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March of the neocons


The only Republicans we can pretty safely eliminate from a possible bid for Joel Hefley's open seat in the United States Congress are Wayne Williams and Charles Wingate.

The latter, our former city councilman and pizza aficionado, was a day late but finally showed up to the pokey last Saturday, ready to serve his 30-day sentence for not completing community service tied to his 2003 guilty plea to embezzlement of public money. When he arrived at the Criminal Justice Center at 5:43 p.m., Wingate had an explanation for his tardiness: He thought he was having a heart attack.

OK, so Wingate's out. We also can scratch Williams from the list. On Monday, it seemed, every former, current and future Republican officeholder except for Wingate showed up for Williams' announcement that he's not running for Congress. Instead, Williams has vowed to serve four more years as a county commissioner.

And no one can blame Williams for this decision. Who would want to go off to Washington when the other option is to work in close proximity to guys like Douglas Bruce and Jim Bensberg?

Last week, Hefley ended months of speculation by announcing that, at age 70 with 20 of those years spent in Congress he is hanging up his spurs. For people who live to speculate on politics as bloodsport, this event is considered to be the most exciting thing since Hefley told everyone he planned to leave after three terms in office which was 14 years ago.

The will-he-or-won't-he Hefley Watch began several months ago, when the retirement rumor began to circulate. Former El Paso County Sheriff John Anderson decided not to wait around, and was the first to enter the race, with or without Hefley. This action scandalized power players in the local GOP; how dare anyone run against a revered incumbent whose presence in Congress is vital to the future of a free America? Without Hefley, they said, Fort Carson certainly will be closed, Colorado Springs will be taken over by a plague of locusts; we are doomed.

So it's a bit interesting how, for the past week, we haven't heard one plea for Hefley to stay put and save us. Until now.

Get ready for the march of the neocons, as each scrambles to convince us that he or she alone is the greatest enemy of government pork since, well, Hefley.

As far as abortion, marriage and gays and lesbians, expect this year's batch of candidates to be far more stridently conservative than Hefley ever was. After all, Focus on the Family wasn't here when Hefley first was elected; the Grand Old Party has taken a hard right since those halcyon days.

Which brings us to Jeff Crank, who until just a few weeks ago, worked for the Chamber of Commerce. Crank also is Hefley's former chief of staff, and still is tight with the congressman, so much so that he named his own son Joel and learned about his former boss' retirement even before Hefley's staff did. This week, Crank fielded reporters' questions with ease, rattling off his "smaller government, lower taxes, balanced budget" spiel, identifying AMTRAK subsidies and reductions to the National Endowment for the Arts as "pork spending" that could be whacked.

Never having held public office, Crank has been considered a bit of a long shot. But this week, he rolled out heavy-hitter endorsements from Focus on the Family president Jim Daly, New Life Church associate pastor Rob Brendle, Kyle Fisk of the National Association of Evangelicals, and developer Steve Schuck.

Still, don't discount state Sen. Doug Lamborn, also in the race with the proud boast that he has sponsored more anti-abortion bills than anyone else in the Legislature. Lamborn has his own collection of endorsements including those from another Focus on the Family exec, Tom Minnery, as well as Congresswoman Marilyn Musgrave.

Extraordinary, isn't it, that with the exception of Schuck, the most powerful names in town to be thrown around belong to the evangelical Christian right?

Note to Rep. Hefley: Please don't go! All is forgiven.

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