Special Section » 10th Anniversary Issue

10 Cover Stories That Count

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Doug Bruce

The Boss of Colorado

by Cara DeGette

Aug. 24, 1994

Doug Bruce's 1992 TABOR amendment radically changed the way government can do business in Colorado. Like a whirling dervish, Bruce came out of nowhere, decimated order, and made headlines abusing and ridiculing every lawmaker standing in his way. Lawmakers and power brokers were left scratching their heads. Clearly he hated the government, but just who was this acerbic man?

The Independent flew to Bruce's hometown of Los Angeles to find out. The son of two public school teachers had spent six apparently undistinguished years working for the government as a deputy district attorney. He left the job in 1979 and became a landlord.

Two years later, the then-longtime Democrat lost a bid for the California State Assembly, during which he constantly berated and denigrated his opponents. Two years after that, the Internal Revenue Service challenged Bruce's attempt to claim as business expenses costs related to housing and feeding himself, his girlfriend and her dog. Bruce sued and lost.

Fed up with permissive California, Bruce had had enough. He bought five properties in Colorado Springs and apparently never looked back. One former neighbor, Moushin Jones, noted that Bruce "felt that California women were too liberated and too spoiled. He would say he wanted to find the right girl to be obedient, and I told him he'd better move to Japan, not the middle of America."

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A decade after making history here, all of Bruce's post-TABOR anti-government initiatives have failed. He has lost two nasty campaigns -- as a Republican this time -- trying to win elective office in Colorado. He is still single.

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Over the Rainbow

Tebedo flies away from Colorado for Family Values

by Cara DeGette

Nov. 8, 1995

When Kevin Tebedo announced he was abruptly stepping down as the director of Colorado for Family Values, many were stunned.

Tebedo had risen to national prominence as the head of the group that sponsored Colorado's Amendment 2, a law that voters approved in 1992 to restrict gays and lesbians from seeking legal protections. (The amendment was declared unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court three years later.)

As CFV's chief spokesman, Tebedo had created a cottage industry of sorts, using his organization to teach other groups how to replicate anti-gay laws in other states. He was a graduate of the elite Republican Leadership Program, and had made no secret of his future plans to run for office.

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But in the months leading up to his sudden departure, Tebedo embraced another cause: the anti-government Patriot Movement. And many moderate Republican leaders were expressing revulsion over Tebedo's affiliation with the unsavory fringe group.

At the time, the anti-government phenomenon was sweeping the country. Members varied widely in their approach and stridency. Some espoused white separatist and anti-Semitic viewpoints; others denounced that brand of hate. Some were content to join the Christian Coalition or the National Rifle Association.

Some, including Tebedo's sister Linda Tebedo, rejected the federal government as nothing more than a "corporation." Believing they were not bound to the laws of government, they refused to pay income tax, register their cars or display state-issued license plates.

Their activities frustrated local cops and government officials, who hoped that the rebels would not turn violent, as other anti-government agitators have in other parts of the country.

Tebedo now owns a local roofing company.

Five months after this story appeared, anti-government terrorist Timothy McVeigh blew up the Alfred P. Murrah building in Oklahoma City, killing 168.

This week, Tebedo's former brother-in-law, James Cleaver, was convicted in Denver federal court for torching the Colorado Springs office of the Internal Revenue Service in 1997, the costliest fire in the city's history.

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Focus

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James Dobson's politicking blurs the line between God and government

by Cara DeGette

Feb. 7, 1996 and Nov. 13, 1996

In 1995, Focus on the Family President James Dobson issued a naked threat to Republican political candidates to either adopt his unyielding stand against abortion, homosexuality and other social issues or face virtual Armageddon.

By the following year, Dobson -- whose Colorado Springs-based ministry had grown to a $110 million operation reaching 5 million radio listeners every day -- had adopted a new role as Republican kingmaker.

"We've been at the back of the bus for too long," Dobson wrote to then-House Speaker Newt Gingrich, drawing a line in the sand. "It is time for us to either seek accommodation with conservative politicians -- or else find new leaders to represent us."

Dobson's efforts to shake up the Grand Old Party brought results -- and placed him at the forefront of national politics. That year every serious Republican candidate running for president made the pilgrimage to Colorado Springs to kiss the ring of the man who the year before had termed an unprecedented U.N. World Conference in Beijing "Satan's trump card" and the biggest threat to the family in the history of the world.

