John Elway's Political Ads Raise Hackles, Questions in Colorado

John Elway's Political Ads Raise Hackles, Questions in Colorado
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In what is certainly the most divisive and hideous election season in modern memory, it's good to know that the powers-that-be in Colorado can still rely on one civic leader to be the voice of reason and fair play, to gently guide the voters through the murk to the right decision for them and their community. A voice that towers above the rest, a registered Republican but with an appeal that defies partisanship, Colorado's elder statesman and éminence grise, its Disraeli and its Talleyrand. 

That would be the Duke himself, John Elway. The Denver Broncos general manager and Hall of Fame quarterback is now appearing in TV ads endorsing one of the state's ballot initiatives and denouncing two others. 

Elway supports Amendment 71, which would make it more difficult and expensive for proposed constitutional amendments to make it on the ballot in the future — and which is largely financed by the fracking industry and other corporate interests. He opposes Amendment 69, which would create a state-operated health-care system, and Amendment 70, which would raise the minimum wage. "A lot of people know me as a football guy, but I'm a Coloradan first," he declares in one of the spots. "I love this state, and I'm worried about the games being played with our constitution."

The ads are an unsettling departure from Elway's past efforts to avoid hot-button political entanglements. Although he's been wooed more than once to run for state office or even a Senate seat, he has wisely demurred. From a ticket-sales standpoint, it wouldn't do to piss off large segments of Broncos Country by choosing sides on every little fractious, non-football-related political scuffle that comes along. 

By taking the stand he's adopted on these particular ballot issues, everybody's favorite Stanford grad has opened himself to charges of being an elitist and a corporate shill. The pro-71 commercial, for example, is being funded by Protecting Colorado's Environment, Economy, and Energy Independence, one of several oil-and-gas front groups pouring millions into that campaign. The campaign against the health-care proposal is bankrolled by industry giants Anthem, Kaiser, United Health Care and HealthOne.

"Elway wants you to remain poor, get fracked, and not have health care," declares environmental activist Gary Wockner.

"When it comes to health care, John Elway is on the side of the multi-millionaires," adds author and journalist T.R. Reid, who's leading the Amendment 69 campaign. 

His critics, though, may be underestimating the degree to which Elway feels passionately, as a Coloradan and an NFL general manager, about these specific issues. A case could be made, after all, that hiking the minimum wage encourages wage inflation all around. Keep that up, and pretty soon you have ho-hum quarterbacks like Brock Osweiler threatening to walk if you don't fork over $72 million. Good riddance to them. How are you ever going to achieve a Super Bowl threepeat if you don't hold on to basic principles like a tightly capped minimum wage?

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The same goes for "protecting the constitution," the ostensible goal of Amendment 71's effort to "raise the bar" on how signatures are collected for petitions seeking constitutional amendments. If you don't do something to keep the rabble from cooking up changes to the established order, you just might have them trying to dictate what you can name your stadium or even if you can use public funds to build a new one now and then. Citizen initiatives ought to be reserved for the citizens who can afford to get them on the ballot, like the Bowlen family.

And the state-run health-care system? I'm told the NFL has pretty good insurance — and no burning desire to have a bunch of outsiders tinker with its concussion protocols.

Then again, it could be that Elway has no hidden agenda at all. He just wants what's best, in his view, for the rest of us. That's his God-given right, just like the right to take a selfie of himself and his ballot if he chooses. Is this a great country or what?


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