Like it or not, controversies and speculation go together like Donald Trump and comb-overs, and the more innuendoes there are, the greater the pressure on newsmakers and the media to address them in a public forum. Such was the case last month in Texas, when Governor Rick Perry grew so frustrated over conjecture that he'd been caught flagrante delicto by his wife, Anita, that he gave an interview to the Austin American Statesman angrily denying it.
Colorado governor Bill Owens hasn't yet reached this point, but it's not for a lack of buzz. A gusher of gossip exploded on August 31, after Owens separated from Frances, his bride of 28 years, and although the flow ebbed in the months that followed, it surged again when Owens declined to run for the seat of retiring senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell -- a race that, under ordinary circumstances, he would have won without breaking a sweat. Blabbermouths who are certain Owens has a shapely skeleton in his closet responded by resurrecting old theories or floating a raft of new ones, each loopier than the last.
Journalists at news organizations across the state have heard variations on the hottest hypotheses, and staffers at the Rocky Mountain News and the Denver Post have poured lots of resources into investigating them without coming up with anything publishable to date. Westword, however, may be the single largest repository of Owens tattle -- and Westword cartoonist Kenny Be unwittingly augmented the supply. In a January 1 offering, he satirized the scuttlebutt by predicting that the guv would eventually admit to a tryst with Jennifer Rosen, ex-wife of KOA yakker Mike Rosen and sister of Westword scribe Robin Chotzinoff. Subsequently, Westword was contacted by multiple correspondents who'd heard that Owens and, yes, Jennifer Rosen, were doing the funky worm. Reached by e-mail, Rosen says she hadn't heard that the cartoon had taken on a life of its own but finds it hilarious. She's acquainted with the governor through her former husband, an Owens pal, but the biggest secret she knows about him is that "he has a terrible weakness for pigs in a blanket."
If chatter about Owens having a barnyard fetish suddenly arises, you'll know where it started.
What follows is a top-twenty list of other claims regarding Owens's love life, and despite the date on this issue, they're not April Fool's jokes. Each was delivered by a person or persons who swore the tips were true. Other common themes: The information was second-, third- or fourth-hand and lacked even the slightest substantiation -- yet the sources almost always accused Westword of political motivation or just plain gutlessness in not printing it.
If all of these claims are false, Owens has been the target of utterly bizarre attacks. If all of them are true, he could give Colin Farrell a run for his money:
1. Owens is having an affair with an aide from his first campaign for governor.
2. Owens is having an affair with an aide from his earlier campaign for treasurer.
3. Owens is having an affair with an attorney in the governor's office.
4. Owens is having an affair with an attorney in another state government department.
5. Owens is having an affair with an intern at the governor's office.
6. Owens is having an affair with an underage intern at the governor's office.
7. Owens is having an affair with a principal at a local school.
8. Owens is having an affair with a neighbor in Centennial.
9. Owens is having an affair with political cohort Marc Holtzman, who is, in fact, male, and who recently announced his engagement -- to a female.
10. Owens's children discovered that he was having an affair with an unknown woman. They confronted him and threw him out of the house.
11. The woman in item one was impregnated by Owens. She traveled to New York and had an abortion.
12. The woman in item four was impregnated by Owens. She traveled to New York and had an abortion.
13. The woman in item five was impregnated by Owens. She traveled to New York and had an abortion.
14. A woman impregnated by Owens is due to give birth any minute.
15. A woman impregnated by Owens recently gave birth. She and the child are in Wyoming.
16. A woman impregnated by Owens recently gave birth. She and the child are in Montana.
17. A woman impregnated by Owens is living with him in the governor's mansion along with her other child, age six.
18. Owens and his mistress have a love child who's eighteen months old.
19. Owens and his mistress have a love child who's six years old.
20. Owens and his mistress have a love child who's twelve years old.
Thus far, the mainstream press has scarcely acknowledged this babble. In a December 27, 2003, column, the Post's Bob Ewegen countered "breathless rumors that the governor had taken a gay lover and that he had gotten his lover pregnant" by remarking, "At a bare minimum, both rumors can't be true." More recently, in the March 7 Boulder Daily Camera, gadfly Jon Caldara mentioned the Holtzman talk before concluding that Owens is actually having an affair with "his job."
Dan Hopkins, Owens's spokesman, takes the whispering campaign no more seriously than do Ewegen and Caldara. "To the best of my knowledge, the governor's had no public comment about the rumors, and none of them are true," he maintains. "He simply wouldn't want to dignify them with a response. But I don't think it's affected his job performance at all. He's aware that someone in a public position can be the target of spurious rumors, so I don't think it's even background noise for him."
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That's fortunate, because the roster above isn't even complete. One vivid story holds that Frances Owens walked in on her husband and a playmate at the Broadmoor in Colorado Springs. And another argues that Frances split because Owens had promised to bring his political career to a close, only to change his mind.
This last tale hasn't gained much traction because it's short on extra-marital shenanigans or out-of-wedlock reproduction -- but it's just as likely to be true, or untrue, as any of the other rumblings. Owens's silence on the topic guarantees that news organizations like this one will keep hearing from individuals who swear they've got the real poop. Whether that poop is fascinating or fertilizer is a question for another day.
The long and short of it: On March 24, the Rocky Mountain News ran a blurb declaring that a sofa from the Lodge & Spa at Cordillera room where Kobe Bryant stayed last year was being peddled by The Chairman, a Denver furniture-liquidation business. The next day, the Rocky printed a correction, revealing that the sofa hadn't been sold to The Chairman, because Cordillera management "recognized the sensitivity" of anything having to do with the Bryant case. Length of the first report, headline and deck included: 63 words. Length of the correction: 141 words. But at least the Rocky got the names right, unlike yours truly. I identified former Ben Nighthorse Campbell aide Brian Thompson as "Bruce Thompson" in our March 11 issue, marking the second time in recent months that I've botched a first name. Starting next week, all first names will be banished from this space; the column will read like the screenplay for Reservoir Dogs.
Finally, some extremely sad news on the media beat. Colorado Free University founder John Hand, featured in this space last month, was killed in his home on March 28. A memorial will be held at noon on Friday, April 2, in the Teikyo University Theater at 3001 South Federal Boulevard. Our condolences to John's family, friends and admirers, of which there were many.