But by the end of the election cycle in November, an increasing number of evangelical Christians, including many Focus on the Family employees, were beginning to complain about the direction that the ministry was headed with its increased political involvement. As a nonprofit ministry, Focus is prohibited by the IRS from taking stands for or against individual political candidates.

Even the Moody Bible Institute -- considered an anchor of the traditionalist evangelical movement in America -- became alarmed over Dobson's stepped up call for political action, and threatened to cancel his daily shows from Christian radio stations across the country.

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"Nowhere in Scripture is it taught that political activism and humanistic-type counseling are a part of faith," said one Focus employee. "The Bible is clear. We are to obey, not fight, government unless government forbids Christians to obey Scriptural instruction."

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Father Superior

Promise Keepers glorify God -- and resurrect the patriarchy

by Cate Terwilliger

June 26, 1996

In June of 1996, the Independent sent staff reporter Cate Terwilliger to the Denver rally of the burgeoning Christian men's movement, Promise Keepers.

Disguised as a man, Terwilliger mingled with some 50,000 Christian soldiers, absorbing the rallying cry of leader/former football coach Bill McCartney and the admonitions of fatherhood expert Dennis Rainey.

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"It's up to us, as the protectors and providers of our family, to rescue our children from a culture that would drown them in tolerance and lack of absolutes," said Rainey. Noting that Rainey "interviewed" his daughter's dates, but didn't extend the same level of "protection" to his son, Terwilliger continued her account of Rainey's rant:

"I am sick and tired of career being exalted over motherhood," Rainey thunders. "It's time to exalt the high and holy privilege of being a mother. It may not be politically correct, but it is Biblically correct."

At this, my brothers erupt in cheers. Beneath my ball cap and Ace bandage and smudge-proof eyebrows, I am separated from them now by a vast expanse: the one wall they are building up, not breaking down.

The piece elicited passionate responses from letter writers, including 16-year-old Courtney Martin who wrote the following week in an open letter to "any Promise Keeper."

"How dare you tarnish my hopeful future by preaching outdated and ignorant ideals of male superiority," said Martin. "By prancing around talking about me as a 'weaker vessel' you are taking hundreds of years of forced change by my mother, my grandmother, and my great-grandmothers and disrespecting them. ... Your group will never survive, because the world is better than that now. The human race, with the exception of your ludicrous society, has learned from its mistakes."

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Drink Up, Kids!

Readin', writin' and pushin' Coke

by Cara DeGette

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Nov. 25, 1998

If you haven't lately, walk into your neighborhood public school and take a gander at the variety of choices that Generation Next is making every day.

In School District 11, buses are littered with corporate advertisements; soda pop machines are lined up alongside lockers. At lunchtime, students shell out a few bucks for in-house fast-food options, including Little Caesar's pizza and Wendy's hamburgers.

Welcome to the scene of the newest battle to decide how to influence the minds of American children. Will it be calculus or Coca-Cola? History or US West Communications? French class or french fries?

District 11, the city's largest public school district, is the national leader in such efforts to aggressively pursue corporate contracts to raise money in an era of underfunded education. And D-11 administrators are delighted by their efforts to sign contracts with dozens of companies, allowing them access into the classroom. Corporations not only sell their products in schools, but they provide everything from school calendars (with their logos prominently displayed) to curriculum ideas, which have incorporated specific products like Tootsie Rolls and Prego spaghetti sauce into classroom assignments.

In fact, D-11 administrators were so zealous in pushing Coke products that on Sept. 23, the district's director of student leadership sent a letter to principals advising them to move pop machines closer to where kids could get them, and let the students drink Coke in class.

"Location, location, location is the Key," Bushey noted in true market-savvy fashion. He signed off the letter as "The Coke Dude."

But as children are being subjected to more and more advertising for products that are often laden with fat and sugar and addictive caffeine, many are beginning to wonder what has happened to the institution of basic learning. And some have come to question the psychological and health impacts of blitzing youngsters with the kind of corporate advertising that can hook impressionable consumers for life.

