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God's Own Party

Everything's divine in Arvada, where the GOP has veered sharply to the religious right.

Her activist appetite whetted, Miller started learning how things were done politically. She wound up serving a term in the Colorado House of Representatives where, drawing on her networking skills, she formed an "advisory committee" of constituents that gave a political baptism to, among others, future legislator Mark Paschall. But Miller lost her bid for re-election.

Then, in 1994, she challenged incumbent Democrat Skaggs. How she got in a position to do so was a textbook case of local political action: Miller's supporters worked hard at a party caucus to vote for as many moderate candidates as they could, while Miller herself got on the primary ballot by petition. In the primary, the three moderates split the pro-abortion Republicans, and Miller won the race with less than 40 percent of the vote.

In the general election, the differences between the two candidates couldn't have been more stark: a liberal, Ivy League lawyer obsessed with "civility" and entrenched in government (so much so that he bounced checks with the House banking account) versus a self-educated, arch-conservative woman who courted anti-government patriots and gun lovers and whose reading material veered toward right-wing nut cases. Their biggest difference, though, was over abortion: Miller was "pro-life" and Skaggs "pro-choice." Thanks to liberal Boulder County, which dominates the Second Congressional District, Skaggs whipped her handily. But Miller had made a breakthrough: She and her Christian soldiers had taken the GOP in northern Jeffco from the splintered moderates.

Miller got the GOP nod to challenge Skaggs again in 1996. This time she toned down her links to the so-called patriots, but Skaggs hammered at her abortion stance and beat her, though by a slimmer margin. "Wayne Allard and Dole both lost in the Second District," she notes, "so that made me feel a little bit better."

And as far as internal GOP politics were concerned, Miller again came out a winner. Her organization had become more entrenched in the party and she had learned to raise money. Her campaigns for Congress taught Miller how important the little things are. "We've been working hard up here in northern Jefferson County, and it is hard work," she says. "You go door to door, you do the mailings, you talk to people and you keep them informed and you keep them active and you tell them what's at stake, and they're willing to take part in that."

Getting Arrington on the ballot in House District 27 was evidence that the work she and her followers had done was worthwhile. The moderates squealed because Arrington himself was on the vacancy panel, but Miller dismisses that as sour grapes.

"Why didn't the moderates come out and become precinct committeemen and carry all the work and become the district captains and then go to the central committee meeting and vote for the vacancy committee?" she says. "Where were the moderates? They could have done all that. We worked very, very hard. It's the first time I can say it paid off."

Miller's critics, however, credit FBC, rather than Miller's party workers, as the real source of her influence. As Al Meiklejohn says, "I don't get my supporters together every Sunday." Miller loves her church ("It's so alive!" she says) but insists it did not put her in power. Certainly FBC did not do so officially, because churches can't openly support candidates without risking their tax-exempt status. And Miller says FBC is particularly skittish when it comes to her--for that very reason.

"They're scared because of appearances," she says. "It would be, 'Oh, they're really promoting Pat Miller, and that's where she's getting her base of support.'" She notes that FBC had other candidates--including Joe Rogers, the First Congressional District GOP nominee--appear on its TV station, but that she was never asked to be on.

"There's this perception that Faith Bible Chapel is so involved in politics, and I've said over and over again that they are not," she says. "They're not promoting it; they downplay it every chance they get. They're scared to death of their IRS standing.

"And besides, I have people come in from all kinds of churches. And I was in a lot of churches. This last election, I went out and talked in a lot of churches. It's legal. A pastor can actually say, 'I can't endorse Pat Miller, but I am going to vote for her' from the pulpit."

She laughs, then adds: "None of them will ever do that, but legally they can. I did a lot of churches because that's my base of support. It really is. I'm their kind of person. And they respect what I stand for, that I haven't slouched away and I certainly haven't yet caused embarrassment to the name of Christ. That's my greatest fear, that I would cause shame to the name of Christ. I will give everything up before I would allow that to happen. But as far as the church as an organization, I didn't see them in my race."

And she's irate that the press, which she heartily distrusts, reports endlessly on the religious right but doesn't seem to care when the Reverend Jesse Jackson speaks on political issues at downtown Denver churches or when liberal preachers get involved in politics. She can't understand why the press writes about the religious right's influence in the GOP when at the same time the Democratic Party, she contends, is dominated by Planned Parenthood and teachers' unions.

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