Some political experts have called Douglas Bruce the most successful politician in Colorado history.
Others have considerably less flattering names for him. Known as much for his abrasive personality as his tenacious petitioning and significant achievements in state and local law, the author of the Taxpayer's Bill of Rights must report Friday to Denver County Jail for a six-month sentence.
The latest chapter in Bruce's saga is the result of the tax-hater being caught cheating on his taxes. In addition to jail time, the 62-year-old will serve six years on tightly supervised probation, requiring him to disclose all his financial transactions, pay back taxes and interest, and refund the prosecution's court costs. If he violates probation, he faces more jail time.
The Independent has tracked Bruce through many of his ups and downs in Colorado Springs, and in doing so has put him on the cover of the paper at least a half-dozen times. Those images and stories provide snapshots of a career that's almost impossible to summarize (though we try, in a timeline attached to this story here). So at this turning point in Bruce's story, we decided to take a look back.
Aug. 24, 1994
Voters have approved Bruce's third TABOR question. But less than two years later, some governments are working on de-TABORing, and Bruce is becoming locally notorious for serial petitioning of the city and causing scenes at public meetings.
The Indy, then less than a year old, runs a "Who is this guy, anyway?" type of story. Among the topics: Bruce's schooling in Hollywood High School, his record as a lawyer, and his first failed political campaign — as a Democratic candidate for the California State Assembly in 1980. From the story:
Using the campaign slogan, "Specifics, Not Safe Generalities," Bruce promoted mass transit and smog emissions testing. He was in favor of publishing judges' sentencing records, toughening parole rules and limiting plea bargaining. He was vigorously opposed to mandatory busing.
Bruce lost that 1980 race to fellow Democrat Steven Afriat, who termed him "not a gracious loser." Bruce would not talk about the race, or about anything, with the Independent at the time.
Aug. 3, 2000
"Grudge match" looks at Bruce's primary competition with state Rep. Ron May for Senate District 10.
Bob Isaac, arguably the most influential politician in Colorado Springs, has refused to weigh in on the Doug Bruce/Ron May race.
Isaac, mayor of Colorado Springs for 18 years until he resigned in 1998, served on the Council with Ron May. And Isaac's fiery run-ins with Bruce — who relentlessly badgered the City Council over tax issues during the mid-1990s — are legendary. During one particularly venomous and memorable exchange, the mayor thundered at Bruce, "If you were a man, I'd take you out." Bruce responded by offering to pull down his pants for the mayor to prove his manhood."
Bruce gets attention during the race for following Republican Gov. Bill Owens, a noted enemy and May supporter, down a local street, shouting questions and dragging a little red wagon full of campaign materials behind him. But supported by "high-placed Republicans and stodgy business interests," May would eke out a victory later that week.
This issue also includes a story documenting Bruce's track record as a landlord locally.
Colorado Springs landlord Douglas Bruce owns 12 properties in El Paso County. County Assessor John Bass says every one of Bruce's properties is in such disrepair that the adjacent properties have been devalued between 25 and 50 percent.
Clearly, previous fines, community service and even about a week of jail time — for contempt of court during a 1995 trial over "maintaining an unsafe building" — incurred in Denver have done little to change Bruce's approach.
Dec. 28, 2006
Bruce, now a county commissioner, makes it into the Indy's "year in review" — no small feat, considering this is the year that New Life Church founder Ted Haggard self-implodes, Doug Lamborn ascends to the U.S. House of Representatives, and Westboro Baptist Church starts protesting at local military funerals.
The biggest loser in Colorado this year was not GOP gubernatorial candidate Bob Beauprez. No, that award goes to El Paso County Commissioner Douglas Bruce, whose efforts to dismantle the city of Colorado Springs otherwise known as proposals 200 and 201 went down in flames in November (csindy.com/csindy/2006-11-30/publiceye.html). The measures would have eliminated property taxes, whacked the city's 2-cent sales tax in half, and restricted the city's ability to borrow money, which undoubtedly would have resulted in a slashing of city services.