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The Gazette

Cara DeGette takes a dose of civic journalism from Doctor Feelgood

by Cara DeGette

Feb. 25, 1999

Imagine your daily newspaper not as a purveyor of news but a petri dish of scientific experiments. Read the Gazette, whose circulation decreased amid the biggest growth boom in this city's history. Learn how ex-Editor Steven A. Smith and former Publisher Chris Anderson purged the newsroom of expensive longtime dedicated staffers who took away with them decades of institutional and community knowledge (and beefed up the corporate bottom line).

Smith and Anderson's experiment brought in a bunch of non-journalist consultants who wanted the staff to play with Legos and embrace their version of "community journalism," a hot concept of the late-1990s designed to make reporters "shareholders" of the community, rather than objectively reporting the news.

In some cities, community journalism produced take-action results, such as in Charlotte, N.C., where the newspaper reported crime through the eyes of the neighborhoods where they are being committed.

Here in Colorado Springs, the Gazette's version of "community journalism" was barely readable blather, including the long-abandoned weekly section called "Our Town," which focused on a different neighborhood each week. Sometimes, "Our Town" featured the harder-to-pigeonhole, like "the elderly and alone," "bowlers" and "religious communities."

In spite of the mandate to shape the news with a contrived, positive twist, frustrated reporters reported little understanding of what they were actually supposed to be doing. "You couldn't put the huge civic spin on things like traffic accidents," said one former reporter. "Sometimes you just have to break and run [with a story], especially on deadline. It was frustrating at times."

Kerby Guerra's parents, Larry and Donna Guerra.
  • Kerby Guerra's parents, Larry and Donna Guerra.

Most reporters -- even after they had departed -- were loath to go on record with their names used. "They're a mean nasty bunch of people running one of the most ruthless corporations in America," said one former reporter of the Orange County, Calif.-based media company that owns the Gazette. "Morale there has never been above rock bottom."

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Bound

ACLU challenges county's use of the Restrainer

by Cara DeGette

May 20, 1999

On May 7, 1998, Michael Lewis, 53, died in the custody of the El Paso County sheriff. Since his death, 13 more prisoners have died or committed suicide in El Paso County's jails.

Lewis died shortly after he had been strapped face down for the second time in a day on "the Restrainer," a 7-by-4-foot wooden board designed to completely immobilize prisoners.

The controversial restraining device was supposed to incapacitate out-of-control and suicidal prisoners -- never to discipline them. But a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado claimed that the device was being used far too often, and without proper medical supervision. In addition, the lawsuit alleged, deputies had strapped down prisoners for up to 12 hours at a time, and they were forced to urinate and defecate on themselves while their jailers ridiculed and mocked them.

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"That more than anything was degrading, inhumane, malicious and cruel," said Mark Silverstein, legal director of the Colorado ACLU. The civil rights organization had documented numerous, often similar stories of abuse from inmates who had been strapped to the Restrainer.

Since the $600 restraining boards were introduced in 1994, jailers used them 450 times until a moratorium was called in 1998 that briefly halted the practice. By contrast, the Denver County Jail -- which has one-third more inmates than El County -- reported using its restraint boards only 10 times a year.

Sheriff John Wesley Anderson denied that the restraint board had been misused, though he did change the jail's policy on restraints -- addressing many of the same concerns that had been raised by the ACLU.

Meanwhile, the board use raised the red flag for Amnesty International, whose director of the Americas Regional Program Javier Zuniga, sent a letter of concern to Sheriff Anderson. In his correspondence, Zuniga underscored the fact that while Americans often express outrage toward other countries where human rights abuses occur, they sometimes ignore what is happening in their own back yards.

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No Way Out

When a child reports abuse at school, then kills herself, what is the school's responsibility? The parents of Kerby Casey Guerra want to know.

by Kathryn Eastburn

Sept. 16, 1999

William Burke and his daughter Amber from "There Goes the Neighborhood."
  • William Burke and his daughter Amber from "There Goes the Neighborhood."

Like many adolescents who are harassed by their classmates, Kerby Guerra kept it from her parents. Described by her mother and father as a "stickler for justice," Guerra was a girl who stood up for others when they were pushed aside, threatened, called "fatty," "loser" or "four-eyes."

In her diaries, Guerra, 13, complained about suffering at the hands of a group of Eagleview Middle School students she called the "populars." Guerra said she told the principal and her counselor about the harassment going on in the halls of Eagleview, but nothing changed and her tormentors continued to operate with little or no consequences.

