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INDEPENDENCE'S DAY

A CONSERVATIVE THINK TANK IN GOLDEN MAKES THE DEMOCRATS THIRST FOR ONE OF THEIR OWN.

Still, the institute remains a relatively low-budget affair. Although its budget soared by nearly $80,000 between 1993 and 1994, the $300,000 the Independence Institute spends each year is dwarfed by the multimillion-dollar budgets of national think tanks like the Heritage Foundation and the Hoover Institute. And the title "senior fellow" it confers upon its researchers generally means only that the institute has published that person's writings--money rarely changes hands.

Tancredo has followed Andrews's advice about marketing, and the institute has increased its public exposure, recruiting research fellows who already have public voices. Charles King, a columnist for the Colorado Daily, surprised readers earlier this year when the casual photo accompanying his "Old Fogey Says" column suddenly was replaced by a new picture of King with a dark suit and tie--and an accompanying note that he is now a senior fellow for the Independence Institute.

The think tank has been hitting the airwaves, too. For the past eight months Independence has run ninety-second spots called "Independent Thought" on eight Colorado radio stations. About five times a month it tapes a two-minute commentary on KUVO, during National Public Radio's "All Things Considered." And, according to Tancredo, the institute soon hopes to get a talk show called "Colorado in the Balance" on KBDI-TV/Channel 12 and on cable-access channels in Littleton, Aurora, Thornton and Pueblo.

Others affiliated with the institute spread the conservative gospel in different ways. Mike Rosen, a former senior fellow, enjoys a huge radio audience on KOA. Penn Pfiffner, a Republican state representative from Jefferson County, is a member of the institute. The views of senior fellow Jack McCroskey will no doubt become more public as his campaign for city auditor picks up steam. And, beginning next month, the institute will begin hosting a half-hour talk show on a Denver cable-access channel.

Jim Gibson denies that the Democrats' planned think tank has anything to do with the Independence Institute's growing profile. But he does concede that local progressives and Democrats have been left behind in the ideas department. "I believe strongly that there's a policy vacuum," he says.

Gibson says he is working with several legislators to write a sort of blueprint for local government (much like the Independence Institute's "Colorado in the Balance" position paper, released last month, which outlined 87 reforms for state legislators).

Unlike the recommendations of the government-distrusting Independence Institute, the Democratic Leadership Council's positions "will stress our philosophy that government has a role in providing people with economic opportunity," says Gibson. "We're going to appear a lot closer to the political center than they are."

Then again, maybe not. Gibson declines to say who he has lined up to contribute money to the tank. But he says he already has found a person willing to write policy papers for it: former Democratic governor Richard Lamm.

That's the same Dick Lamm who three weeks ago appeared in a video tribute to the Independence Institute at the think tank's tenth-anniversary gala.

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