Road Warriors

Boon or boondoggle, Bill Owens's highway plan has to get past Douglas Bruce before it goes anywhere.

Some, though, have detected what may be additional animus in the anti-TRANS campaign. "He's always been sort of over the edge," says Feeley, "but he's become a caricature of a caricature. I think he's frustrated by not having any assistance."

But Caldara, who's taken a few pokes at the credibility of politicians himself, sees merit to Bruce's approach. "Doug, as usual, brings up intellectually valid arguments," he says. "The question is, Does his personality help or hinder bringing those arguments out? So far in this campaign, I think it's helping."

A less combative Bruce might win more pals in the legislature, Caldara suggests, but there's something to be said for making a lot of noise when you're up against a well-funded foe. "Even his friends don't always like listening to Doug Bruce, which forces him to play the role he plays," Caldara says. "A lot of that vibe is from Doug, but a lot of it has been a stereotype that the media has put on him."

Debt and taxes: Bruce debates the highway plan with TRANS campaign manager Dick Wadhams (left) for a television program hosted by Jon Caldara (center).
Brett Amole
Debt and taxes: Bruce debates the highway plan with TRANS campaign manager Dick Wadhams (left) for a television program hosted by Jon Caldara (center).

Bruce says he's not trying to impress legislators. He's running a citizen's campaign. He hands out his phone number (719-550-0010) and e-mail address (taxcutter@msn.com) indiscriminately, saying he's "willing to have my privacy invaded and possibly get some crank calls" in order to recruit more volunteers. He figures if all the taxpayers who received fat refunds courtesy of the TABOR amendment would simply show their appreciation by spending a few hours distributing anti-TRANS fliers, he could blanket the state with his message.

"If I have to prey on their guilt or something to reactivate their citizenship, I'll do it," he says. "It's hard to get people motivated to do anything. Most people are just couch potatoes. But I'd like to get out 200,000 fliers in the Denver metro area alone."

Feeley says that the fifty-year-old Bruce may be too curmudgeonly to rally widespread support for his cause. "If he was ever able to get hold of himself, he might be able to get someone to listen to him for a change," Feeley says. "He's just so damn obnoxious...We need to get him a date."

Bruce, who describes himself as "single and looking," says his opponents focus on personal attacks because they can't refute his arguments. "If I were denounced by the Mafia," he says, "would that be a reason for people to vote for Referendum A?"


For all the rigors of the campaign, Bruce has not lost his sense of humor -- which manages to be corny and sarcastic, often barbed, and always punitive.

A legislator stops Bruce in the halls of government and asks for his card; he hands her the six of diamonds. Discussing the literature he's prepared urging people to kill TRANS, he refers to "my handout," then immediately corrects himself: "Not a handout. I don't believe in handouts. A flier." Asked about the well-heeled pro-TRANS crowd, he quips, "They certainly have a lot of heels on their side."

The wisecracks continue as he takes a break from TRANS to meet with legislative staffers on another obsession -- his quest to amend TABOR to include a reduction in utility, vehicle, property and income taxes by $25 each per year. Sitting down with Greg Fraser of legislative legal services and Tom Dunn of the Legislative Council staff, he remarks, "I'm not very experienced at this. You're going to have to tell me how this goes."

Fraser and Dunn barely crack a smile. Like other staffers, they've seen a great deal of Douglas Bruce lately. By his estimate, he's submitted more than 175 variations on his proposed amendment, most of them no more than two sentences long. His output accounts for roughly three-fourths of all the citizen initiatives presented to the legislative staff during this two-year election cycle. Bruce says the multiple submissions are necessary because his petitions keep getting tied up by title-board officials or in court over minor technicalities, such as whether a franchise fee is a "charge" or a "tax."

"The government has made it clear they'll do every dishonest thing they can to keep this petition from getting on the ballot," Bruce tells the staffers, defending the four latest versions of his amendment. "This whole process is out of Franz Kafka."

Bruce's mission strikes many people as Kafkaesque, but opinions diverge on who's playing the role of the repugnant giant insect that disrupts the normal flow of things. Reviewing and setting hearings on the flood of petitions has consumed hundreds of hours of legislative staff time in recent months and cost $95,000, prompting some legislators to accuse Bruce of abusing the initiative process.

"It's astounding the amount of manpower that's been devoted to this," says Russell George. "The process is there as a safety valve for anybody, and it's a damn shame when it's abused."

Bruce says he's simply responding to the machinations of bureaucrats who don't want more tax cuts. "It's another emblem of their corruption," he says. "What they're saying is, 'If I hit you with a club 175 times and you get up every time, you, the victim, are abusing the process.' They wouldn't mind if I had a petition to change the state fish to the rainbow trout."

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