Off Limits

Can't we all just get along?

While the manure -- a substance that Republican Wayne Allard, the Senate's only veterinarian, is very capable of recognizing, according to one of his ads -- continues to accumulate on the campaign trail, a few voters unhappy with the negative tone of the major parties' campaign for the U.S. Senate seat have decided to raise Coloradans out of the muck.

They're proposing longtime Denver resident and musician Marcia Whitcomb as a write-in candidate for the Senate, an alternative in the dirty fight that's marked the rematch between Allard and Democratic challenger Tom Strickland. "It started up perhaps a week ago, when Marcia and I were talking to each other," says Joe Wilcox, who plays alongside Whitcomb in the Centennial Philharmonic. "She became a candidate because she lost the coin toss. This candidacy is purely as a protest. We just wanted to give ourselves and a few of our friends an opportunity to make a vote that has meaning."

Meaning: "We should be hearing serious discussion of some issues, but instead the two major-party candidates are engaged in a poisonous battle of negative attack ads and vituperation," Wilcox advises in an e-mail he's sending to friends and acquaintances. "In tone and content, their campaign is an embarrassment. Our state deserves better."

Wilcox, a retired computer programmer who "worked for Mobil Oil until they abandoned Denver," recognizes that there are "some third-party and independent candidates for the office, but their platforms and positions are specialized. For the rest of us," he says, "I thought we needed something else."

Enter Whitcomb.

"For most people, whether they have decided on a candidate or not, the tone of the campaign is absolutely sickening," the very recent candidate explains. "It's a tremendous waste of time for the taxpayer, it's a tremendous amount of money, and it's doing absolutely nothing to encourage young, voting-age people to get involved in the process."

If elected, she will not serve, the 64-year-old cellist promises: "I have no knowledge about the political situation, and I'm not tactful in the way that would make a good candidate."

But she's outspoken in the way that makes for a very good citizen.

"I have no illusions about upsetting anybody's apple cart," Whitcomb says, "but I think personally this is a time in the life of Denver and cities across the country where this amount of money can be better directed than a television smear campaign.

"That's my personal issue, how to stop these smear campaigns," she adds. "If you target the campaign manager rather than the candidate, you're trying to deal with the person behind the scenes who is virtually untouchable -- and if the candidate wins, he becomes the hero.

"But he's no hero," she concludes.


Dialing for dolours:Are you listening, Dick Wadhams?

Probably not. Earlier this week, Allard's campaign manager was too busy dealing with a flurry of complaints over phone calls allegedly pushing Allard's candidacy to worry about late entry Whitcomb. By Tuesday, that flurry had become a flood, and Wadhams labeled the calls that inspired the complaints a "deliberate act of sabotage on our campaign."

Area residents unlucky enough to answer the call report that it featured an electronic voice urging them to vote for Wayne Allard and to call and tell him what a great senator he is -- although the voice didn't provide a phone number. Instead, those with caller ID found that the voice had originated from "WIN 100000 CASH 214-615-3451."

Dialing that Dallas number lands you at a recording from IDS, "the nation's leading voice mail/cellular retailer," telling you that you're eligible to win up to $100,000 -- not to mention free phones and excellent services -- by providing such information as your address, driver's license number and Social Security number. And, gee, if for some reason you don't want to win $100,000, you can opt to be placed on IDS's "do not call" list -- a real act of charity, considering that many of the people who got the call are already on Colorado's official "do not call" list.

Because of that, and because many of the calls came in after 9 p.m. -- when telemarketers aren't allowed to contact even the households that love to hear from them -- Allard's office has been getting an earful. But the calling campaign has absolutely no connection to the incumbent senator, Wadhams says.

In fact, on Tuesday the campaign filed a complaint with the Douglas County Sheriff's Office, which will be investigating it as a criminal matter, according to Wadhams. "That will allow Qwest to pursue this, too."

Pursue it where -- and to whom -- Wadhams doesn't know. But he does know this: "It was designed to piss people off."

And that includes Strickland's staff. "Our campaign has absolutely no involvement," says spokeswoman Chris Watney. "We knew nothing about it."


Can't we all just get along, part two:No one's more aware of the low road this election is taking than Myrna Poticha. She's the local director of the Joint Project on Campaign Conduct, co-sponsored by the Interfaith Alliance of Colorado and the Institute for Global Ethics, an international group that's been pushing the concept of well-behaved campaigns for six years.