On March 19, 1999, Kerby Casey Guerra killed herself with a deer rifle in a family member's home. In the months following her death, her parents, Larry and Donna Guerra, wrote Colorado Springs Mayor Mary Lou Makepeace, the governor of Colorado and the president of the United States, pleading their daughter's case. Eventually U.S. Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley got hold of the letter and ordered an investigation of Eagleview Middle School and Academy School District 20 by the department's Denver Office for Civil Rights.

"No Way Out" chronicled the events leading up to Guerra's suicide and the aftermath for her family, her friends and the school. The subject of harassment and bullying in the schools struck a chord with Independent readers and drew a flood of letters from parents and kids alike who had endured similar experiences.

Kerby Guerra's story was picked up by Education Week magazine and eventually became a chapter in a book on school bullying by education journalist Jessica Portner. The story was revisited by John Stossel of ABC's television magazine 20/20. Guerra's parents remain involved in efforts to reduce bullying in the halls of public schools.

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There Goes the Neighborhood

How a well-intentioned homeless shelter and a money-conscious public utility are killing downtown's last low-income neighborhood.

by Malcolm Howard

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Feb. 16, 2000

A few months before this story ran, staff reporter Malcolm Howard reported that residents of the working-class Mill Street neighborhood, just south of downtown, were being approached by a mystery buyer and asked to sell their homes.

The buyer, Howard speculated, was either a consortium of homeless service providers hoping to secure a site for a planned mega-homeless shelter, or Colorado Springs Utilities, planning to build a train track through the neighborhood.

"As it turns out," Howard reported, "both assertions were right."

The mystery buyer turned out to be the El Pomar Foundation, fronting a consortium of nonprofit homeless service providers who wanted to build a 50,000-square-foot homeless complex on land owned by the city utilities department. The Foundation would buy up houses to secure property for a day-care center for shelter children and families, and Colorado Springs Utilities, in exchange for providing land for the shelter, wanted help from El Pomar in securing neighborhood land for a long-desired rail spur. All told, the neighborhood faced the prospect of losing as many as 30 homes.

"How would El Pomar, the Red Cross and the city power company justify the dismantling of one of the city's oldest working-class neighborhoods in order to build a homeless shelter, day-care center and a rail spur?" asked Howard. "And why the shroud of secrecy?"

The story exposed the dilemma of neighborhood residents: If they stayed, the Montgomery Center homeless complex went up and the rail spur was built, their property values would plummet. But the money being offered to buy them out wouldn't buy even a condo anywhere else in town.

Howard further explored opposing opinions over the wisdom of consolidating all homeless services in one mega-center. The Montgomery Center plan eventually failed and the Mill Street neighborhood remained largely unchanged. But the problem of where and how to expand services for the community's growing homeless population still remains.

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Rocket Racket

Biff Baker blew the whistle on abuse in the U.S. missile-defense program. Then, he got fired for it.

by Terje Langeland

June 13, 2002

Biff Baker is a retired lieutenant colonel with the Army Space Command in Colorado Springs, who claimed that, after blowing the whistle on alleged fraud, waste and abuse in the national missile-defense program, he was fired from a military contract job.

Baker said that while working as a civilian inspector on the program, he had discovered that government contracts worth tens of millions of dollars had been awarded to SY Technology, a California-based defense contractor with offices in Colorado Springs, without competitive bidding. But when he brought his concerns to the attention of Pentagon brass, he was taken off the job.

The Independent's coverage of Baker and SY Technology was referenced by national and international news outlets --from the San Francisco Chronicle to Agence France-Presse -- when SY Technology's president, retired Army Gen. Jay Garner, subsequently was appointed by the Bush administration to head the reconstruction effort in Iraq following the U.S. invasion. Garner lasted only a few weeks in the Iraq job before he was replaced, mainly due to concerns about Iraqi unrest.

Garner and SY Technology, who have steadfastly denied Baker's accusations, sued Baker for defamation and libel. Baker eventually settled the lawsuit, saying he couldn't afford to defend himself. Since the settlement, Baker has said he can no longer discuss the case with the press.

Though several federal agencies initiated investigations into Baker's claims about fraud, waste and abuse, records obtained by the Independent indicate that none of the agencies fully examined his claims.

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