STATE OF THE STATE

part 1 of 2
It was once the hate state. But now Colorado's in a state of ecstasy.
During a visit to northern Douglas County, a real estate scout for Merrill Lynch was so overwhelmed by the sight of a herd of antelope that the company decided to build a 1-million-square-foot office complex on the animals' feeding grounds. One day soon, up to 2,000 stockbrokers and other nature lovers will be able to enjoy the creatures in their natural habitat, providing the pronghorn can find a parking space.

Herds of undocumented aliens--most of them Californians--continued to pour into the state, sparking locals to circle the welcome wagons. Anxious to make the newcomers feel at home, residents burned up the phone lines after the state set up a hotline to report people who hadn't yet purchased Colorado license plates.

Even Bill McCartney's manly Promise Keepers decided that Denver was the place to be. Still feeling saucy about their inclusion in the Guinness Book of World Records for staging the world's largest barbecue during their 1993 gathering at Folsom Field, the guy-happy Keepers--whose stated aim is to get as many men as possible "hot for Christ"--announced they were moving their national headquarters from lowly Wheat Ridge to an office in muy macho north Denver.

Nuclear family values also were popular out at the Rocky Flats bomb factory, which picked up yet another accolade when those kidders at the Department of Energy named it the "most dangerous" nuclear facility in the American arsenal. Good-natured plant officials showed they could give as good as they got, announcing a plan to cook radioactive plutonium "until it glows like charcoal briquettes" in an effort to make the substance more stable. The project involves approximately fifty kilograms of plutonium--or about enough to serve everybody in the state extra-crispy.

Join us, won't you, in a toast to a year well done.

CRIME
Repeat offenders continued to be a major problem for authorities. A Denver judge ordered Colorado Springs tax protester Douglas Bruce to perform 150 hours of "useful public service" and pay a $2,400 fine for maintaining unsafe residential buildings in northeast Denver. While the celebrity landlord was in town, the City of Denver took the opportunity to file four new cases against him for allegedly failing to keep his rental properties--which he'd vowed to sell the year before--up to snuff.

Things got so bad that even Kevin Tebedo, the straitlaced president of Colorado for Family Values, ended up in trouble with the law. Tebedo faces a pretrial hearing next March on a misdemeanor harassment charge stemming from an incident in which he allegedly punched a woman in the arm after she asked him if he was sure he was a heterosexual. "You and I are gonna fight," Tebedo reportedly told the woman.

The beleaguered Aspen police force did battle with a different breed of troublemaker. Officers reported that street fights were an increasing problem in the once-mellow winter wonderland, where overcrowding has become so severe that people (presumably short ones) were spending the night in the town's four-by-six-foot bicycle lockers. Attributing the difficulties to "a young high-testosterone set," the cops responded by staging seminars to teach bar bouncers "conflict-resolution methods."

The sap was also rising down at the Colorado Rocky Mountain School, an exclusive prep academy near Carbondale. Eighteen of the school's 45 elite scholars were summarily expelled after they broke into the headmaster's house, had a beer party, destroyed furniture and capped off the night's activities by vomiting on the carpet. A forgiving staff member said she believed the event was supposed to be a "super prank" by seniors at the institution, which charges tuition of $18,000 per year.

Gubernatorial candidate Frank Arteaga of Pueblo likely felt a little green around the gills himself after being arrested for investigation of drug possession by officers responding to a burglary alarm at his offices. It was the second time this year that Arteaga attracted the attention of law enforcement authorities. Earlier, he was involved in an incident along Interstate 25 when he stopped to rest during a marathon walk from Pueblo to the State Capitol. A passing motorist, seeing his apparently lifeless form by the side of the road, called in a report of a dead body.

The candidate might have enjoyed a warmer reception in Weld County, where dumbfounded authorities grudgingly harvested a bumper marijuana crop. The illicit hemp haul was not only plentiful--5,820 plants confiscated this year compared to just 418 in 1993--but marked by near-elephantine specimens. Thanks to a particularly good growing season, "these things were like Christmas trees," said Kent Donohue, project director for the Weld County Task Force.

Things also went to pot at the state's Limon prison when, three and a half years after building the facility, officials at the Department of Corrections realized the prisoners had learned how to pick the locks. The replacement cost was estimated at $155,000. And security was an even hotter topic at the new federal prison in the town of Florence, designed to handle some of the most dangerous prisoners in the country. During a February riot at that facility, the first call for help went to a local 911 operator when prison officials at The Rock realized too late that they had no plan for handling such an event. Also discovered after the fact: An escapee from another federal lock-up had been hired to help build the new prison.

