By Alan Prendergast
By Michael Roberts
By Michael Roberts
By Amber Taufen
By Patricia Calhoun
By William Breathes
By Michael Roberts
By Melanie Asmar
Denver's dailies and newscasts love to localize any story they can -- if a plane crashes in India, a victim's second cousin is found grieving in Longmont -- but even with all the ink and airtime devoted to the passing of Ronald Reagan, they've overlooked Colorado's connections to the fortieth president of the United States.
Those ties date back to long before Reagan was elected in 1980. But they got plenty snarled on March 30, 1981, when John Hinckley shot Reagan -- and it was revealed that the family of Reagan's young, would-be assassin lived in Evergreen. Not only that, but Hinckley had taken up residence at the Golden Hours motel on West Colfax Avenue earlier that month. During that time, he took in Taxi Driver at the Ogden -- then a revival house where former Denver resident Kirby McMillan, aka Mojo Nixon, swears he saw the Robert De Niro/Jodie Foster movie on the same night.
Hinckley also made an impression on another future Denver celeb: Kathy Lee, now producer for Lewis & Floorwax on the Fox. Lee's family not only owned the Golden Hours, but they lived there, too. "I can remember him to a T," Lee says, "just because he would stand around and talk to us. We were eight, nine years old and playing outside all the time. He asked us what we wanted to be when we grew up, and I remember he asked us about Jodie Foster and told us, ŒShe's my favorite movie star.'" Hinckley would later confess that he wanted to kill the president in order to impress the then-teenage actress.
Lee recognized Reagan's assailant the moment his picture flashed on the screen. "I was over at a friend's house watching TV," she remembers, "and I said, 'Wait a minute -- that's the guy who was staying at our motel.'"
Correction: Hinckley had been staying at the motel, but he'd skipped out a few days before, heading for Washington, D.C., and leaving behind a bill for a reported $55.40 on room 30. "His parents came and paid," Lee says. "He plotted the whole thing at my parents' motel."
Hinckley's time at the Golden Hours landed Colorado hours of airtime and predicted the role this state would assume as scandal central in the years to come -- home of the Kobe Bryant sex-assault case, the Air Force Academy sex-assault cases, the University of Colorado whatever-the-hell-that-was-for-the-past-five-months case, the JonBenét Ramsey murder case. But last week, Lee didn't hear from any media outlets interested in tripping down this dark part of memory lane.
Patricia Schroeder, who represented Colorado's 1st Congressional District during Reagan's entire presidency, wrote a piece after his passing for USA Today. "The e-mails flew in here," she reports from her D.C. office, where the former congresswoman heads the Association of American Publishers. "There is such a vigorous group of people who protect him." And she didn't think her remembrance was particularly critical, either. "Reagan rooted for Washington over the Broncos," she reminds Colorado. "That should piss people off."
For that 1988 Super Bowl game, Schroeder sent Reagan a pair of boxer shorts emblazoned with the Broncos logo. Five years earlier, she'd given him something much more lasting: a label for his presidency. "He's just like a Teflon frying pan," the liberal -- and how! -- Democrat had told Congress. "Nothing sticks to him."
The image was inspired not by the nascent Iran-Contra scandal, or by Reagan's failure to chastise South Africa for keeping Nelson Mandela in jail, or by his dismantling of student aid. No, Schroeder, who'd been out touting Gary Hart's presidential run in 1983, was amazed to find that people didn't want to hear anything critical of the incumbent. "He was seen kind of as everyone's grandfather," she remembers. "It was very frustrating on the campaign and very frustrating in Congress." So one morning, she was making eggs for her kids and thought, "Gosh, the guy's just like this pan. The buck doesn't stop here; the buck doesn't even get this far."
Republican Terry Walker wanted to give Reagan a more dignified monument than a Teflon-president nickname: Ronald Reagan University, a 500-acre, $850 million campus outside Denver. But two months ago, Nancy Reagan put an end to that. "I appreciate the good intentions of public officials and citizens of Colorado," the former first lady said. "However, I feel strongly that the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library already has an important education component. I urge those interested in supporting my husband's legacy to direct their energy and resources in that direction. We do not support the creation of a separate university."
Walker, a transplanted Southerner who made his money in computers, should have studied Reagan's legacy a little harder -- particularly if he was serious about his 1998 run for the Republican nomination for governor. "The longer Bill Owens thinks I'm not a factor, the better it is for me," he told Westword in October 1997. Walker didn't even qualify for the primary.
One Colorado Republican was a key factor in Reagan's own political career. The late Joseph Coors had a "belief in conservative principles such as limited government and economic freedom that led him, starting in the 1960s, to support a citizen politician from California named Ronald Reagan," Edwin Feulner, president of the Heritage Foundation, wrote after Coors's death in March 2003. "Throughout the 1970s, Reagan often visited Joe's home, usually winding up in the Coors kitchen. When Reagan was elected our 40th president, Joe became a member of his Kitchen Cabinet, offering staffing and policy suggestions, especially on national defense."