenly gave a soliloquy the gist of which was "I'm a hired gun whose services are available to anyone with the money to hire me." His comments were memorable because they had nothing to do with the issue we were discussing.

The term "hired gun" is one with deep, historical meaning for westerners. During the Colorado range wars, cattlemen, sheepmen, and homesteaders "hired guns" to protect their turf. The hired gun had no stake in the outcome; the hired gun killed for money and not for a principle.

In the 50's and 60's, the Rothgerber firm was what the Brownstein firm, with Strickland as a partner, is today...a powerful, major political player composed of many "hired guns". Strickland has been a hired gun, as are most, not all, wealthy and powerful attorneys.

And Strickland's BIG mistake has been to dribble out information, much to the delight of Dick Wadhams, Allard's campaign manager, who must go to bed every night praying that Strickland won't wise up.

In turn, Strickland's jabs at "Allard/Gingrich" continue to fall flat, because that is the Democratic approach nationally, and it is really old stuff.

Critics describe Strickland as a liberal disguised as a moderate and Allard as a far right winger disguised as a conservative. Both want to fill the seat being vacated by Sen. Hank Brown, a very personable, engaging, soft-spoken legislator, whose voting record in congress and the senate mirrored that of former Sen. Bill Armstrong.

That should make the choice in November easy. If you want someone whose voting pattern matches Armstrong/Brown, vote for Allard. If you want a change, vote for Strickland. But choices are not that easy to make when "side-issues" dominate the debate.

Strickland needs to put everything on the table: The clients, what they tried to do, Tom's investments and income sources, and every page of every tax return.

Whatever right of privacy Strickland thought he was entitled to, he really isn't in today's political wars. For the past forty years, Colorado U.S. senators, except for Gary Hart, have come from an elected state government or U.S. Congress position: Allott, Brown, Johnson, Carroll, Dominick, Haskell, Wirth, Armstrong, Campbell.

Hart had certain advantages not available to Strickland: Running in 1974 at the height of Watergate fallout, against a severely ill Dominick, after having overcome the expected Democrat primary winner Herrick Roth, who had limited his campaign contributions to $19.74 per person.

All of the others named above had entered their Senate race with some immunity against a political virus of first-time disclosures.

Strickland should remember there was no public demand for him to run for the Senate. It was his decision and if he didn't know what was going to happen, well maybe he isn't as smart as I think he is.

* * *

Two years ago, Colorado had a laugher on the ballot in which several individuals attempted to make themselves very wealthy by having voters give them an exclusive monopoly on casinos to be built in Manitou Springs. The vote on Amendment 13 was 91,009 in favor and 877,998 opposed.

This year's laugher is Amendment 12 which orders state legislators to vote to request an "amendment-proposing convention under Article V of the U.S. Constitution". The idea is then to have a convention propose a term limit amendment to the constitution, which Colorado legislators would be required to ratify.

Amendment 12's punishment for not following directions is to place "Disregarded voter instructions on term limits" next to the name of the state legislator on future election ballots. One lapse is all it takes regardless of how the legislator votes on the final measure. And of course we would not even BE into the term limit issue until after the constitutional convention.

Anyway, putting the big "D" on a legislator's forehead would be a lot of fun for liberal legislators against their more conservative compatriots. Amendment 12 doesn't deal with "voting against" something. That approach would protect legislators absent on a particular day. The amendment uses "fails to vote in favor" which counts everyone elected to office whether present or not for the vote.

Consider second reading of a bill which takes place in "committee of the whole" in the House. Presently, votes are not recorded, but under Amendment 12 they would HAVE to be recorded. And there is no "call of the House" on second reading to bring in absent members before the vote is taken.

Suppose the constitutional convention measure was somewhere near the end of that day's calendar. A motion by a liberal legislator to move the measure up for immediate consideration would have to be voted on. A "no" vote would violate Amendment 12, earning a big "D". Any legislator not present when the vote on the convention measure was taken would be someone who "fails to vote in favor".

Once you read Amendment 12 you can make up your own example of how any legislator who knows the rules could make sure that almost EVERYONE gets a "D".

The whole amendment is so ridiculous, I doubt if it gets more votes than the Manitou Would-Be Millionaires received in 1994.


Jerry Kopel writes a column for the Statesman based on 22 years past experience as a state legislator.

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