LAW
Denver's lawyers flooded the newsroom of the Denver Post with more than 500 outraged faxes and letters after columnist Chuck Green wrote a column critical of the profession. And right they were to be peeved, considering the pioneering work done this year by local barristers--on both sides of the law.

Attorneys for an Aurora adult gift shop bravely fought attempts to shut down the store by arguing that under the law, leather bondage gear could qualify as "apparel" and handcuffs as "toys." And purple vibrators didn't qualify as "adult" items, the lawyers claimed, because, technically speaking, they weren't anatomically correct.

After a Thornton doctor was charged with twelve sexual assaults on female patients, his lawyer suggested the problems may have stemmed from an alleged nervous disorder that made his client's hands quiver. Also giving himself a fair shake was the bank-vault manager robbed at gunpoint in the infamous 1991 Father's Day break-in at United Bank. His lawyers sued the bank for firing him after he was caught shoplifting, claiming that his sticky fingers resulted from post-traumatic stress syndrome.

Attorneys for Medved Chevrolet vowed to go all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court to preserve the car dealer's right to fly a giant Santa Claus balloon over the northern suburbs. Eventually, the Wheat Ridge City Council backed down and Santa again took flight over the company's Wheat Ridge sales lot.

Prominent Denver attorney Phil Lowery took part in the year's show trial, this time as a defendant being sued by three female ex-employees for sexual harassment. The women were awarded a $592,000 judgment following a trial peppered with lurid testimony that had members of the gallery steaming in their legal briefs. One woman said Lowery invited her to lunch, then to his Porsche for a quick round of oral arguments. A young male attorney, meanwhile, testified that a female legal secretary approached him in the lunchroom and ordered him to drop his shorts and serve her with a subpoena on the spot.

The system also caught up with Denver lawyer Alvin Dillings, a driving force who claimed he had been rear-ended in traffic accidents five times in three years--and had, naturally, sued for damages. Dillings was publicly censured by the Colorado Supreme Court for making false statements in all of the cases, but the court declined to take more serious action. After all, other lawyers had submitted affidavits asserting that Dillings was of "good character."

RECREATION
Asked to name the "most unusual thing about yourself or unusual thing you have done," Colorado's contestant in last year's Miss Teen USA pageant replied, "I'm a champion burper." But when it came to filling leisure hours, that was just one of the many pastimes available to locals.

Nederland resident Trygve Bauge spent his free time caring for the frozen bodies of his grandfather and another man--at least until federal authorities deported him. Seventy-three-year-old "Mountain Bob" Leasure enjoyed spending time in mine shafts--so much so that he spent 227 days in the Isabelle Mine west of Canon City in an attempt to break the world record for living underground. Upon emerging, Mountain Bob was informed that a cave-sitter in Yugoslavia had spent 463 days below the earth--a feat that, much to his chagrin, the Guinness Book of World Records hadn't yet gotten around to mentioning.

Eleven-year-old Stefanie Watkins of Colorado Springs was named Rocky Mountain regional bubble-gum champ after a hotly contested blowoff. "I want her to slow down and think about what she's doing," said the champ's mother as Stefanie headed off to the nationals. "When she thinks about it, she can make a bubble as big as Colorado Springs."

A family of raccoons living in the rafters at Mile High Stadium got popped after they urinated on the heads of a father and son attending a Colorado Rockies game. The raccoons were escorted out, presumably for violating the Rockies' strict policy against unsportsmanlike conduct in the stands, but the Rockies let fly on fans themselves by going on strike, stiffing patrons who had made the franchise the most successful expansion team in major-league history and splashing any chance to say farewell to venerable old Mile High--built originally for the minor-league Denver Bears, not the Denver Broncos--as a home for baseball. Rockies pitcher Marvin Freeman seemed to sum up the players' attitude toward the ticket-buying public when he appeared as one of the Post's "Hot Rocks to Watch." Photographed playing a violin--after all, gushed the paper, the lanky hurler "won't play second fiddle to anyone"--he surreptitiously raised his middle fretting finger, giving readers the bird and reportedly causing Post executives to flip out.