Without much success, judging from the nasty tone of races across the country. Still, Poticha isn't discouraged: "This is the first time there's been a full-blown campaign in Colorado in the three most highly contested races -- the Senate and the 4th and 7th congressional districts. The goal is to help promote codes of conduct among all candidates in the various races so that all the candidates agree on how they will fight fair. We want them to fight; we want them to brawl in the best American tradition, as long as they don't hit below the belt or sell the voters short."

According to studies by the Pew Trust, which is funding the effort, 70 percent of American voters say they're less likely to vote when campaigns are so negative that they don't understand what the true issues are. "I think we're seeing the same thing in Colorado," Poticha says. "It's time for voters to get the message across that they won't stand for it."

Even so, with less than two weeks to go before election day, Poticha hasn't achieved consensus on a code in any of her three targeted races -- and is unlikely to do so, she concedes. "But the real audience is the public," she adds. "Maybe it will take two or three election cycles to learn some tools to make the candidates behave."

About a dozen codes have been signed in five of the nineteen states where the Institute for Global Ethics is pushing the concept. "And in all of the states," Poticha points out, "we feel like we've elevated the dialogue with the candidates and with the public."

It certainly couldn't go lower...


Missed America:And now, as a brief break from this country's unpleasant political intrigues, we take you to Dharmsala, India, where the first-ever Miss Tibet was crowned last week. The competition came in for plenty of criticism from Samdhong Rinpoche, the prime minister of the Dalai Lama's government in exile, and not much cash, despite requests made to such Hollywood-type Tibet supporters as Richard Gereand Goldie Hawn (the Aspen resident said she doesn't support beauty contests).

"Miss Tibet is about instilling a sense of nationhood and identity to the nationless," explained Lobsang Wangyal, director of the Free Spirit Festival and Shambala Miss Tibet Pageant, at the start of the evening. Still, only five of the thirty original entrants stuck around for the controversial contest -- one of them Tenzin Diki, who's studying metallurgical engineering in Denver when she's not competing in beauty pageants.

During the speech portion of the competition, Diki talked about Tibetan political prisoners, saying she's most inspired by Takna Jigme Sangpo, recently released on medical parole by China after serving more than three decades in prison. During the talent portion, she sang Shakira's "Underneath Your Clothes," which "got the crowd shouting for more," according to the Miss Tibet Web site (www.misstibet.com).

Even so, Diki lost out to Dolma Tsering, who was crowned Miss Tibet by Ama Adhe, a veteran freedom fighter, in the conclusion to "a glittering yet modest event," misstibet.com reports. Tsering will go on to compete in the Miss Tourism World pageant in Colombia this December.


Meanwhile, back in Colorado:The state's unemployment rate went up a tick last month to 5.2 percent (which would cost Rollie Heath if he were governor, since he's pledged to give back part of his salary if unemployment rises), but one county proved oddly immune to the bad news.

Hinsdale County, in southwest Colorado, fared better than just about anywhere else, with a 1.4 percent jobless rate -- which probably means that about three people are out of work, since only a quarter of the 800 or so people in the county are year-round residents. And that accounts for another odd Hinsdale County stat: It had the state's lowest rate of return for census forms, about 18 percent. "That's because nobody's here," says county administrator Ray Blaum. "Actually, when you think of it, if that 18 percent was from the quarter who live here returning forms, it was pretty good."

He doesn't have a magic formula for keeping the jobless rate low, either. "Most of our business is tourism and construction that supports it," Blaum says.

But that doesn't explain nearby San Juan County, which tops out at 7 percent unemployment -- and feels lucky it's that low. "Oh, gosh, we could be at 15 or 18 percent," says county administrator Bill Norman. "Once the tourism season is over, our numbers skyrocket." Since its last mine closed abruptly in 1991, the county, with a population of about 550 souls, relies mostly on government jobs to keep afloat.


Signs of the times: Even those far-flung counties aren't safe from the campaign signs that have sprung up across Colorado's most scenic vistas. Governor Bill Owens has led the way with his purple posters, but red, white and blue billboards are popping up all over, too.

One exception to the patriotic color scheme comes from Democratic state senator Joan Fitz-Gerald, who's locked in a tough battle for the 16th District with Gilpin County Commissioner Web Sill. While Sill is sticking with true blue, the feisty Fitz-Gerald has gone for green. She's been endorsed by environmental groups, she points out, and then, well, there's her name. "I am truly Irish," she says.

On November 5, we'll see if she has the luck of the Irish.

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