Off Limits

Joining the list of bigwigs who've publicly berated Denver International Airport is George Mitrovich, who chided the airport in a letter to the Denver Post last month. "I have often cited DIA as a state-of-the-art airport, a model for the rest of the world," he began. "But after barely making one flight because of the inexcusably long security lines, I now say that the greatness of DIA has been compromised."

This particular attack should be of special concern to DIA officials -- more so than the complaints by CBS football announcer Dick Enberg, National Public Radio commentator Andrei Codrescu and humor writer Dave Barry, or even Kenny, the South Park cartoon character who was recently shot and killed by DIA security guards when it was discovered that he was carrying toe clippers in his carry-on bag (South Park was created by Coloradans Matt Stone and Trey Parker) -- because Mitrovich flies people in and out of the city for a living.

And not just any people.

Recent guests of Mitrovich's Denver Forum, a swanky speaker's club that periodically meets at the Oxford Hotel to listen to journalists, literary luminaries and other assorted gabbers, include New York Times columnist Richard Reeves, Pulitzer Prize winner and commentator Haynes Johnson, novelist/travel writer Paul Theroux, Colorado Chief Justice Mary Mullarkey and man-about-town George Plimpton. Later this month, CNN pundit and Crossfire co-host Bill Press will do Denver.

Of course, Mitrovich's biggest claim to fame is as the founder of the City Club of San Diego, a much larger, much swankier version of the Denver Forum. And the City Club of San Diego has hosted a much more star-spangled group of speakers over the years, including presidents, governors and ambassadors, along with such notables as Jerry Falwell, Gloria Steinem, Colin Powell, Oliver North, Ted Kennedy, Newt Gingrich and Tom Wolfe.

"Having recently flown from Dulles and San Diego airports, I can attest that DIA is the worst when it comes to getting people through security," Mitrovich continued. "But this isn't about security. It's about the competence of the checkers at DIA and the fact that there are too few of them." (And now there are four fewer, since Argenbright, DIA's security company, fired four screeners on Monday after discovering that they were all convicted felons.)

Mitrovich estimates that he flies about twenty times a year, usually between San Diego and Denver or Washington, D.C. "Denver is such a great city and has done so many amazing things," he says -- and that's why he can't understand how the abysmal situation at the airport could have developed.

"This is the consequence of a colossal government failure," he adds. "When they left it to the airlines to provide security, there was no possible way they were going to do all the things that were necessary."

In light of his own DIA disasters, Mitrovich has warned Press to get to the airport early when he flies out of Denver.

Real early.A love-hate relationship: Once again, a bipartisan coalition of lawmakers backed by the Interfaith Alliance, an organization consisting of progressive clergy members of all faiths, will try to push a bill through the Colorado Legislature that would ban certain forms of hate crimes. Only this time around, in an attempt to make it more palatable to rock-ribbed conservative opponents, sponsors have dubbed the measure the "Bias-Motivated Crimes Bill."

But the touchy-feely name isn't likely to change much: At least one legislator, Littleton Republican Jim Dyer, who voted against last year's bill, has already pronounced his undying opposition to this one as well. And after a January 7 press conference at the State Capitol, one proponent of the bill -- which would afford special protection from abuse to the disabled, the elderly and the gay-lesbian-transgendered community -- admitted privately that he wasn't overly optimistic about its passage.

Maybe it's time for the bill's backers to recognize the political realities of those entrenched forces in the caves of El Paso County and its environs (promoters of past pro-bias legislation; Amendment 2 ring any bells?) and present an even gentler version: the "Some Bias-Motivated Crimes Bill." Under this measure, perpetrators would be allowed to carry out transgressions against certain groups but not others.

For example, tossing random catcalls at residents of Commerce City or Greeley, two of Colorado's more olfactorily challenged municipalities, would be perfectly legal. But any misdirected comments about the denizens of Cherry Hills Village or Parker would be punishable by months of community service with either the Junior League or the 4-H Club. Likewise, famous and highly paid local sports figures would be allowed to hurl racial epithets at fans or teammates (see Denver Broncos linebacker Bill Romanowski and former Denver Nuggets coach Dan Issel). But similar comments sent in the other direction would be violations of the law, requiring intense remediation.

Although the details would have to be worked out in conference, sponsors Democratic state senator Penfield Tate and Republican state representative Mark Larson might improve their chances of passing the measure this spring. And while the "some crimes" compromise might not address the sorts of acts they're now seeking to curb, unlike the five previous incarnations of the bill, this halfway measure might actually be approved in our state.

Just imagine the bumper-sticker campaign: "Got Bias? Go have another beer, you XXX piece of XXX."


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