Bill Armstrong Dies: Conservative Ex-CO Senator Was Loved, Hated, Kicked Ass

You don't have to look far to see the long-term impact that former Colorado Senator Bill Armstrong, who died of cancer yesterday at age 79, has had on the local and national political scenes.

Note that Friday's Western Conservative Summit, at which presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump had a very bad, no good day, wouldn't exist were it not for him. He founded the event in 2010, and it continues to be sponsored by Colorado Christian University, the institution he's served as president since 2006.

Armstrong was elected to the U.S. House in 1972 and the U.S Senate six years later. He served two terms in the latter chamber and could almost certainly have stuck around for a lot longer had he chosen not to run for reelection in 1990. His successor: fellow Republican Hank Brown.

He wasn't the sort of politico who got by on his looks; in a preview to the 2011 Western Conservative Summit, we offered up a tongue-in-cheek list of the twenty sexiest speakers and slotted Armstrong in at number nineteen (behind pollster Pat Caddell, among the only Democrats on the bill). But he had a powerful intellect, albeit one that rubbed plenty of liberals the wrong way.

As the following excerpts from previous Westword coverage demonstrate, he was a consistent champion of faith-based values; he railed against porn, opposed allowing transgender students at CCU and even found biblical-sounding reasons for decrying marijuana sales near his campus. But he was also capable of legislative surprises. Note that he sponsored a bill that was anti-excessive police force and pro-protester — though the organization that spurred his efforts was the abortion-hating group Operation Rescue.

He was loved and hated with equal passion — but there's no denying that he was a true believer. Continue to see seven of Armstrong's most memorable appearances in the pages of Westword, followed by statements on his passing from Colorado's current senators, Cory Gardner and Michael Bennet.

Talking Trash
October 19, 1994

Amendment 16, the innocuously worded anti-obscenity measure on November's ballot, has the potential to stir up more passion than most blue movies. And in a strange twist that recalls Victorian-era anti-smut crusades, Denver's bluebloods have been recruited to bankroll the amendment and serve as foot soldiers....

Supporting them are former senator Bill Armstrong, who warns of "enormous danger" from "ACLU pornographers and other anti-family forces," and Focus on the Family leader James Dobson, the most prominent Christian-radio broadcaster in the nation. 

The Mr. Bill Award
May 17, 1995

Some people just can't face the prospect of former senator Bill Armstrong getting an honorary degree from the University of Colorado in Colorado Springs on May 19. So they plan to turn their backs on him.

While Armstrong receives his doctorate in "humane letters" at the urging of CU president Judith Albino, some faculty members will wear armbands, stand up and turn their backs to the podium. The honorary award has opened an old and deep wound: The ex-GOP senator was a key figure in denouncing homosexuality during the successful Amendment 2 campaign to ban gay-rights ordinances in Colorado.

Some critics think that's why CU chose to give Armstrong his award in conservative Colorado Springs rather than liberal Boulder. CU spokesman David Grimm denies that was a consideration and cites Armstrong's ties to Colorado Springs via the Colorado Springs Sun, a now-defunct newspaper his family owned. 

Sonia Sotomayor could declare martial law on Kevin Orcutt's nunchaku
August 6, 2009

Conservatives were lashing out at police departments for their brutality against Operation Rescue demonstrators. Then-senator William Armstrong (now the president of Colorado Christian University) decried the pain-compliance tactics as "something we expect to hear about in Nicaragua or Nazi Germany — but not in the United States of America." The conservative Coloradan introduced a bill that allowed the federal government to withhold funds from cities that didn't adopt policies prohibiting the use of excessive force by law enforcement agencies against individuals engaged in nonviolent civil-rights demonstrations; President George Bush signed it into law in 1989.

Herman Cain's straw-poll win, fiscal suicide and other Western Conservative Summit highlights
August 2, 2011

Former Colorado senator Bill Armstrong, president of Colorado Christian University, "suggested in March 2010 that we try to do an annual summer political conference," [Summit co-chair John] Andrews reveals. "And I said, 'That's great. It'll give us plenty of time for 2011.' But he told me, 'Let's put our pedal to the metal,' and we did the first one in 2010. We thought we might get 300 people, but we got 900 at a small convention facility in Park Meadows. And this year, we sold out the downtown Marriott — sold it out and then some. And we do intend to make it an annual affair" — one to which both Dick Morris, the last speaker at both Summits to date, and former Secretary of Education William Bennett have already verbally committed.

Photos: 5 Soulforce Equality Riders busted for "Bible study" at Colorado Christian University
April 18, 2012

Soulforce's "Equality Ride," a national bus tour of seventeen young advocates who're crossing the country to promote acceptance of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people at various religious organizations, stopped at Colorado Christian University in southwest Denver today after visits to Focus on the Family and Young Life in Colorado Springs yesterday....

Shortly thereafter, the Lakewood Police Department arrested five participants in the event — four Equality Riders and one Denver community member — for allegedly trespassing on CCU's private campus....

The reason the direct action was not allowed on the CCU campus was because of the school's emphasis on private property. In a letter to students, Bill Armstrong, president of the university, stated, "CCU often hosts lectures, discussions and debates which include opinions different from those of the University itself. It is, however, the decision of the University and its leaders to decide whether or not to let such organizations on campus."

Marijuana: Lakewood bans pot businesses, but voters could allow retail shops
July 14, 2014

Colorado Christian University President and former U.S. Senator Bill Armstrong strongly advocated for the ban, claiming CCU would lose potential students and Lakewood's reputation would be tarnished if the city allowed pot sales and more.

"It's a fact, and it's been published: Marijuana and the use of marijuana has been implicated in serious misbehavior, delusions, hallucinations, and in some cases, violent acts," Armstrong said.

Why Colorado Christian University Wants to Practice Trangender Discrimination
May 4, 2016

Among the documents now available is a December 2014 letter penned by Bill Armstrong, the president of Colorado Christian University and a former United States senator from the state....

In his letter, Armstrong writes: "Colorado Christian University ('CCU') requires all of its faculty and employees to espouse a personal belief in the evangelical Christian faith. Every applicant for any position at CCU must sign an Application Acknowledgment agreeing to abide by CCU's Statement of Faith and Statement of Lifestyle Expectations, and to adhere to traditional biblical values and CCU's Strategic Objectives. If an individual is offered a job at CCU, he or she must execute the Statement of Faith and the Statement of Lifestyle Expectations before the hiring process is complete"....

As for the Lifestyle Expectations, the key passage as pertains to the tranSgender discrimination ban reads: "Members of the CCU community are expected to refrain from engaging in, advocating, teaching, supporting, encouraging, defending, or excusing homosexuality, transvestitism, transvestite behavior, transgenderism and transgender behavior."

Senator Cory Gardner statement: “Our nation lost a great public servant, whose mark on Colorado and this country embodies the virtues of liberty, faith, and family. His booming voice, piercing gaze, and love of fellow patriots will never be forgotten. So many people in Colorado were brought to conservative ideas and optimism through Senator Armstrong. The United States is a better place because of his grace, humility and boundless spirit.”

Senator Michael Bennet statement: “Our thoughts go out to the family and friends of Senator Bill Armstrong today. We are thankful for his decades of service and dedication to our country. Following his many years in public service, he devoted his time to educating and supporting the next generation as president of Colorado Christian University. He had a deep respect for democracy and our country’s future. That respect shall endure the test of time.”

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts