The tribal rituals of politics are something to behold in Colorado Springs, especially when Republicans are involved.
Case in point: Sallie Clark’s wing-ding Monday at the aptly-named Pikes Peak Center for the Performing Arts. More than 150 Republican luminaries showed up at 11:30 in the morning, summoned by Clark to either participate in or witness the formal announcement of her candidacy for a third term on the Board of County Commissioners.
Such announcements, especially by powerful elected officials such as Clark, follow a rigid and unvarying script.
1. Hundreds of yard signs are deployed in and around the building.
2. Music (in this case, the Dixie Q’s, featuring “toe-tappin’ live music.” They were actually pretty swell!)
3. Light refreshments (cheese, crackers, no alcohol).
4. The invitees assemble and greet one another.
5. The MC (former County Commissioner Jim Bensberg) strides to the podium, properly attired in a well-cut dark suit, and calls for silence.
6. The invocation, by community activist Jan Doran.
7. The Pledge of Allegiance. Once again, I fluffed the “under God” part, since it wasn’t inserted into the pledge until after I had recited it hundreds of times at Steele Elementary during the 1940s … no one noticed, I think.
8. The Star Spangled Banner, led by former County Treasurer Sandra Damron.
9. The introduction of elected officials, former elected officials, and various big shots.
10. Multiple big shots come to the podium (e.g., Sheriff Terry Maketa, Rep. Bob Gardner, District Attorney Dan May) and extol Clark’s virtues.
11. Clark comes to the podium, extols her own virtues at some length, invokes Republican icons (did I hear Ronald Reagan’s name?) and bêtes noir (Preble’s meadow jumping mouse), and finally announces her candidacy.
12. The room erupts in polite and apparently sincere applause.
13. We all scuttle out the door.
Everyone there knew that Clark would run — so why bother to come to such a staged event?
If you’re a Republican elected official or power broker, it’s a visible sign of loyalty, fealty or curiosity. You’re there to show support, to work the room, to gauge whether Clark’s maneuvering to gain a third term has damaged her prospects, and to see who’s there … and, more significantly, who wasn’t there.
The soft-spoken Clark, whose effect is that of the nicest popular girl in anybody's high school, doesn’t seem like a ruthless, take no prisoners politician — but, as Douglas Bruce found out when he joined the commissioners, appearances can be deceptive. Clark knows how to gain power, how to use power, and how to work the system to benefit her constituents. If James Brown was the hardest-working man in show business, the Lady in Red (Clark’s preferred color) is the hardest-working pol in Colorado Springs.
Don’t believe me? Go to any public meeting where the interests of El Paso County are in play, and she’ll be there — and if she’s not, it’s because she’s at another meeting.
But veteran politicians make enemies, and an influential minority within the local GOP would like to get rid of her. Clark’s adversaries include two of her commissioner colleagues, Peggy Littleton and Darryl Glenn, who would love to replace her with someone of their choosing, thereby altering the balance of power on the commission.
Will the insurgents manage to topple Clark? If the size and composition of the crowd at the Pikes Peak Center is any indicator, probably not. Darryl and Peggy had best resign themselves to another stay in political limbo, forever on the wrong side of 3-2 votes.
And if they want to know how much fun that is, just ask Douglas Bruce.