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Shootout at the Not-So-Okay Corral

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

All in all, 2000 was a year in which the bullets flew with both deadly accuracy and random abandon, and the local cowboys and Indians relished every opportunity to show who wears the biggest gun in town. So hide the kids and shutter the doors as we take you on the wild ride that was turn-of-the-century Colorado.


For a year fraught with shoot-'em-ups, 2000 began with less than a bang. The city, paralyzed by doomsday predictions and Y2K fears (remember those?), declared martial law instead, sending hundreds of cops in riot gear to accost the few thousand brave souls who dared to show their faces in LoDo. The entrances to that part of town were eventually closed entirely, and Mayor Wellington Webb dispatched Denver's lone police helicopter to hover over Larimer Square while he hunkered down in the emergency bunker in the basement of the City and County Building.

The biggest party around these parts was...anyone? Instead of enjoying themselves, it seems that most of Denver's citizenry stayed home, huddled up with emergency generators, dehydrated food and double-barrelled home-security devices, watching TV as the rest of the world partied. The sun rose on January 1, though, and cell phones, pagers, Palm Pilots and Internet connections still functioned properly, as evidenced by the number of complaints the city received about the dreary evening. Red-faced city officials, led by mouthpiece-in-charge Andrew Hudson, hastily defended their actions while at the same time announcing plans for a big bash this New Year's Eve, which they declared the actual, official beginning of the Millennium.

In other words, Denver will party alone this year. Isn't that the first sign of a problem?

The Millennium hoopla was quickly forgotten, however, as other elected officials, jealous of the attention being paid to Denver's political leaders, climbed all over each other to see who could be the biggest dolt. Lieutenant Governor Joe Rogers took an early lead when his penchant for bickering with his boss, Governor Bill Owens, and other gaffes landed him in the hot seat -- specifically, as the unofficial target of two legislative proposals that would allow future gubernatorial candidates in Colorado to select their own running mates. Although he initially appeared to support the idea, Rogers later suggested that Owens step aside and allow the lite guv to veto the bill. He didn't, and Owens now will be able to select his own running mate in 2002. Get that resumé ready, Joe. (Of course, Jumpin' Joe may actually leave before he's kicked out if you believe the rumors that he's on the short list for a position in the Bush administration.)

Our ornery cowpokes in the Capitol -- which ones were wearing the white Stetsons and which ones were in black is up to you -- did a lot during their three months in session. They passed a law sponsored by Arvada Republican Mark Paschall that bans the recognition of same-sex marriages that have been legally performed outside of Colorado; they passed a law giving special protection to gun makers so they can't be sued in Colorado; and they seriously considered a proposal from Englewood Republican John Andrews to force public schools to post the Ten Commandments on their walls. Yes, while Denver was attempting to position itself as the city for the 21st century, the legislative class of 2000 was firmly established as the elected body that had reinvented itself for the nineteenth century.

Lakewood Democrat Mike Feeley, no stranger to showdowns, summed it up best: "It's unbelievable. It's all God, guns and gays. We've wasted time on the Ten Commandments bill and on the same-sex marriage bill, but the bulk of work is still ahead of us. We're not done with guns, the education package isn't anywhere close to moving along, and we haven't done anything on growth -- but we're making sure gay people can't get married.

"You can sure tell this is an election year."

Indeed. And as Feeley pointed out, these lawmakers will be remembered more for what they couldn't do: enact laws to deal with the two subjects that Coloradans most wanted them to tackle -- guns and growth.

Of course, new gun restrictions wouldn't have helped Ismael Mena, the 45-year-old Mexican immigrant and father of nine who was gunned down by Denver's men in blue during a September 1999 no-knock raid at the wrong house. And although $400,000 won't bring him back, that's the amount the city paid to settle the matter this past March.

Mena's death spawned an agonizing year's worth of questions and tortuous soul-searching. The city altered its rules on no-knock warrants and acknowledged the distrust between police and citizens; police chief Tom Sanchez and public safety manager Butch Montoya both lost their jobs; Joseph Bini, the police officer who had signed the warrant with the wrong address on it and who took the fall for the whole affair, gave several tearful apologies in court and on TV before being sentenced to twelve months' probation for his role in the raid; and activists from the Justice for Mena Committee criticized every aspect of how the situation was handled, from the settlement amount to Bini's plea agreement to no-knock raids in general.

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