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Odd Man In

Mike Miles could be the Democrats' choice in November.

In 1995, four years after the fall of the Soviet Union, Miles and his wife made the momentous decision to return to Colorado. "It was a hard decision," Miles says. "It was tough running around the Soviet Union with babies. You had to worry about lead pollution and the water."

When they returned to Fountain, Miles made yet another career change. He had never forgotten the woman who had helped him overcome his stuttering, and he decided this was his chance to repay the debt.

The father of three got his teaching license and began teaching civics, world literature and math at his alma mater, Fountain-Fort Carson High School. Four years later, he was appointed a principal and then was promoted to assistant superintendent of the school district. Right now he's working only half-time while he runs for the Senate.

Miles high: Political underdog Mike Miles.
Brett Amole
Miles high: Political underdog Mike Miles.

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"I think the country is off track," Miles says. "We've lost that promise of America. The opportunity I had as a kid -- where else could a poor kid with a speech impediment who is also black go to three of the best colleges in the world? -- that's out of reach for more and more of the middle class."

Miles believes that health care is also becoming increasingly inaccessible, and he supports a system of government-funded universal health insurance. President Bush's decision to invade Iraq also troubles him; he believes Congress forfeited many of its constitutional powers when it gave Bush the authority to go to war. "They gave up one of the key constitutional balances that the framers of the Constitution gave us," he says.

The influence of big business has become so pervasive in Washington, Miles says, that only an outsider would be able to fight back. He thinks that Campbell has clearly become part of the establishment, and he's betting that Coloradans will like the idea of sending an outsider to Washington. "You can't really talk about taking back our country when you've been an insider," he says.

Despite that and Campbell's notorious switch from the Democratic to the Republican Party during his first term, the senator is widely regarded as one of the state's most popular politicians -- largely because of his folksy image. Miles thinks that's just for show, however. "Those are not the things that make a great senator," he says.

But the voters of Colorado have sent Campbell to the Senate twice, to the House of Representatives before that, and to two terms in the Colorado General Assembly. Also, the California native has his own educational and military experience, having studied at the University of Tokyo and served in the Air Force from 1951 to 1953.

On the Democratic side, Hart is still waffling about jumping into the race, and Denver attorney Brad Freedburg is running, although he's picked up little support within the party. Cheyenne County Commissioner Richard Bergman is also running as an independent, focusing his platform on the legalization of marijuana. His slogan: "Colorado needs a senator who has inhaled and is not afraid to admit it."

The competition leaves Miles unfazed. He thinks Coloradans are ready to send a non-politician to Congress to shake things up. "We're losing our democracy, the system I fought for," he says. "I want to be a gladiator for democracy."

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