Athlete, Artist, Indian Chief

From dark horse to Nighthorse, it's been one hell of a ride for Ben Campbell.

"Changing parties will raise a host of accusations or speculation. I have no other motive other than trying my best to represent my state and this nation. No one has offered me anything, nor have I asked anything.

"I am changing parties based on my own convictions and those of my family."
He was certainly not doing it based on the convictions of his staffers, who were just as surprised by Campbell's announcement as the rest of the country. About half of Campbell's staff quit; others were fired in what they characterize as an office "purge" by Ginnie Kontnik.

Then-chief of staff Ken Lane says he heard about Campbell's plan to switch parties the night before the senator announced it to the world at a press conference. "It was embarrassing to find out the way I did," Lane says. "He told Sonny Bono, of all people, before he told me, who had served him and his family faithfully for nine years. God...Sonny Bono?"

Lane says he didn't know why Campbell really made the switch--and still doesn't. He didn't buy Campbell's initial Balanced Budget Amendment version, or Campbell's explanation that he was also angry at the state Democratic Party for failing to support him. "Ben made himself believe that," Lane says. "It ate at him, and I know it ate at his family, who felt they were never given the respect they deserved. But I tried to make the distinction, when he told me what he was going to do, between the party leaders in Denver and Boulder and the rank-and-file Democrats who had supported him. The saddest comments I heard were from those people who felt they had been abandoned."

The angriest comments came from Democratic leaders. Former colleagues, especially Representative Pat Schroeder, labeled Campbell a disgrace and a traitor. The Democratic Party demanded that he return the money he'd been given for his Senate race; Campbell countered that his voting record had given the Democrats their money's worth.

For all Campbell's problems with the left wing of the Democratic Party, Lane predicts he'll have more trouble with the religious right. "Practically every year, I'd hear rumors about Ben switching parties," Lane says. "Then Ben would say, 'Why trade one set of nuts for another set of nuts?' His dislike for the Christian Coalition is well-known. The most hate-filled, venomous correspondence we ever got in the office was from the so-called Christian groups. They used to drive him nuts. Now he's in their party."

Lane did not make the switch. "After the party change," he says, "Linda [Campbell] called and asked me to stay. She said, 'Ben needs you; you served him well.' But I couldn't. Ben says he changed parties because of his principles. Well, I stayed with my party because of my principles."

After Campbell's announcement, Lane handed in his resignation, agreeing to stay on to help through the transition period. It was only when he offered Kontnik a ride to Campbell's office after they'd taken the same flight from Colorado to D.C. that he learned she was going to replace him as chief of staff. The senator didn't feel he could be trusted, Lane was told.

Lane didn't approve of the rough way staffers were handled, but given Campbell's childhood, he realized what was motivating it. "As a person left at an orphanage, coming from a dysfunctional family, unsure of love and relationships, Ben needs acceptance," he says. "He needed it from the staff. When he didn't get it, he reacted the same way he did when he was a child--by lashing out. It hurt him, and when he gets hurt, he gets angry, and that's the dark side of Ben Campbell...He can be very vindictive."

But although his former boss can also be opportunistic, Lane says he doesn't think Campbell was calculating potential political gains when he changed parties.

"I don't think he switched so that he could be chairman of a committee or placed on certain committees," Lane says. "Ben hated committee work; it was like pulling teeth to get him to go to committees. Now he's obviously been rewarded with plum assignments, but Ben's no fire-breathing legislator. He's not interested in the daily grind, and that's what committees are all about."

For the same reason, Lane doesn't see Campbell running for governor, even though the senator has said publicly that he's given it some thought. "He's not an administrator," Lane says. "He'd soon tire of the day-to-day running of a state." And though Campbell's name has surfaced as a potential Secretary of the Interior in a Bob Dole cabinet, Lane doesn't think that makes sense, either. As a senator, Campbell gets to fly back to his ranch once a week to be with his family; a cabinet position wouldn't allow him to do that.

But Lane predicts that Campbell could also have trouble keeping his Senate seat. "I see a stiff primary in his new party," he says. "Others in that party have been waiting their turns for years and won't take kindly to being bumped out of line by a party-switcher."

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