Longform

DON'T START THE REVOLUTION WITHOUT ME

part 1 of 2
In the midst of a mind-numbing ramble about the Founding Fathers, lecturer Marty Nalitz finally said something worth remembering: "Every one of those guys was a right-wing, Bible-thumping fundamentalist!"

Nalitz, whose real job is hosting talk radio on the nationwide USA Patriot Network, was preaching to a group of ten people who were spending a beautiful Saturday afternoon in August indoors at a "Constitutional Seminar" at the Country Harvest Buffet Restaurant on West Alameda Avenue.

And his admiring analysis certainly didn't shock attendee Patricia Elaine Miller. A veteran of the Republican party's Christian-right wing, 47-year-old Pat Miller is the GOP candidate for Congress in Colorado's 2nd District. As the self-described "grassroots" opponent of incumbent Democrat David Skaggs, Miller shuns the usual crowds of party loyalists and goes to where "we the people" are--even if there are only ten of them.

That backdoor approach may not seem like sound strategy. But it has paid off for Miller, a former legislator from Arvada who has alienated some party regulars yet enjoys campaign contributions from ex-Senator Bill Armstrong, beer heir Jeffrey Coors and Colorado for Family Values leader Will Perkins. Last month she won a four-way GOP primary against better-financed candidates--and against the wishes of party officials.

Articulate and funny when speaking to friendly crowds, Miller is sympathetic to conspiracy theorists and fearful of the New World Order. She uses talk radio to speak with "Patriots" and other doomsayers who warn

about the "mark of the Beast" and attempts by the government to take away their guns. While they discuss how to defend the U.S. Constitution and Christian values and ruminate about conspiracies revolving around the Federal Reserve Bank and the Trilateral Commission, some of the Patriots--they range from mild-mannered libertarians to pistol-packing survivalists--keep a close watch for ominous black helicopters they say may be circling over their communities. The country, Miller herself says, is heading toward hell. Very soon. Unless people stand up for the Constitution. Now.

An Illinois farm girl raised as a Democrat--she once actually campaigned for liberal stalwart Tim Wirth--Pat Miller is a modern-day No-Nothing: No national health care, no national crime bill, no NAFTA, no GATT, no corporate income tax, no abortions, no U.S. Department of Education, no national educational standards, no gun control, no foreign aid, no United Nations, no nothing. Long after her fellow baby boomers gave up left-wing revolution, she's still trying to start one on the right.

A member of the National Rifle Association, Miller spent last Mother's Day at a gun show, and she'd rather commiserate with talk-show callers who hint at armed insurrection than hustle votes among moderates.

Miller leads a host of local GOP candidates, some of them in the Arvada area, who sometimes are billed as "strict constitutionalists." Her preferred campaign methods are meetings--unpublicized to the press--with small groups of ardent supporters, fliers in church parking lots, last-minute telephone blitzes and plenty of air time on right-wing radio. She likely will be outspent by Skaggs, who poured more than $600,000 into his 1992 campaign. How well she does depends upon how much disenchantment is brewing by early November.

The race for the 2nd District, which stretches from Boulder to Wheat Ridge, could be the perfect one for a "fed-up" person like Miller, an evangelical Christian who went to beauty school instead of college and became a sharp-witted enemy of abortion and teachers' unions. Like one of her heroes, Phyllis Schlafly, Pat Miller is an assertive woman who denounces the feminist movement.

She has little use for liberal Republicans and even less for liberal Democrats like Yale-educated lawyer Skaggs. He's a four-term congressman who's cruising along as if he could serve forty more. A self-effacing sort, he's not charismatic in either personality or religion (he sings in a Congregational church choir). Skaggs believes that the federal government can help solve problems. He's a pro-choice, gun-controlling environmentalist from Boulder who bounced 57 checks in the House banking scandal and is at least as liberal as Pat Schroeder. In the last election, he aligned himself closely to President Bill Clinton. Since then, he's been jogging with Clinton. And liked it.

Moderate Republicans believe that the 51-year-old Skaggs, whom they consider a classic liberal in an unpredictable district, is beatable. You'd think that Miller would want to take every opportunity to publicly grapple with him. Instead, it's Skaggs who's calling for debates, apparently convinced the outspoken Miller will hang herself.

Some people think Miller is shrewdly keeping her views to herself and her supporters in the hope that moderate Republicans won't get so scared by her that they cross over to vote for Skaggs. (In 1992 Skaggs trounced another opponent from the Christian right, anti-abortion preacher Bryan Day.) Miller denies that that's her strategy. But she does complain that after a decade of her involvement in abortion politics, the press and even moderates within her own party make her sound like a one-issue candidate and portray her church, Faith Bible Chapel in Arvada, as a sinister political machine that has taken over the local GOP.

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Ward Harkavy
Contact: Ward Harkavy