Why do I wake up some mornings and feel like I'm a bit player in the movie Bob Roberts, the political satire of a right-wing politician played by Tim Robbins? Maybe it's because I live in El Paso County, which is partially served by state Rep. Dave Schultheis, the conservative Republican who represents House District 22 in the state capitol.
Like Roberts, Schultheis presents a classic case of the ideologue legislator, tuning out the pressing needs of the day in order to enforce his dogmatic version of Old Testament life on the people of 21st-century Colorado. To get another glimpse of how this works, consider the following recent exchange between Schultheis and Diane Murray, owner of Colorado Avenue Veterinary Clinic. In early April, Murray sent a letter to Schultheis expressing her support of Senate Bill 48, which would make cruelty to animals a Class 6 Felony.
In a terse response, Schultheis honed in on the completely unrelated issue of abortion: "It is unfortunate that there is so much concern for animals ... over and above those of the unborn ... Why isn't it at least a class 6 felony for those who kill pre-born humans? I do not support a law that places the value of animals over those of humans."
Now, Senate Bill 48 contains no mention of the unborn, or the relative value of human versus animal life. What offends Schultheis is simply that someone could have concern about violence against animals before the issue of abortion is resolved in his ideological favor. Makes sense: Animals suffer for the sake of the unborn.
As for Schultheis' constituent, she was left feeling the bite of a politician's rabid dogma. "It is possible to have concern for more than one living thing," said Murray, herself three months pregnant. "[I] am capable of having concern for my pregnancy, my own animals, a stranger's animals, my friends' children, abused women, etc. Caring for animals and children is not mutually exclusive.
"It is obvious that Rep. Schultheis is incapable of separating issues," Murray subsequently wrote in a letter to the Indy. "He appears to be holding this specific issue hostage because of his conditional morality."
Schultheis' overarching concern for the unborn has not stopped him from pursuing other legislative agendas, however. This year, he has sponsored several bills that would make it harder to collect damages from contractors in disputes over home construction, easier to pack a pistol in public places, and easier for lawmakers to streamline regulations.
Of course, his most famous, and thankfully unsuccessful, proposal would have made it harder for married couples with children to get a divorce. The Children of Divorce Protection Act, as this bill was dubiously called, would have mandated a one-year waiting period and six hours of counseling before a divorce could be filed. It was the second year in a row that Schultheis pushed the measure, which was killed in committee in March.
The bill was another case study of what happens when religious ideology runs rampant over common sense. Just click on his Web site (
www.daveschultheis.com) for a sample of the goofy logic that pervades Schultheis' case for his divorce-delay bill.
As just one example, consider this oft-repeated fact: Some 80 percent of inmates in Colorado come from fatherless homes -- proof, says Schultheis, that divorce poses a huge cost to society. The problem is there's no indication that the parents of those inmates were ever even married. Further, what was the economic and legal status of those inmates' parents before they had children? I suspect not so good. Colorado prisons are not filled with middle-class kids whose doctor-lawyer parents "grew apart." But that's the reality pill that Schultheis would have us all swallow.
Like light near a black hole, logic bends in the presence of extreme ideology. It's why Schultheis, a conservative who supposedly touts limited government, feels justified in pushing his way into our private lives. It's what allows him to punish puppies in the name of the unborn. It's what allows some conservatives to blame 9/11 on the American Civil Liberties Union, or the John Walker Lindh phenomenon on liberal parenting.
Hey, and guess what? Did you hear that Lindh's parents are divorced? Just more proof that terminating a marriage must be the root of global terrorism.
Malcolm Howard will be contributing to Public Eye while Cara DeGette is on vacation. DeGette's column will return on April 25.