In politics, alpha males and alpha females are respected, feared and often loathed. It's fun to gloat over the spectacular fall of former El Paso County Sheriff Terry Maketa and to shake one's head in dismay at the multiple grand jury indictments handed down last week (Kidnapping? Extortion? Witness tampering? False imprisonment?).
But while we revel in schadenfreude, let's give some credit to the man who not long ago was the Pikes Peak region's most powerful Republican.
First, ignore the standard GOP narrative, something like this: "We were shocked, shocked to find out about the Sheriff's possible criminal actions! We had no idea — there were some rumors floating around, but nothing substantive. We're appalled at his breach of faith, and believe he should apologize / resign / confess / leave town / go to jail (choose one or all)."
Once the Big Dog is down and crippled, the anklebiters go after him. Consider County Commissioner Peggy Littleton, the first county elected official to call for Maketa's resignation last year. It wasn't exactly a "more in sorrow than anger" move: Sure of the support of the BOCC's ruling majority when pushing for a 2012 public safety sales tax, Maketa attacked Littleton and her colleague Darryl Glenn for opposing it.
As the Indy reported in October 2012:
"All I'm asking for is that we support those who go out and protect us. ... These are core essential functions of government that those commissioners are obligated to uphold. If they're not going to do their job, and follow the law, and live up to the oath they took, they should not be in office. I demand they resign right now, and we appoint somebody that will."
Littleton and Glenn slunked off in disarray as Maketa's tax passed easily, although opposed by Colorado Springs Mayor Steve Bach. That election confirmed Maketa's status as the GOP capo di tutti capi, despite Pam Zubeck's March 11, 2010, Indy cover story about goings-on in the Sheriff's Office. From that story, six years ago:
"A detective brandished a gun at lawmen and landed in jail on $300,000 bond but is still working for the sheriff. A budget analyst received a 49 percent pay raise within five months of being hired, thanks to being promoted into a job outside normal hiring procedures. One dispatcher posed nude on multiple occasions, played an 'intentionally embarrassing' prank that resulted in an Internal Affairs reprimand, and sent hundreds of personal messages over the sheriff's dispatch network — then got promoted, herself."
Maketa shrugged it off, as did his cowed colleagues and GOP co-religionists. Nobody wanted to fight with the local GOP's iron-fisted golden boy, the man who would soon ascend to the House, the Senate or even the governor's office.
"Terry and I sort of grew up together in Colorado Springs politics," said one longtime acquaintance. "I always saw him as someone who always thought of the public good, and made that his first priority. Sure, he's a tough guy — but the Sheriff's Office is a command-and-control environment. It's not a place where you succeed by being weak and indecisive."
As a former elected city official, I respected that strength. Your top cop had better be a tough guy, as I learned while serving with a couple of notably tough mofos, Jim Munger and Lorne Kramer.
If you weren't on the sheriff's hit list, Maketa could be surprisingly non-ideological. I once suggested that he put jail inmates to work on a county marijuana grow, and pay them in product.
"If we could do it, that might not be a bad idea," said Maketa with an amused smile. "It'd sure make the jail a lot easier to manage."
At every level, politics is a rough, nasty game, especially if you do stupid stuff. "Zipper malfunctions" (to use military slang for fooling around) can take you down, as can overt favoritism and crude bullying. Maketa was guilty of all three, and he may have crossed the line and broken laws. If so, he may find himself in Douglas Bruce territory, learning what it is to be an inmate instead of a jailer.
But take a look at their booking photos. His alleged co-conspirators, former Commander Juan San Augustin and former Undersheriff Paula Presley, look terrified and beaten down.
Maketa? He's calm and watchful, unafraid and unreadable.
Still the tough guy.