Longtime residents of Colorado may remember Dick Lamm as Governor Gloom, the somewhat affectionate nickname he acquired during his three terms as the state's governor. But before he ascended to that office, he was a brash, obscure, thirty-something state representative bent on stopping the 1976 Winter Games, which were supposed to be held in Denver, from becoming "an environmental Vietnam." As detailed in our current cover story, the surprising citizen revolt that snuffed the Olympic torch also transformed state politics — and made Lamm a popular and respected leader through tumultuous times.
If that all sounds like ancient history, here are five essential qualities of Dick Lamm you ought to know about before joining our Facebook Live session with him on Tuesday morning:
1. He's versatile. Born in Wisconsin and high-schooled in Pittsburgh, Lamm has managed to get around. Before trying his hand at politics, he worked as a lawyer and a CPA, served in the U.S. Army at Fort Carson, and devoted college summers to duties as a stock boy in New York and a lumberjack in Oregon. He was also an avid climber and hiker in Colorado's backcountry long before such activities became fashionable.
2. He's serious about saving the planet. In 1966, Lamm returned from a trip to India with his wife, Dottie, "in awe of the geometry of growth," he says. He embraced the Zero Population Growth movement and alienated some of his constituents by championing groundbreaking legislation to legalize abortion in Colorado. He also became the president of the First National Conference on Population and the Environment.
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3. He doesn't hate old people. In 1984, Lamm caused a furor among senior citizens with his "duty to die" speech, which some interpreted as urging the elderly to drop dead. It took years for the New York Times and other media outlets to issue corrections noting what Lamm (now a spry eighty years old himself) had actually said, which was a condemnation of prizing costly medical technology over quality of life: "We've got a duty to die and get out of the way with all of our machines and artificial hearts and everything else like that and let the other society, our kids, build a reasonable life."
4. But he does enjoy stirring things up. The "duty to die" follies aside, Lamm has never shied away from controversial, politically incorrect statements regarding immigration, health care, multiculturalism and other hot-button topics, even before a particular button got hot. While in his third term as governor, he managed to enrage some feminists by publishing a bit of dour political forecasting in the glossy pages of Playboy. A certain urbane local publication — okay, it was Westword — called the brouhaha "a tempest in a D cup."
5. He's not your typical Democrat. Lamm left the Governor's Mansion in 1987. Not content to serve as venerated elder statesman and grand poobah, he stunned the faithful in 1996 by declaring his intention to run for the presidency as a Reform Party candidate. Unfortunately, he'd barely declared when Ross Perot, the Reform Party's founder, announced that he wouldn't mind being drafted as the nominee himself.
Lamm lost the nomination to Perot by a nearly 2-1 margin, short-circuiting what promised to be a very unusual race. A decade earlier, weirdly enough, Lamm had co-authored a novel about a "progressive conservative" third-party candidate who's out to save America from the threat of illegal immigration, only to discover his campaign is being bankrolled by a bunch of right-wing crazies and fanatical terrorists. The lesson, it seems, is not to stray too far off the reservation — but you've got to give Lamm credit for ignoring his own advice.