Off Limits

Think big: The biggest winner in this fall's election was the Independence Institute--former director Tom Tancredo moved on to Congress, former-former director and founder John Andrews snagged the Colorado Senate seat left vacant when Mike Coffman became treasurer, and current director Jon Caldara defeated Referendum B just before he took over the think tank.

The Institute's most telling sign of success? The fixer law firm of Brownstein, Hyatt Farber & Strickland bought a table at last Thursday's annual Founder's Day dinner, where newly elected governor Bill Owens and his light-guv sidekick, Joe Rogers, were also very much in evidence. "It's good to know where the other side is coming from," laughs attorney Steve Farber, who wasn't able to make the dinner but did lunch with Caldara Tuesday at the Palm. And even Democrat (but a "very conservative Democrat") Farber sees opportunity--and he's not talking business opportunity--in the Republicans' Colorado victory: It improves Denver's chance of snagging the Democratic National Convention in 2000. Although Los Angeles is still the top contender, California's already voting Democratic; it's the Rocky Mountain West that needs the boost.

With the Golden-based institute suddenly golden, when is the other side going to start fighting back? Funny you should ask, replies Jim Gibson, president of the Colorado Democratic Leadership Council who's just back from a DLC confab in Washington, D.C. (where sometime Colorado governor and current Democratic National Committee chair Roy Romer moderated a panel). Gibson's expanding the state DLC (so far, it consists of one employee: him) to create a think tank that will address state and, in some cases, local needs. "We're thinking in terms of a virtual think tank," says Gibson, "essentially having people from all over the state contribute." And the time is right--because "this state is ripe for the picking," he says. "The Democratic Party, quite frankly, is looking for some direction. Colorado is not necessarily a Republican state, but it's looking for the third way the DLC is advocating"--a third way that offers alternatives.

"If you're going to give middle-class Americans a real shot at upward mobility, the focus has to be on increasing the pie, not redistributing it--the traditional Democratic approach that's outdated thinking," Gibson explains. "You hear calls for responsibility from Republicans, but delivered in a punitive way, like they're wagging their fingers at you. Well, we see responsibility as more of an empowering tool."

Gibson's just starting to think about this, mind you, but he knows a Democratic think tank could make a big difference in the next election. As for the hot-hot Independence Institute, "their thinking is outmoded, almost pre-New Deal," he says. "Tell the other side they ought to be shaking in their boots."

Tell Gibson, responds one inmate at that institute, to call his place the Dependence Institute.

Don't even think about it: The Independence Institute is far from Colorado's only think tank. When he's not consulting with Jesse Ventura, former governor Dick Lamm exercises his brain at the University of Denver. The National Civic League also does some big thinking out of its Denver headquarters. And then, of course, there's all that activity in Colorado Springs, a bastion of the religious right. "But maybe," the DLC's Gibson muses, "that's a movement that doesn't require much thinking."

Or display it. James Dobson's November Focus on the Family newsletter arrived in an envelope sporting the slogan "It's Not About Hate--It's About Hope"; inside were eight pages of whining about how mercilessly the organization was beaten in the aftermath of Matthew Shepard's death. "Homosexual activists and their powerful friends in the media" launched "an incredible attack on this ministry," writes Focus president Dobson.

Dobson can't understand how anyone might blame his group's loving attitude toward gay people for inspiring anti-gay actions. "Focus has never advocated violence or disrespect of homosexuals in any context," he says. And there's certainly no disrespect in Focus's written policy, which calls homosexuality "just one form in which the brokenness of humanity reveals itself, along with greed, hatred, fear, dishonesty and intemperance, to name a few."

"What people with homosexual desires need above all else is the truth, compassion and acceptance," Dobson concludes; for a $20 suggested donation, homosexuals can get some of that in Homosexuality and the Politics of Truth, a book that claims to prove "homosexuality is indeed changeable!"

We're still awaiting publication of Dobson's How I Turned Gay--The Only Real Proof That Conversion Ministries Work.

The money pit: Recent filings show a few unusual last-minute contributions to Colorado campaigns. Although it went into debt to push candidates across the country, the DNC still scrounged up $60,000 for one of Romer's pet projects: Referendum B, handily defeated by Caldara's "vote no, it's our dough" campaign. (None of it funded by tobacco money, Caldara says, although the Independence Institute has taken $25,000 in tobacco money, Caldara has proposed RTD accept tobacco ads and Tancredo's declared his House office cigar-friendly.) Big Sur Waterbeds anted up $100,000 to support Amendments 11 and 12, which called for parental notifications in cases of teen abortion (that passed) and a ban on partial-birth abortions (that didn't). Hey, how many of those pregnancies began on a Big Sur waterbed? And then there was the Denver Post's $10,000 donation to the pro-stadium campaign, although Pat Bowlen probably appreciated the paper's endorsement more.

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