The debut episode of Rocky Flats Close-Up, a half-hour Department of Energy infomercial tucked into the wee-hour time slots usually reserved for miracle car washes and thigh trimmers, is about as exciting as watching Chernobyl cool down. Anchor Mike Nolan--the former Channel 9 sportscaster who peddles RVs when he's not touting used nuclear weapons facilities--introduces a host of "reporters" who lead viewers around Rocky Flats, lauding its new "openness," its "new mission of clean up, waste management and economic conversion," even its new name: Rocky Flats Environmental Technology Site. In the process, they provide a few believe-it-or-not sights: 1,200 children of Rocky Flats employees visiting the plant--er, site--for the first time; a gaggle of touring Russians checking out this contaminated monument to the Cold War; Flats managers, led by the DOE's Mark Silverman, actually listening to citizens, now known as "stakeholders." The slick production--your tax dollars at work--even includes a commercial plea for bone marrow donors, a perhaps unfortunate choice given the number of workers who blame the facility for their cancers, and ends with a Sunday Morning-like visual ode to the Rocky Flats high plains buffer zone "and the many creatures that call it home."

Some of which might have two heads.
Suggested plot for the next installment: Colorado rancher, who appreciates the many creatures of the prairie but also recognizes a big load of fertilizer when it's dumped right beside him, gets so fed up that he decides to run for Congress, taking on the very government that once asked him to do a job--and then slapped him down when he tried to do it right.

Wes McKinley, the foreman of the special grand jury that spent two and a half years digging into the secrets of Rocky Flats--back in the days when plant managers made no secret of the fact that everything there was secret--went so far as to stop by the Secretary of State's office last month to pick up all the papers he'd need to make a run in the Fourth Congressional district. That's the seat currently held by Republican Wayne Allard, a fellow who makes predecessor Hank Brown look like a publicity hound. McKinley's platform would have been rough-hewn but solid, a celebration of the Constitution that he used as his bible when the grand jury tried to indict eight individuals for environmental crimes at Rocky Flats.

But at the last minute, McKinley reined in. He has a new grandchild to visit, cattle to drive, bills to pay--and a hearty dislike of the folks in Washington he'd be fighting to join. When McKinley visited the Capitol in May to pick up the Cavallo Award, given annually to a handful of citizens who have exhibited great moral courage, Colorado Congressman Dan Schaefer even missed their scheduled meeting. Schaefer is the ranking Republican on Representative John Dingell's oversight and investigations subcommittee that's been focusing on the DOE and Rocky Flats; by all accounts, Dingell has left the decision of whether to grant the grand jurors immunity and let them testify before Congress--a request of almost two years' standing--entirely up to Schaefer.

To a man from Walsh who's accustomed to straight shooting, the convoluted ways of Congress hold few charms. Besides, McKinley says, he would have needed to quickly pick up a thousand signatures to make the ballot, "and my whole county doesn't even have a thousand people."

Rocky Flats could still be a factor in this fall's election, though. Last fall the grand jurors' attorney, Jonathan Turley, was reportedly within 24 hours of cutting a deal to let the jurors testify--until Congressman David Skaggs stepped in and challenged the legality of such an action. In Boulder, Skaggs's Second Congressional stronghold, Rocky Flats is not a popular place; a savvy Republican could make hay by pushing the immunity issue. (Challenger Sharon Klusman already floated the proposition.) Schaefer could do a lot to give Skaggs' opponent a boost.

According to Schaefer's office, immunity "is still very much an issue, but we don't see any movement on it in the next couple of months." In the meantime, there's that pesky health-care matter to deal with, and the subcommittee has its hands full trying to track down excessive DOE legal bills, not to mention figure out why DOE is still paying EG&G, the operator of Rocky Flats, cash bonuses for a period when Silverman noted that "EG&G has failed to effectively maintain the proper emphasis on safety and maintenance and to communicate that emphasis effectively throughout the site." In defense of the bonus payment, the DOE pointed to EG&G's work on improving the public image of the plant.

Meanwhile, Turley continues to make his rounds. He's planning on having another engagement when Sherman Finesilver, the federal judge who sealed the deal that settled the Rocky Flats case two years ago, comes to his law school this fall as a "scholar in residence" (note to George Washington U.: be sure to check any Finesilver expense vouchers, the subject of an ongoing investigation here in Denver). And he's still waiting for Schaefer to respond to his request--now repeated three times--that the subcommittee simply hold a hearing on the issue of immunity. "In our last meeting with the chief counsel of the Dingell subcommittee," Turley says, "we were told that the immunity question was no longer viewed as a `legal' question, but solely as a `political' question."

As though it were ever anything else.
There is, of course, a surefire way to ensure that the story gets out: As a U.S. Representative, anything Wes McKinley might say on the floor of Congress is protected.

Stay tuned.


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