Columns » City Sage

Bruce in the race: Say it ain't so

City Sage



The Dougster! Love him or despise him, his (excessively long?) political career has had two defining characteristics.

Douglas Bruce has been the most effective political activist in the long history of our state, and the least effective elected official in the recent history of Colorado Springs.

As an activist, he sold the Taxpayer's Bill of Rights initiative to Colorado voters in 1992, after trying and failing on two previous attempts. Written entirely by Bruce, the measure essentially ripped up the Colorado Constitution, and changed forever the state's governance model.

Whether that's a good thing or not is a matter of opinion. Conservatives love TABOR, liberals hate it, and the rest of us have mixed feelings.

Few disagree with the amendment's core, which gives voters the sole authority to approve tax increases — it's just the other stuff that Bruce piggybacked upon the amendment that gives us heartburn. The Dougster included subtly conceived revenue caps that were intended to shrink government, not just restrain politicians from raising taxes. Those provisions, ignored by voters in 1992, have had a far greater impact upon state and local governments than TABOR's core.

After TABOR, Bruce has suffered many defeats — and enjoyed a few victories. He's sponsored scores of state and local initiatives, most of which never reached the ballot. He's fought incessantly with the courts over interpreting/enforcing TABOR, and has rarely been out of the news.

Along the way, he has served as a county commissioner and in the Colorado State Legislature.

As a commissioner, he was combative, noisy, demanding and difficult. He was fond of grandstanding, once offering to buy a county-owned building for a million bucks to dissuade his colleagues from tearing it down to build a parking structure. He wouldn't shut up in meetings, often forcing Board Chair Sallie Clark to cut him short, a stern schoolteacher disciplining a disruptive, angry child.

Local elected officials such as those who serve City Council and the Board of County Commissioners work collaboratively, compromising when necessary, making deals with one another, and doing what they have to do to submerge their differences and govern.

That's not Bruce's style. As one of his former colleagues told me,

"Doug would actually come up with good ideas from time to time," he said. "But nobody would listen to him, because he's Doug, and he's a pain in the butt."

His brief tenure in the Legislature was even more disastrous. Used to a free ride from the Gazette, he may not have realized how badly his act would play at the Capitol. And when he kicked a news photographer who had somehow irritated him, game over! So widely disliked was he that Republicans and Democrats joined together in a rare bipartisan moment to censure him for his behavior.

He was the first legislator to be so 'honored' in Colorado history.

And now he's running for a seat on the Colorado Springs City Council.

That's good news for common sense.

If he's elected, he'll just be a circus sideshow, a crazy old man ranting and raving about Memorial, SDS, PERA, Utilities, and everything else that he doesn't like. The new mayor and Bruce's colleagues on Council will move away from the lunatic right, and toward the sensible conservatism that has long characterized local government in the Pikes Peak Region. Bruce will make the news, and that'll be it.

Yet it's a little sad to see the once-fearsome old warrior become a caricature of himself, a toothless lion with a mighty roar and nothing to back it up.

He should have stayed out of this one, and not just because he may have legal battles to fight or decrepit rentals that he ought to fix up or tear down. He should have stayed out for the same reason that I stayed out of the race — because his time, as well as my time, is over.

We're figures from the past, Doug. We've had our time in the sun, and now it's time for others to sit at the Council dais. It's time for Sean Paige, for Lisa Czelatdko, for Brandy Williams, or whoever manages to get elected in April. The city needs new leadership, new ways of looking at government, and the sometimes-naïve enthusiasm of men and women who aren't bound by yesterday's angry fights.

It's time to go, Douglas ... so give it up, OK?

You could always write for the Constitutionalist.

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