Off Limits

Sure, an unprecedented amount of money poured into Colorado's recent election -- $9 million in the U.S. Senate race alone. But big money didn't necessarily buy big wins, as evidenced by four failed ballot measures, including Amendment 31, pushed by California millionaire Ron Unz. With victories in California and Arizona already under his money belt, this year Unz lavished his attentions -- and cash -- on Colorado and Massachusetts, where his almost-identical Question 2 passed easily last week. In this state, though, Amendment 31 went down hard...particularly for Unz.

"Amusingly enough," he writes, "the excuses for initiative opposition cited by Colorado Governor Bill Owens -- just recently described by a glowing National Review cover story as the 'Best Conservative Governor in America' -- were almost word-for-word identical with those of Ted Kennedy, who is not quite as great a hero to America's conservative movement.

"The primary difference between the two states was the vast media budget of the Colorado No campaign, 99 percent of it funded by a single check from eccentric billionaire heiress Pat Stryker, who spent weeks blasting the Colorado airwaves, a situation which did not occur in the Bay State." Unz goes on, and on, but you get the point: He's clearly shocked -- shocked! -- that money (although he's a couple million high on Stryker's net worth) could affect the vote on an initiative that wouldn't have been on the ballot in the first place if his money hadn't moved it there.

Money didn't do much for Amendment 30, the same-day voter registration proposal pushed by Jared Polis, who sold his family's greeting-card Web site for close to a billion a few years ago. Or for Rutt Bridges, who used his millions to start a think tank, the Bighorn Center for Public Policy, which failed to sell Amendments 28 and 29 to the public, too.

In fact, the think tank that came out on top this year boasts a relatively paltry annual budget of $600,000 -- but a lot of big guns. John Andrews, co-founder of the Independence Institute, is now president of the Colorado Senate. (That's a strong comeback for a fellow who took on the kamikaze mission of running against incumbent governor Roy Romer in 1990.) Andrews's successor as head of the institute, Tom Tancredo, was just re-elected to the U.S. House from Colorado's 6th Congressional District. And his successor, Jon Caldara, remains the most quotable politico in Colorado.

"I get paid to piss off socialists," Caldara says. "I have the best job in the world."

But the institute also pisses off Republicans, he insists. "It would be wrong to say we're a shill for the Republican Party. Republicans try to increase the size of the government at only half the speed of Democrats and consider it a victory," he explains. "We're politically incorrect."

And over its eighteen years, the Golden-based outfit has had a strong, politically incorrect impact. "One, we stop a lot of bad stuff from happening, more than people realize, on everything from tax increases to the bulk purchases of drugs to more socialization of transportation schemes," Caldara says. "On the other side, we make a few good things happen: the flat tax rate Barry Poulson worked on eighteen years ago; charter-school legislation championed by Dave D'Evelyn [the institute's late co-founder]; full funding of charter schools; privatization at RTD of 35 percent; the school report card system."

And coming right up? "I think we'll see things such as paycheck protection, a voucher system for inner-city schools, and concealed-carry permits," Caldara predicts.

A generation ago, the Independence Institute was one of just a few such state-based concerns. "Now there are 38 like-minded organizations sprinkled around the country," he says. "We stay in contact, share talent and ideas. We take the free-market revolution to a state level, and there we've been very successful."

Not just in politics, either. Caldara writes a column for Boulder's Daily Camera; his colleague, David Kopel, writes one for the Rocky Mountain News. And long before he was the top-rated radio talk-show host in the state, Mike Rosen worked with the Independence Institute. "We keep finding stuff in his desk drawers," says Caldara.

Be afraid. Be very afraid.

Footing the bill: The votes are still being counted in the 7th Congressional District, but Colorado's next campaign season has already begun. On Tuesday, Alby Segall, the first person to declare his candidacy for the May 6, 2003, municipal election for the District 5 council seat, kicked off his walking campaign in a pair of size 9 zip-up blue Nikes.

Mayor Wellington Webb walked his way to victory in 1991 and repeated the trek in 1995, wearing a pair of size 13 New Balances -- the only tennis shoes made in the United States at the time, points out Webb spokesman Andrew Hudson -- that are now bronzed and on display in the mayor's office.

But the first politician to make tracks in Colorado was state lawmaker Dick Lamm, who walked the state on his way to the Governor's Mansion. Hmmm, since that was back in 1974, was he wearing Earth shoes? Holubar, Lamm responds. "I wore out one pair of boots and moved to another, maybe Bass."

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