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Dustbin of history



Politicians are fond of prattling about history, as in: "History will show that we were right," "Let history be the judge," "History will vindicate me/condemn them."Of course, history will pay absolutely no attention to most of 'em; the remaining 1 percent will be briefly mentioned in ponderous tomes that no one will read.

Most of our politicos will be deservedly forgotten, vanishing from our ken like the morning mist. Some, like Newt Gingrich, were so persistently obnoxious that, try as we may, it'll take us a few years to forget that they ever existed. Others achieve a kind of low fame, through scandal, sleazy political maneuvers or simple longevity (like Strom Thurmond).

But there are others, men and women who took their jobs seriously, and left a real legacy.

Ever hear, for example, of former Iowa Congressman Neal Smith? A few years back, Smith was contacted by preservationists who wanted to acquire 8,000 acres of farmland and re-create the aboriginal prairie. Half of the land was owned by a utility company, which, having abandoned plans to put a nuclear power plant on the site, was willing to sell. Most of his colleagues would have politely ignored such a loony scheme, but Smith took his constituents seriously; so seriously that he managed to get the federal government to put up $13 million to buy the land.

Today, the Neal Smith Prairie covers over 5,000 contiguous acres, has its own herds of elk and buffalo, functions as a bioreserve for hundreds of species of plants, insects and animals, and is successful beyond the dreams of its creators.

It's too bad that Colorado Springs has never been represented by a Neal Smith. Our local congressmen, from the days of J. Edgar Chenoweth in the '50s to the apparently interminable tenure of Joel Hefley in the here and now, have not been real interested in the "vision thing." They've obediently carried water for the growth and development boys; more business, more jobs, more guv'mint spending locally, less regulation, lower taxes.

And that's why, when Colorado Springs could have had the foreclosed and RTC-owned Banning-Lewis Ranch as open space for a pittance, our elected leaders didn't lift a finger to make it happen. And that's why we're going to have 20,000 acres of junk development out there, instead of the most spectacular eastern boundary of any city in the country.

So let's be grateful for our present City Council, which, much as it pains me to admit it, may be one of the most thoughtful and progressive elected bodies in the state.

Before the slumbering forces of the right rise in wrath and stuff their thoughtful butts into the dustbin of history, our guys and gals may have some actual achievements to brag about in their dotage, e.g.:

A linear park along Constitution Avenue.

Vastly expanded park dedication in the Banning-Lewis Ranch (6,000 acres seems about right).

A historic-preservation ordinance with teeth, not to mention a meaningful comprehensive plan.

A new hierarchy of values: people and neighborhoods first, cars and roads a distant second.

Is this real? Nah ... one of these days, we'll wake up to read about Mayor Will Perkins and Councilmember Chuck Baker, and as the old Beatles song goes, we'll be baaack ...

Back in the USSR.

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