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Making Book on Bill Owens

Questions about the religious right are this GOP candidate's cross to bear--or is that bare?

"The concern," recalls Wham, now wrapping up the last couple of years of her tenure in the legislature, "was that nobody wanted to vote on it because if you voted against it, you could be accused later of 'supporting pornography.'"

Wham is a moderate, pro-choice Republican who actually holds elective office--that's an endangered subspecies of the GOP. On her desk at the Capitol is a little statuette of Snoopy hugging a confused-looking Charlie Brown. Engraved on it is a saying: "Dogs Accept People for What They Are." Next to it is a toy black helicopter. On a wall she displays an award from the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice and a newspaper photo showing her sharing a laugh with Governor Romer.

It's not that she's a bleeding heart. Wham's willing to build prisons, too.
But Owens's bill didn't fool her. Touted as a means of protecting children, the bill was a stealth bill. The Colorado District Attorneys' Council refused to take a stand on the measure. If the prosecutors didn't want it, then who did? During an April 1994 hearing, Owens insisted the bill was merely an attempt to add the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution to Colorado's obscenity laws. "Nothing is obscene in this state," he told Wham's panel. "It's tolerated unless people can't endure it. My whole issue revolves around this 'tolerant' standard."

Owens explained that tolerating something meant the extreme case that people wouldn't die or get physically ill from it.

"I'm not trying to move Colorado very far," Owens assured the panel. "I'm not after most of what you see on East Colfax. I'm after bestiality, S&M and that sort of thing."

Some senators, particularly Democrat Don Mares (now Denver city auditor), smelled a rat. "Even if the community could 'tolerate' it, we should quash it?" he asked. Owens replied that the current standard in Colorado meant "you wouldn't die" from it, which meant that anything goes.

Proponents of the measure were led by Barry Arrington's law partner, Gene Malpas, a traveling professional pornography opponent who no longer lives in Colorado, and Denise Mund, a member of the politically active Faith Bible Chapel crowd in Arvada and, not coincidentally, one-time campaign manager for state senator (and 1998 lieutenant governor candidate) Jim Congrove.

Mund's group was named the Coalition Helping to Insure Laws for Dignity so it could use the button-pushing acronym CHILD.

Malpas and Mund tried to sell the measure as necessary to keep children safe from pornography-soaked molesters. They claimed that five court cases had been lost because of Colorado's supposedly lax laws. They neglected to mention that none of the five cases involved child pornography.

Owens then brought in Jan Haley, at the time the president of Colorado PTA, who told the panel that the state PTA had voted to support "this amendment." Haley, who lives in Colorado Springs, added that she was "not asking for a change in laws." That befuddled the senators, who had just heard that the measure called for a constitutional change.

Haley got in deeper when she explained that the PTA was involved to prevent "harm to children." Wham replied, "The people in the PTA don't even know this happened."

Haley tried to explain why the PTA had apparently approved something that was going to wind up as support for a measure its members had never heard of. "It was not a controversial issue," she offered, "just enforcement of laws."

To which Wham responded: "I don't know what you're trying to do. I can't find any PTA members who know you're doing this. Why should we do this if no one has called us about it?"

Haley eagerly spoke up: "I can have some people call you."
Wham wryly replied, "No, I'm not asking for people to be asked to call me. If it isn't a problem to people, then why are we here?"

Next up to try to explain was Denise Mund herself, who recounted her extensive study of local porn stores and peep shows, where she'd looked at an awful lot of really disgusting pornography.

"I encourage you to go look in the theaters," Mund urged the senators.
They begged off, but Mares stepped up to try to find out exactly what type of material Mund wanted prosecuted.

"From your personal point of view," he asked her, "are you after X-rated material?"

Mund replied, "I hold a dear belief in the First Amendment."
"Nice try," Mares interrupted. "What about Kitty's, now, or Deep Throat?"
Mund replied, "Well, Deep Throat has been found illegal in some states."

Mares continued to press her, though gently: "What would you be after? Gay movies? Two men kissing? Would that be your line? Where would you draw the line? What are we going to be after? What do you want prosecutors to go after? Does Deep Throat push it too far for you?"

But Mund continued to evade describing what she considered "obscene."
It took the opponents of the measure to voice what many of the senators were thinking.

Jamie LaRue, director of the Douglas Public Library District in Castle Rock, labeled the measure an attempt at censorship. He warned that tightening the freedom of expression in Colorado would have a "chilling effect" on libraries, which would be afraid to purchase innocuous materials that perhaps would be labeled obscene for political reasons.

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