Shootout at the Not-So-Okay Corral

This year started not with a bang, but with a whimper.

Mile High bigwigs like to think of Denver as "the city that has reinvented itself for the 21st century." At least, that's how they touted it in a 24-page, $370,000 ad supplement in the September edition of Forbes ASAP magazine. Headlined "Convergence Corridor: Technology With Altitude," the insert was part of a huge, metro-wide PR campaign to attract more high-tech businesses to the Front Range and to give Denver a "brand."

But the rest of us know that the only brand that will ever be permanently burned into the side of this beloved cowtown is that of the Old West or, more accurately, the Wild West. Denver may have reinvented itself for the point-and-click age of the 21st century, but it was born in the point-and-shoot era of the nineteenth century. And there's still nothing we like better than a good gunfight: Witness the contest over, well, guns themselves.

The 1999 Columbine High School massacre set Colorado up to become the primary target in 2000 for people on both sides of the gun-control issue, from the NRA's Charlton Heston, who visited Boulder in March, to Million Mom March supporter Rosie O'Donnell, who donated $10,000 to SAFE, a Colorado gun-control group. Caught in the crossfire were the vast majority of Coloradans, who had to listen to just about everyone with an agenda pop off on the subject at every opportunity. At the center of the powderkeg was the relatively tepid Amendment 22, which came about only because the state legislature couldn't bring itself to do anything about guns -- despite the High Noon feeling on Capitol Hill. The proposed amendment, pushed by SAFE and Tom Mauser, whose son Daniel was killed at Columbine (and who sat with Hillary Clinton during Bill Clinton's State of the Union address in January), passed by a whopping 70 percent of the vote in November. It mandates that people who buy guns at gun shows undergo the same background checks as people who buy guns at stores.

Kenny Be
Kenny Be

A few of the year's more epic clashes didn't involve firearms, but sometimes we wished they had. Take the duel between former US West CEO Sol Trujillo and current Qwest CEO Joseph Nacchio: Now, there's a showdown we would have loved to have seen in the middle of 17th Street. Draw, pardner! And may the most bloated, egocentric and highest-paid CEO win! Although the two men helped initiate the merger of their companies, the dangerous duel leading to the finalization of the deal found both men with itchy fingers on their triggers. Originally, Trujillo and Nacchio were to have shared power in the joined company, but Trujillo backed out in March amid swirling rumors that Qwest was courting other companies, a revelation that infuriated him. Adding to the drama were critical comments from Nacchio regarding US West's corporate culture and business practices. "You can't have the reputation where I pick up Fortune magazine last week and I see their name 'US Worst,'" Nacchio was quoted as saying. "That's bad business. We have a strong opinion about how fast that ought to be fixed."

And fix it he did -- the name, anyway. Immediately after the merger was approved, Nacchio had a banner with the blue Qwest emblem placed on top of the white US West sign that had towered over downtown. Nacchio should be happy to hear that customers and analysts no longer call the company "US Worst." It's now known as "Qworst."

The quickest draw in the West this year was probably Governor Billy "The Kid" Owens. (Or is that the quickest drawl in the West?) When he wasn't changing his mind about everything from gun control to education to growth or campaigning for his buddy and fellow Texan George W. Bush, Colorado's governor was shooting it out with everyone from John and Patsy Ramsey, for whom he might as well have put up "Wanted: Dead or Alive" posters around the state, to Barbara Walters, whom he mocked after she interviewed the couple in March on ABC's 20/20.

"In your interview, you had a chance to really follow up," Owens told Walters the next week on Good Morning America. "You had a chance to give America some new information on this case. And yes, they came to you with no preconditions. But, you know, they didn't go to Peter Jennings, they didn't go to Tom Brokaw. They went to you. And I think we should have expected more from that interview."

"I have to say, Governor," Walters responded, "I rather resent your implication that if they had gone to Peter Jennings or Tom Brokaw, they would have had a tougher interview. I think the interview was relatively tough."

In separate interviews later that month, Owens said he thought Walters was a lot tougher on him than she was on the Ramseys, and Walters said she felt sorry for the governor because of the way he was acting. "I thought, 'Oh, poor governor, I mean poor soul, he's sort of losing it,'" she remembered.

Owens even shot the sheriff when he criticized Jefferson County's John Stone for not cooperating with the Governor's Columbine Review Commission or releasing the tapes Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold had made before their attack on the school. About the only person the Kid didn't berate publicly was his seventeen-year-old daughter, Monica, who was suspended for two days from Smoky Hill High School after she and some of her classmates were busted for drinking alcohol on a school trip to Louisville, Kentucky.

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