See Dick Run. Run, Dick, Run!

"Look, on this whole issue of running for President, I'm not trying to be coy at all. In fact, I want to be very direct with you. Running for President is being in the Superbowl [sic] of politics."

--Richard D. Lamm and Arnold Grossman, A California Conspiracy

Whatever else it might have been--inspiring, pathetic or just plain daffy--Dick Lamm's announcement last week that he would seek the Reform Party's nomination for the highest office in the land was no surprise. As every political junkie knows, Lamm's been toying with the notion for months, playing footsie with reporters and scanning the horizon for smoke signals from shifty-eyed party boss H. Ross Perot.

The national press has described Lamm's candidacy as an effort to raise the level of debate in the coming campaign, but his hunger to be president is more deep-rooted than that; it's older, in fact, than some of his supporters. Long before he cozied up to Perot's political organization, and even before his failed 1992 comeback bid in the Democratic primary for U.S. Senate, Governor Gloom was dreaming of life in the Oval Office.

Lamm has been preparing for this moment practically forever. His three terms as governor, not to mention his later career as a think-tanker and author, have been merely a warmup for the present campaign. All along, he's been polishing his presidential skills: promising Colorado voters one thing and delivering another; massaging and manipulating the media like a Hollywood chiropractor; publishing hand-wringing screeds and execrably written pulp novels that push his platform and reveal his prurient fantasies of what it might be like up there at the top of the political heap.

Those who ignore Lamm's past are bound to have him repeating on them, like an old LP with a bad case of the skips. Here, then, is a lightning review of Dick Lamm's most presidential moments:

Displaying Lincolnesque fortitude and folksiness, gubernatorial candidate Lamm devotes seven weeks to walking across the state, from the edge of Wyoming to the New Mexico border. Already well-known for sponsoring the first state law in the nation legalizing abortion and for helping defeat efforts to bring the Winter Olympics to Colorado, the tousled-haired legislator proves himself a fiscal conservative by spending only $300 on his cross-state hike, cadging meals and lodging from ranchers, farmers, steelworkers and other ordinary citizens. "I'm not saying it's the only way to run for office," he tells reporters, "but it's my way."

The freshman governor has barely taken office when he comes under fire from old friends for failing to live up to his promises. Robert Redford complains that Lamm isn't doing enough for the environment. State representative Wellington Webb questions Lamm's commitment to minorities. Indeed, the highest-ranking black in Lamm's first administration is Lieutenant Governor George Brown, who slips into Quayle-like obscurity after causing a sensation by claiming that, during World War II, an Alabama farmer chained him in a barn and branded the letter "K" on his chest. Eventually, Lamm will cut off funds to Brown's office and withhold his final paycheck, claiming he hasn't shown up for work for a month.

In a fit of Nixonian pique, Lamm lashes out at an audience of newspaper editors for failing to rise when he is introduced. "I want them to stand, goddammit," he snaps.

Later, the Man Who Would Be King explains that he wants reporters to show respect for the office, not the man. He reminds the ink-stained wretches that William Jennings Bryan, three-time Democratic nominee for president, used to be applauded for hours.

In New York City for the Democratic National Convention, Lamm ducks a proposed meeting with independent presidential candidate John Anderson. The Illinois congressman wants to sound out Lamm about being his running mate, but Lamm isn't ready for such a dramatic break with his party. Instead, he backs a sure loser: incumbent Jimmy Carter.

Lamm declines to posthumously pardon Alfred Packer, Colorado's best-known cannibal, thereby avoiding the kind of "Willie Horton situation" that would later haunt Michael Dukakis and other presidential nominees. Since Packer's victims were supposedly five of the seven Democrats in Hinsdale County, reporters suspect partisanship, but Lamm denies it. "This issue has been gnawing at me for some time," he says.

Lamm and co-author Michael McCarthy publish The Angry West, the first in a series of sourball books by the governor that lament the trashing of the Rockies but are woefully short on solutions. No John F. Kennedy when it comes to cranking out executive prose, Lamm demonstrates a penchant for banal one-liners such as "So it is in the West," and "Good with bad: this is the paradox of oil."

In December the governor exhibits a Bush-like sense of noblesse oblige by swapping homes for the holidays with the family of a California architect. Dick, Dottie and the kids spend a week in the architect's exclusive Presidio home overlooking San Francisco Bay. The Californians get snowed in at the governor's mansion for the duration of the Christmas blizzard of '82 and send the Colorado State Patrol out on errands.

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Alan Prendergast has been writing for Westword for over thirty years. He teaches journalism at Colorado College; his stories about the justice system, historic crimes, high-security prisons and death by misadventure have won numerous awards and appeared in a wide range of magazines and anthologies.
Contact: Alan Prendergast