Off Limits

Cliff May is bigtime. Over the past few months, the former Rocky Mountain News editor/columnist and sometimes Denver talk-show host has gone from his post as spokesman for the Republican National Committee to acting as new Interior Secretary Gale Norton's temporary media advisor to a job with one of the top PR firms in Washington, D.C.: BSMG Worldwide. And oh, yes, along the way, there was talk of May joining George Dubya Bush's communications office.

May's Colorado connections have helped get him some of the gigs: Both Norton and former RNC chairman Jim Nicholson call this state home. But May's also witnessed how Coloradans tend to stir things up inside the Beltway.

Nicholson, for example, landed the RNC on the receiving end of a $30 million libel suit filed by flamboyant New York activist Al Sharpton last spring. The suit was inspired by a letter that Nicholson wrote to the Washington Post, in which the then-RNC chairman accused Sharpton of instigating a deadly 1991 Brooklyn riot and a 1995 arson incident that killed seven people at a Harlem store; earlier this month, the RNC apologized to Sharpton. And last summer, Nicholson put a bee in the bonnet of Focus on the Family founder -- and fellow Coloradan -- James Dobson when he asked Dobson to tone down the anti-abortion rhetoric during election season. For her part, Norton's declaration that she was a "passionate conservationist" earned her a starring role last month as "pin-up girl" in Garry Trudeau's Doonesbury.

So how does one of Washington's hottest spinmeisters deal with the tough questions? Let's find out.

Q: What's the deal with Dobson, Cliff? Wasn't he on board?

A: One of Jim Nicholson's missions was to unify all the Republican tribes into one great horde, and he was remarkably successful at that, whether by asking, cajoling, demanding or pleading, to get the party united enough to win the White House -- as well as control of Congress, a number of governors' mansions, and state legislatures.

Q: If you were communications director for the RNC, who really wrote that Sharpton letter?

A: No comment.

Q: Nicholson is now being talked about for the cushy appointment of U.S. ambassador to the Vatican. Is he going to ask the Pope to tone down his rhetoric on abortion?

A: [laughs]

Q: You can't come cheap, Cliff. How much is Norton paying you?

A: I have great admiration and respect for Gale Norton and have been informally offering advice and counsel to her, and I will continue to do so -- strictly pro bono -- if she needs help.

Q: Why didn't you take a job in the White House? Was it because Bush is a Texan?

A: The war between Colorado and Texas is over. We won, they lost. They have to get over it. I spent many years at the Rocky Mountain News and the RNC defending capitalism. I thought it was now time to practice it.


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