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Public Eye


Colorado Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell has been really, really busy over the past month. First he drove Colorado's Millennium Christmas tree to the Capitol in Washington and this week he announced his pivotal role in, get this, getting the tree returned to Woodland Park.

"I am proud to have had the opportunity to drive the tree to Washington and to have played a part in bringing it back," the Republican senator said in a prepared statement.

In December, Campbell basked in the national media spotlight when he donned a baseball cap and jumped into a big rig to haul the 65-foot tree from where it was chopped down west of Colorado Springs to the nation's capitol, where it was covered with lights. House Speaker Dennis Hastert likened the tree as symbolic of what could lead to bipartisanship in the Beltway.

Others weren't so enthralled.

In fact, some letter to the editor writers across the state chided Campbell for his publicity stunt, and suggested Colorado's senior senator should have better things to do with his time than driving a semi across the country and hamming for the camera.

Staff from Campbell's Washington and Denver offices subsequently sent out press releases detailing the senator's other work, which has included sponsoring legislation in Washington. Campbell, whose staff likes the press to note is currently the only serving senator with Native American ancestry, also makes jewelry and rides Harley Davidson motorcycles.

This week, Campbell announced that he will not be personally driving the used up and now-dead Millennium tree back to its home (the tree was cut down from the Pike National Forest near Woodland Park). However, Campbell accepted full credit for the successful negotiation of the return of the tree, and thanked Coors Brewery, which has donated a truck and driver, for its role in the tree's return. The senator hopes that the town of Woodland Park will preserve the tree for future generations by turning its remnants into park benches.

Colorado's other U.S. Senator, Wayne Allard, who was elected in 1998, previously worked as a veterinarian. It is unclear whether Allard has ever made or worn jewelry or has ridden a motorcycle.

This week, Allard's office did not issue a press release stating his position on the recycling of trees or whether he favors the Millennium tree's return to Colorado.

************************************************************ The Wall Street Journal reports that the Populist Tax Revolt of the past 20 years is giving way to the Revolt of the Parents.

Yes, the parents have beaten Douglas Bruce.

On Jan. 4, the country's foremost financial newspaper put Colorado at the leading edge for a growing willingness by parents to dig deeper into their pockets to pay for public education.

Bruce, the Colorado Springs landlord and author of the statewide 1992 Taxpayer Bill of Rights, one of the most restrictive measures limiting government taxes and expenditures in the country, is surrendering, the Journal reports.

And, as he's done in the past, Bruce was quick to blame the voters for failing to see the brilliance of his ways.

"I've been at this for 12 years, but I'm hanging up the plow," Bruce told the Journal. "Voters are so unbelievably ungrateful, ignorant and able to be stampeded."

After his early success, Bruce's proposals have gone down in flames, including his latest bomb, the so-called TaxCut 2000. His personal efforts to win a seat in the state Senate have also failed.

Since Bruce's statewide TABOR initiative passed eight years ago, school spending in Colorado has been squeezed substantially. The state's own Student Finance Act of 1988, which was designed to equalize school funding statewide, has never been fully financed. Colorado has quickly dropped to the near bottom rank for public education funding -- one formula puts Colorado 49th, just behind Mississippi.

While they rejected Bruce's measure, voters approved Amendment 23, designed to force the state to keep its educational funds at the same rate as inflation.

Some Republicans joined Bruce in their opposition to Amendment 23, including state Treasurer Mike Coffman, Department of Corrections Director John Suthers and state Transportation Chief Tom Norton, who argued that education money would take away from prison funding and roads.

However, in an interesting twist, the Journal credited Republican Gov. Bill Owens for helping Amendment 23 pass. Though the governor officially opposed the measure, it did, after all, come on the heels of his education reform package from last year, which, the Journal surmised, made voters willing to pump money into schools.

Chalk one up for the parents.


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