Athlete, Artist, Indian Chief

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

Doyle learned that Campbell was switching parties the night before the press conference. "It was late, so at first I didn't know what to think," he recalls. "I wondered what was going to happen to me, but I decided not to make any decisions until I talked to Ben personally."

Campbell called him the next day and asked him to stay on, Doyle says. "I asked what it would mean if I stayed a Democrat and he said, 'Jim, I didn't ask for your party affiliation when I hired you and I don't care about it now, so long as if you stay, you feel you can support me and work for Colorado.'

"I decided right then that the man was more important than any party label."

A year and a half after he switched parties, Campbell makes no apologies for the move.

By and large, he says, most members of Congress, including the Democrats, have come to terms with his party change. "Except Pat Schroeder, and I don't understand that," Campbell says. "I've always sided with her on women's issues, and she knows I will continue to do so.

"But I can't say I truly dislike anyone," Campbell continues. "Now, there are some I will disagree with until the cows come home. But we get along. For instance, Ted Kennedy, I tease him that he'd give it all away, but really, he's a great guy."

Although he concedes they were a fine staff, Campbell feels less charitable to former aides who were "more concerned with being Democrats than doing their job.

"I was warned by the Republican leadership to let them all go as soon as I announced I was changing parties," he says. "But I offered to keep them all on, if they felt they could work for me and the people of Colorado regardless of the party...That was probably a mistake."

He let Lane go early, he says, because "he was throwing a hissy fit." And he got tired of other staffers' "self-pity," which was getting in the way of their work.

One of the important jobs of his office, Campbell says, is providing services for constituents, taking on the problems individual citizens have with federal agencies. The media rarely notices this sort of work, Campbell complains.

He also criticizes the amount of attention devoted to certain bills. "I think sometimes the bills you stop are more important than the ones you try to pass," Campbell explains. "For instance, I stopped a bill that would have sold the public lands in ski areas to private investors. I had to rally the Western senators to do it. Of course, you never get any publicity for that."

Campbell continues to split with his new party on some votes, such as raising the minimum wage. He says he's looking forward to working on a pet Democratic project, health-care reform, although he prefers offering incentives to doctors to establish practices in urban and rural areas rather than "socializing" medicine. And he also voted for a ban on assault rifles, which he now regrets because "it hasn't done a damn thing," he says. "But opponents really ticked me off before the vote by threatening to kill me and my staff.

"When people say politics is a dirty business, they're right," Campbell says. "But there's also the opportunity of making some meaningful change to better people's lives. That's why I would stay with it and how I'd like to be remembered."

Business got dirty again this spring, when Campbell's environmental record came under attack. And it's on environmental matters where the senator's assorted cultures--Indian, rancher--often clash the most.

Animas La-Plata isn't the only battleground. In fact, with the exception of Pat Schroeder, all the members of Colorado's congressional contingent side with Campbell on that one. When Schroeder voted to remove $10 million in funding this July, Campbell saw it as retribution for his party switch.

The big fight this spring started with Campbell consenting to appear in Banana Republic ads, as part of the "freedom at work" campaign, wearing a jacket from the store (along with his own leather motorcycle chaps). Before he agreed to the modeling stint, Campbell got an okay from the Senate ethics committee, which said he would have to return the jacket. Campbell already planned to donate the $2,000 modeling fee to Dull Knife College in Lame Deer.

But then Jonathan Turley, a George Washington University law professor who's currently representing the Rocky Flats grand jurors, suggested that the expensive ad campaign featuring the senator was essentially a gift on its own. "It is hard to see how the direct offer of a tailored, fully funded campaign would not be treated as 'in kind' gift or contribution," Turley wrote the Senate ethics committee.

Beyond that, Turley said, the ad campaign could pose an ethical problem because Donald Fisher, chief executive officer of GAP, Inc., Banana Republic's parent company, had business pending in Congress.

Before a Senate subcommittee headed by Campbell, Fisher--who'd donated $60,000 to the Republican Party--testified in favor of creating a public-private trust to make a park of the Presidio, a former Army base in San Francisco. Fisher lives next door to the site. "And, of course, doesn't want a bunch of condominiums to spring up," Turley says.

« Previous Page
Next Page »
My Voice Nation Help