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An anti-union lobbyist has so angered normally unflappable state senator Don Ament that he may be the first lobbyist ever banned from doing his job at the State Capitol.
The irony is that Ament and the lobbyist, Guy Short, are on the same side. Short is director of Colorado Citizens for Right to Work, an organization pushing to end compulsory union membership. But he's alienated Ament and other Republicans by sniping at them in his newsletter whenever they're seen consorting with unionists. The incident that first set Ament off was Short's publication in 1995 of a photograph of Ament chatting with two union members from his district, accompanied by a caption castigating Ament for being in "Big Labor's good graces."
"I've voted for right-to-work every time for the last eleven years," says Ament. "He just went way over the line."
Fed up with Short's recent heavy-handed lobbying for a right-to-work bill, Ament has decided he's had enough. He and his staff are gathering the paperwork necessary to file a written complaint against Short with Senate president Tom Norton and Speaker of the House Chuck Berry. Norton and Berry could then call for a formal hearing by a panel that could either reprimand Short or refer the matter to yet another committee, which could suspend his lobbying privileges or recommend that the General Assembly formally censure him.
Of course, Norton and Berry could also choose to do nothing. But judging from comments by other legislators, Short's future is anything but bright.
"Guy Short is a low-life, miserable slimeball," says Senator Ken Chlouber, a Republican from Leadville who doesn't support right-to-work laws. What Chlouber says publicly and other senators say privately is that Short's real strategy is to be so strident that he subverts his own cause. "If right-to-work passes, Short will be out of a job," one Republican senator says. According to that theory, even if Short did hang on to his anti-labor job, he would lose the best strategy he has to raise money from anti-union forces inside and outside of Colorado.
Short calls that accusation "silly," adding, "That shows real ignorance." He defends his work, noting that unlike many other lobbyists at the Capitol, he represents only one cause, so everyone at least knows where he's coming from.
"We're one of the most honest groups down there," Short says.
If that's so, it's hard to know why Senator Dave Wattenberg, a soft-spoken cowboy from Walden, would call Short a "silly sonofabitch" from the floor of the Senate, or why so many of his fellow Republicans would applaud the epithet. That happened less than two weeks ago.
Ament's rage at Short does surprise some observers, including Senate Minority Leader Mike Feeley. "For Don Ament to go after something like this shows you how out of line and over the top Guy Short has been," Feeley says.
Short says he doesn't understand the wrath against him. "We're as simple and honest as they come," Short says.
Not as far as Ament's concerned. The legislator from the tiny plains town of Iliff is ticked off that Short's newsletter has charged that he was "paid off" by the Colorado Education Association. All it was, Ament says, was a campaign contribution, not a "payoff." And Ament has an explanation for why he was seen talking to two union members: They were simply people who live in his district, he says, and he always talks to his constituents.
Short says his newsletter merely helps him make his case.
"It's one thing to state your position," says Senator Tom Blickensderfer, "but it's another to go beat the hell out of somebody in their district."
Short blames Ament and the others who attack him for making the issue so highly charged. "People are putting politics over principle," he says.