The piece also mentions that Bruce's Amendment 38, which would have made it easy to petition issues at all levels of government statewide, was soundly defeated.
March 8, 2007
Failed ballot measures aside, Bruce is obviously reveling in his authority as commissioner. Elected on a "never raise taxes" platform, he proudly calls Republican colleagues like Dennis Hisey "liberals" when they approve expenditures of which he disapproves. He's at the center of confrontations that compromise the "decorum" of the board, even likening Sallie Clark to The Wizard of Oz's Wicked Witch of the West.
Hisey admitted he's had difficulty deciding how to handle comments such as the most recent one Bruce made about Clark.
"When he comes up with those rapid one-liners like that, I vacillate between 'Do I call him on it and say this is not appropriate?' and take the chance of escalating it, or 'Do we just move on and try to take care of the business at hand?'" Hisey says.
He adds that he plans to approach Bruce about board decorum. Williams says such remarks have no place at commission meetings.
But Bruce offers Clark no apology for the Wicked Witch remark. He says he was grossly misunderstood.
"I thought that it was a funny statement," Bruce says. "Anyway, it was even funnier that nobody seemed to get it."
Bruce tells the Indy that he plans to run for re-election. But in December, he's appointed to an unexpected vacancy in state House District 15.
July 24, 2008
Heading into the Republican primary, the Indy (and virtually everyone else) calls Bruce out for his well-publicized transgressions at the Capitol, from kicking a Rocky Mountain News photographer to labeling immigrant farm workers "illiterate peasants" on the House floor. His intraparty challenge is coming from a little-known lawyer named Mark Waller.
To be totally honest, there are some reasons to respect Bruce: He's smart and crafty. He's devoted to his causes. He's incredibly knowledgeable about Colorado's constitution and laws. And he knows how to play to his political base of support.
Bruce's fatal flaw as a politician, though, is his strange combination of pure meanness and immeasurable ego. Not to mention his mastery at distorting the truth. He never works with anybody; they must try to coexist on his terms.
That prevents him from forging the friendships and alliances that are crucial — no, vital — to being an effective state representative in Denver and providing any kind of needed constituent services. Instead, Bruce already has alienated himself from both sides, rendering himself worthless at the Capitol.
Nearly every Republican leader in the county endorses Waller over Bruce, and in August, the newbie wins 52 percent of the vote. Bruce's bad year continues in November, with the failure of another pair of ballot measures numbered 200 and 201 — which would have made all payments to city enterprises voluntary, and established restrictions on money exchanges between the city and its enterprises.
Oct. 8, 2009
In the depths of the recession, and with the city budget looking bleak, Bruce is made cover boy thanks to his Measure 300. It promises to dismantle the city's controversial Stormwater Enterprise, a modest "fee" established to provide a stream of revenue for city infrastructure repairs. With little hope for Measure 2C — a slapdash city property-tax increase — potential passage of 300 looks ominous for city finances.
... the lack of trust in city leaders is palpable, and in fact it has metastasized in the form of Douglas Bruce's Measure 300. Bruce still appears to have followers convinced that a fractured city government — with closed parks and community centers, severely curtailed bus services and even reduced police and fire personnel — somehow is a good thing.
So it comes down to this: Will voters trust elected officials when they say, "Look, we've made all the cuts we can, and the next ones will be disastrous"? Or will more residents of Colorado Springs let their disdain for taxation come before the basic needs of any large community?
In the end, voters do not trust their elected officials — they approve 300, 55 percent to 45 percent. Given the antipathy locals allegedly have for Bruce, it's a shock.
And two and a half years later, it serves as a warning to anyone who thinks jail time is sure to mark the end of Bruce's political road. One never knows with try-try-again Bruce. He's been kicked down before, and he, uh, comes back kicking.