Here's how a prominent Republican officeholder wryly described the unfolding scenario to me this week (after I promised him/her anonymity if he/she would buy me a drink at a quiet downtown bar):
"Owens is very astute, but he hasn't groomed a successor. It almost looks like he's supporting Democratic Attorney General Ken Salazar -- why else would he put him in charge of the unfolding Colorado University investigation? Talk about a win-win for Salazar -- he woulda been favored anyway, and now he'll just walk into the governorship in two years. And the Dems are gonna nominate Mark Udall for the Senate, and I don't know if any Republican can beat him. Bob Beauprez? That's a joke -- the guy's only been in Congress for a year, and he barely won his seat. If he runs, we'll lose the Senate and the House seat. So who are they gonna get? Tom Tancredo? Marilyn Musgrave? Mike Coffman? Joel Hefley? It'll have to be Scott McInnis, and no way can he beat Udall on the Front Range. This is just a disaster -- what is Owens doing, anyway? Does he think he's gonna be the Republican Howard Dean in 2008, and run for president, after he hands over Colorado to Udall and Salazar?"
So, I suggested, the two biggest dogs in the Colorado Republican Party have jumped the fence and headed for the tall grass, leaving no one to guard the gate.
"You got that right," my mole agreed, gazing mournfully at into an empty glass. " It's like we had a pit bull and a Rottweiler, and now we've got a bunch of goddamn Chihuahuas."
Meanwhile, down at City Hall, IT'S BAAAACK!!! Yes, the downtown convention center, first proposed decades ago, resoundingly defeated by public vote, is once again heading for the public trough.
A quick history lesson: This deal first surfaced three decades ago, when most of our current council members were still struggling with sixth-grade math. It was rejected then, as it has been every few years over the last quarter-century. The reality is simple: The voters of Colorado Springs have never supported a publicly funded convention center. Every politician, every developer, and every city official knows that, if put to a vote, the taxpayers wouldn't let Council spend a nickel on one.
So what do you do, if you're a downtown booster/elected official/self-interested developer who wants a convention center? You create a public funding package that Council can pass without the inconvenience and messiness of an actual, like, election. After all, you know the voters: ignorant, prejudiced, reflexively anti-tax. Best that we don't worry their pretty little heads with this complicated grown-up stuff.
Under the plan, the city would ante up $3.6 million annually, which would come from three different city revenue streams: downtown parking, the visitor-generated hotel room and car rental tax, and the city sales tax. Businesses currently get a small sales tax reduction just for doing their sales tax paperwork; under the plan, that money would go to the ConCen.
Of course, there are a few problems with this modest plan. The city is under court order to fix the Pikes Peak Highway, and that'll cost a million a year for the next decade. And that money will come from the self-same bed and car tax that the ConCen wants to tap. The district judge's orders, unlike voter mandates, are not pieces of paper that the city can merrily ignore ...
And speaking of ignoring voter mandates, what part of TABOR (the tax limitation amendment to the state Constitution) does everyone pretend to support? The right to vote on proposed tax/long-term debt increases, natch. Note that the county ($100 million for a new jail and courthouse) and the city ($750 million for a new raw water supply system), by structuring long-term debt to avoid a TABOR vote, are doing exactly what TABOR was designed to prevent.
"And don't think the voters haven't noticed," said my new drinking buddy, by now deep into a second drink. "You wait. Doug Bruce is gonna get the Republican nomination for [retiring] Tom Huffman's seat on the County Commission -- Margaret Radford and Bernie Herpin are gonna take each other out. Commissioner Bruce [expletive deleted]!"
With that, my new friend downed the drink and bolted. And as the door opened, I thought I heard, somewhere in the distance, the high-pitched yapping of a pack of Chihuahuas ...