Mr. TABOR, Douglas Bruce, Joins Republican Primary for Colorado's CD5 | Westword
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Douglas Bruce Joins Race for Colorado's 5th Congressional District — but His Reputation Precedes Him

Best known for creating the Taxpayer's Bill of Rights, his other claims to fame include kicking photographers and felony tax evasion.
For better or for worse, Douglas Bruce is a legend in Colorado politics.
For better or for worse, Douglas Bruce is a legend in Colorado politics. TBS via YouTube / Rocky Mountain News via Denver Public Library
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Douglas Bruce is back. One of Colorado's most notorious political personalities is aiming to return to elected office, and this time, he's shooting for Washington, D.C.

Rumors have swirled for weeks that Bruce could join the crowded field of candidates running to replace retiring U.S. Representative Doug Lamborn in Colorado's 5th Congressional District. But Bruce just made it official, telling Westword that he will petition onto the Republican primary ballot. He'll need to collect 1,500 signatures to make the June primary.

"America is under attack! We must act!" reads Bruce's campaign platform, which lists some of his top priorities as deporting "illegal aliens," stopping "genital mutilation," ending "COVID panic" and "respecting Presidents Ronald Reagan and Donald Trump."

Bruce joins more than a dozen candidates from four political parties vying for the congressional seat. In the Republican primary alone, he'll face off against an array of colorful characters, including conservative podcast host Jeff Crank, former Colorado State University football player Joshua Griffin, self-published biblical adventure and anti-porn author Cory Parella, and the controversially combative chair of the state Republican Party, Dave Williams.

But Bruce's history rivals that of even his most outlandish opponents. Westword has compiled a list of some of Bruce's top moments over his decades in Colorado headlines to introduce the uninitiated to the newest congressional hopeful.

Mr. TABOR

Bruce's biggest mark on Colorado — and the namesake of his custom Mr. TABOR license plate — is the Taxpayer's Bill of Rights. Bruce wrote the constitutional amendment that requires voter approval for tax increases and limits government spending, returning excess revenue generated to Colorado taxpayers. While Coloradans enjoy the refund checks and supporters tout TABOR as restricting government growth, opponents say it prevents adequate funding for needed services like transportation and education. The harshest critics say Bruce "ruined Colorado" with TABOR.

A California transplant who moved to Colorado in 1986, Bruce skyrocketed into the state's political spotlight through his push for TABOR. He'd already tried two times to pass the ballot measure when the third time proved a charm: Voters approved it in 1992 with 54 percent of the vote. TABOR is considered one of the most restrictive tax policies in the nation, and Colorado is the only state that has adopted it.

Elections and Enemies

In his first bid for elected office in Colorado, Bruce ran for the state Senate in the 1996 Republican primary against incumbent Senator Ray Powers. Bruce lost, but the race reportedly got so ugly that Bruce became the only person ever banned from Powers's ranch, where the Republican Party and its candidates frequently held fundraisers. Bruce ran for the Senate again in 2000 and lost in the primary to Ron May, whom Republican Governor Bill Owens supported. Bruce found personal success at the ballot box in 2004, when he was elected El Paso county commissioner.

Bruce finally reached the Colorado Legislature in 2008, when a vacancy committee appointed him to fill an opening in the House of Representatives. But he caused contention before he even stepped foot in the Capitol, refusing to take office until after the session began to bypass term-limit rules. Bruce delayed for over a month, to the outrage of his fellow legislators, so he'd be eligible to serve two more years down the line. As it turns out, he wouldn't use that extra time.
click to enlarge Douglas Bruce bows his head for the morning prayer on the House floor.
A photo of then-Representative Douglas Bruce taken by Rocky Mountain News photographer Javier Manzano — moments before Bruce kicked Manzano for snapping the shot without permission.
Rocky Mountain News via Denver Public Library

Kicking Photographer

On his very first day as a state representative, Bruce made national headlines for kicking a news photographer during the House's morning prayer. Bruce stomped on the photographer's knee while he was taking a photo of the legislator, chastising him for taking his photo without permission and threatening to report the photographer to his editor. Bruce refused to apologize. The Colorado House voted 62-1 to censure Bruce over his behavior — marking the first censure in the history of the legislature.

His combative reputation didn't ease up as the session continued. Bruce was later ordered to leave the podium for calling foreign farm workers “illiterate peasants" and was removed from his committee assignment after refusing to co-sponsor a resolution honoring military veterans. Bruce served in the House for less than eight months before losing his re-election bid, with political newcomer Mark Waller defeating him in the 2008 Republican primary.

Jail Time

The anti-tax advocate was arrested for felony tax evasion in 2011 after reporting no taxable income for years while he earned income as a county commissioner and earned interest from millions of dollars he'd put into his own charity. Declining opportunities to pay up and avoid a felony conviction, Bruce argued in court that he was being persecuted for his politics. Bruce was convicted of tax evasion, filing a false tax return and trying to influence a public servant. He served 104 days in jail but was sent back behind bars for six months in 2016 for violating his probation.

Between his stints in jail, a warrant was issued for Bruce's arrest over an alleged assault in 2015. Bruce had grabbed a woman's phone when she was recording him and Colorado Springs Councilwoman Helen Collins, questioning them about an ethics probe into whether Bruce had transferred a condo to Collins so it couldn't be used to pay thousands of dollars he owed the city. Collins was later censured by the council. Prosecutors declined to charge Bruce with assault.

Slumlord Accusations

Throughout his tumultuous political career, Bruce has made his living as a landlord. In October 2017, he owned around fifty properties in eleven states — and owed more than $120,000 in delinquent property taxes, liens and fines, according to a report by the Colorado Springs Gazette. For decades, critics have called Bruce a slumlord, holding vacant buildings for years as they deteriorate and attract vandals who spray graffiti, litter trash and set fires. Bruce has blamed city interference for his difficulties in fixing up the Denver-based properties. 

Bruce lost his most recent legal fight over his blighted Denver properties. In 2020, he sued the city for $7 million for seizing and selling two deteriorated pieces of property on which he held the first deed of trust. City officials said the property was a hot spot for illegal activity, including drug deals, prostitution and a murder in 2017. A federal judge in Denver threw out the case in 2021, and the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals did the same in 2023.

Loud Retirement

Far from the "quiet life" in retirement that Bruce told his parole board he would lead when released from prison, the political activist hasn't left the public's sight. In addition to being the focus of more personal lawsuits, Bruce has become a mainstay in policy debates, mostly regarding TABOR, everywhere from city councils to the state legislature. He was a particularly active voice of dissent for Proposition HH — a ballot measure to reduce property tax rates using TABOR surplus funds, which voters rejected in November. He even penned an opinion piece arguing against the proposition for the Denver Post.

This latest run for elected office shows that 74-year-old Bruce has no plans of slowing down. Though some question whether his controversial past will serve as a roadblock for his campaign, Bruce is far from the only candidate with a checkered reputation: Colorado's congressional races this year are filled with carpetbaggers, drunk drivers and election deniers. At the Republican Party's first 4th Congressional District debate, over half of the candidates raised their hands when asked if they'd ever been arrested.

Win or not, with his track record, Bruce fits right in.
click to enlarge Douglas Bruce mug shots from 2016.
Douglas Bruce mug shots from 2016.
Colorado Department of Corrections
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