Jerry Kopel

"According to Ms. Lewinsky, the President explained they had to end their intimate relationship. Earlier in his marriage, he told her, he had had hundreds of affairs; but since turning forty, he had made a concerted effort to be faithful." An excerpt from the Starr report to U.S. House of Representatives. (The word "hundreds" means more than two hundred and less than one thousand.)

In six years of writing for the Statesman, this columnist has only written one other column regarding President Clinton and that one suggested he sit out the 1996 election and run for a second term in 2000.

If the Lewinsky account is accurate, the President of the United States is a compulsive sex addict. And so was President Kennedy, who might have faced the same confrontation with the press over his activities during a second term.

But this column isn't about Clinton or Kennedy. It is about how a President's actions affect Democrats in the Colorado legislature, especially in the House. No group has LESS to do with what is happening in Washington. But it is possible that Democratic candidates for the House will feel the brunt of any failure to provide some form of federal "punishment" for Clinton prior to the November elections.

I base this on my own experiences, going door to door, seeking support from voters in my House district. In 1972, during the George McGovern campaign, I journeyed through what was a newly reapportioned, Republican majority district. Most voters didn't know me. When they answered the door, the two most repeated comments after I told them I was the Democratic incumbent: (1) "Where is my $1,000?" and as I left (2) "I'm behind you a 1,000 percent".

Author Theodore White discussed both issues in his book, "The Making of the President, 1972." He writes the McGovern campaign promised that "Every, but everyone, would get a minimum $1,000 a year from the Federal government -- and then the government would tax back enough from the comfortable above a certain gross income to make up for what it paid to the poor."

The vice presidential candidate was Sen. Tom Eagleton of Missouri, who the press revealed had been hospitalized three times for nervous breakdowns. White writes "McGovern gave his campaign its most memorable statement, that he was '1,000 percent for Tom Eagleton and I have no intention of dropping him from the ticket.'" A week later, vice presidential candidate Eagleton was dropped from the ticket by McGovern.

I won the 1972 election, but only because my Republican opponent spent her door-to-door time angering voters by arguing her beliefs instead of listening to them. I was the only Democrat on that House district ballot to win. My Republican opponent had the least amount of Republican votes, but her vote total was greater than ANY of the other Democrats on that 1972 ballot.

In 1974, the Republicans lost control of the Colorado House. It was not because of anything they did or did not do in the 1972-73 legislature. It was because of Richard Nixon and especially because of the pardon given him by President Ford. As I went door to door, I didn't have to say much after "I'm the Democrat incumbent." The usual response was "You'll have our vote."

The Reagan landslide victory over Walter Mondale in 1984 found voters staying on the Republican ballot line and bringing forth a veto-proof Republican legislature. In 1984, I was in a solid Democratic district and had no Republican opponent and I have always wondered about the comments heard by other House Democrats as they went door to door regarding Mondale's promise that there would be additional taxes.

While Democrats had done absolutely nothing to produce the bitter consequences, there were 18 House Democrats and 11 Senate Democrats left. Gov. Lamm vetoed a lot of bills, and most of the vetoes were overturned.

The previous veto-proof House and Senate happened in 1947 with 19 House Democrats and 8 Senate Democrats. And yes, the governor was also a Democrat: W. Lee Knous.

During the 1994 campaign, Rep. Tony Grampsas told me that as he went campaigning, once he told voters he was a Republican, that was enough, and "this had never happened to him before". Of course, this was the same year that Republicans gained control of Congress.

Democrats lost 450 state legislative seats nationwide in 1994, including seven House seats in Colorado.

Local incumbents are often able to weather a federal storm; first time candidates are not as lucky. The present mess in Washington will have more to do with how many Democrats sit in the Colorado House in 1999 than any statewide issue being debated.

There is a quote I copied out of the New Yorker magazine in 1996, long before the Lewinsky scandal became news and perhaps it explains why public response to Washington events has moved at glacial speed. It was by David Remnick (presently editor of the magazine) writing about present and past presidents:

"The more we learn about these creatures the more clearly we realize how ego, ambition, power, and the sheer act of running for office disfigure them. They are very nearly insane, and we have learned to make allowances for them."

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


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