Of course, the city--and especially Denver City Council--still had its beloved Broncos and Nuggets. Councilmembers Cathy Reynolds, Tim Sandos, Joyce Foster and Debbie Ortega were so enthusiastic about John Elway and company that they accepted an airport concessionaire's offer to chauffeur them from an airport convention in Toronto to a Broncos-Bills game in nearby Buffalo. Also whistled for questionable procedure were Ortega and Councilwoman Mary DeGroot, as well as mayor's spokesman Briggs Gamblin, who chose to spend the evening enjoying a night of theater in Toronto--compliments of another airport concessionaire.

Mayor Wellington Webb, a former roundball prodigy at the state's junior college in Sterling, continued to be the city's number-one Nuggets booster. In fact, the mayor hooped it up so hard in the House of Mutombo one night last winter that he slept right through his wake-up call for an appearance on Good Morning America and was canned from the show. On another night, hizzoner skipped a graduation ceremony for Denver's Knight Fundamental Academy due to what his aides described as "urgent airport business." One skeptical parent saw him on TV later that night--hovering courtside at the Nuggets game in Salt Lake City.

CULTURE
Colorado appeared to be under siege by movie actor Steven Seagal, who cut a wide swath while here to film his new chop-chop epic, Dark Territory. Seagal and crew got off to a roaring start when a train they were using in the film set off a series of wildfires near Golden. The actor later participated in an illegal elk hunt, during which he bagged a large bull elk northwest of Kremmling. His guide was arrested the next month; authorities cleared Seagal, who felled the elk with a high-powered rifle but apparently did not wreak any martial-arts vengeance on the animal.

The fur was also flying down at the University of Southern Colorado, whose "multicultural council" voted to relegate the school's "Indian" mascot to the happy hunting grounds. And Native Americans were restless out at Denver International Airport, where a group of tribal elders gathered to bless the ill-fated site in an attempt to appease what they feared were angry spirits who had infested the baggage system. A man calling himself "chief of the Southern Cheyenne Dog Soldiers" warned city officials that earth-movers may have crushed ancestral burial grounds while clearing dirt for the airport's runways. "Officials of Denver International Airport, listen to what the spirits are trying to tell you," he said.

The spirits apparently told actress Elaine Miles, the taciturn Marilyn of Northern Exposure fame, to get what she could for her bad self. Appearing at the Denver Indian Market, Miles reportedly charged $5 a pop for her autograph. The writing on the wall was even more expensive when the newly reconstructed Roseanne Arnold appeared at Southwest Plaza in March to sign copies of her autobiography My Lives, originally titled Kiss My Ass. Among the titillating revelations in the ex-Denverite's delicate memoirs: The pre-facelift Arnold used to pull tricks before her appearances in local comedy clubs in the Seventies, doling out sexual favors for dollars and lending new meaning to the term "stand-up routine."

The hottest pop-music squabble of the year erupted when local songwriter Crystal Cartier accused boy wonder Michael Jackson of plagiarizing her song "Dangerous" not long after he ripped off Diana Ross's face. The plump Cartier appeared in a skin-tight leather dress that prompted the judge to insist she go cover herself, and a Hollywood sound engineer flew in to testify that Jackson insisted on recording the vocal track for his version of "Dangerous" in the dark and suffered a concussion when a seven-foot sound baffle fell on his head while the lights were out. But a jury still told Cartier to beat it.

Jackson caused nary a ripple when he flew to Denver and snuck into the courtroom to testify. But craggy rock legend Mick Jagger was front and center when the Rolling Stones blew into town, hosting an afternoon reception at the Westin Hotel Tabor Center in an attempt to drum up trade between Colorado and the U.K. After being presented with a bolo tie by Denver Buffalo Company owner Will McFarland, Jagger had to get lessons on how to wear it. He could have asked Ken Whitney, a trustee at the University of Northern Colorado who was measured for a noose himself after writing a magazine article in which he opined that "Denver ghetto natives" who had a hard time fitting in with the Agro-Americans in Greeley might be more comfortable at an urban refuge like Metro State College.

A Jewish couple in Evergreen filed a civil suit against their neighbors, claiming, among other things, that the folks next door had plotted by cellular phone to paint an oven door on the front door to their house. But Denver rabbi Stanley Wagner remained hopeful that younger Americans could learn the lessons of history. While discussing the Pepsi Generation's renewed interest in the Holocaust in the wake of Steven Spielberg's commercially popular film Schindler's List, Wagner noted that 1.5 million children were killed in the Holocaust. Said the rabbi, "That's something young people can relate to."

end of part 1

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