Who has power in Colorado Springs? There are three kinds of political power: the power to effect change, the power to block change, and the power to forge common goals and work collectively to achieve them.
Our community tends to move slowly and uncertainly into the future, but move it does. Think of the trails and open space movement, the Pikes Peak Rural Transportation Authority, the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs and the preservation and rebirth of Old Colorado City. In each case, politicians, communities of interest and the traditional leadership class (TLC) came together for a common goal.
In recent years, the structure of power has changed. Long relationships between politicians and the TLC have evaporated. The old-school power players no longer call the shots; elected officials no longer pay attention.
Take Doug Lamborn (please!). He has represented us in Congress for eight years, but has little clout. He barely survived a primary challenge this year and could probably walk unrecognized down Tejon Street. That's OK — he's not there to lead. His job is to carry water for the business and military communities. He's a messenger, not a policymaker.
Or is he? Unlike his amiable predecessor Joel Hefley, Lamborn delights in making enemies, particularly Democratic enemies. Remember the "tar baby" remark? When he boycotted the State of the Union? He was playing by tea party rules, thereby endangering his district's economic interests.
Perhaps 40 percent of our local economy depends directly or indirectly upon the military. That means you don't piss off the commander-in-chief or his party. Do so, and you're treated like a hockey player who swings a stick at the other team's star forward. Sooner or later, their goon will take revenge.
The TLC put Hefley in office, but couldn't get Jeff Crank elected as his successor. Lamborn's antics may dismay the TLC, but they can't seem to do anything about it. In another era, Lamborn would have been taken to the woodshed and made to understand the facts of political life. If he continued on his course, he would have been stripped of business support and replaced. Instead, Bill Hybl and Steve Bartolin bowed to the inevitable and threw him a fundraiser at the Broadmoor.
Over at City Hall, the same dynamic is in play. The TLC put a million bucks into the successful effort to change the city's form of government, supported Steve Bach's candidacy, tossed Councilor Brandy Williams to the curb and backed Keith King's bid for that same Council seat.
But their own dogs jumped the fence and ran wild. King doesn't give a damn what Bill Hybl, David Jenkins, Steve Bartolin or Philip Anschutz wants — he's pursuing his own agenda, as are his four nominal myrmidons (Joel Miller, Andy Pico, Helen Collins and Don Knight).
Douglas Bruce was the most powerful change agent in Colorado history. He took an idea, wrote a constitutional amendment, called it the Taxpayer's Bill of Rights and got it passed in 1992. His determined crusade was sui generis, a black swan event. We can't expect that another similar individual will come along and single-handedly yank us, for better or worse, into the future.
Bach has tried. Securing state funding for City for Champions should have clinched the deal, but Bach and the TLC haven't been able to defang the opposition. And driven by choice and circumstance, Bach, like King, has become consumed by petty feuds spawned by the new form of government.
Effective exertion of political power is like group sex — awkward, faintly embarrassing and challenging boundaries. Success means all participants leave satisfied.
Members of the TLC are simply gatekeepers. In politics these days, you need folks like Richard Skorman, Mary Lou Makepeace and former Utilities boss Jim Phillips, subtle operators who could create win-win situations for all concerned. They're plow horses, not racehorses.
The city has been built upon the cooperative interaction of its citizens. That's why we have water and electricity, paved roads and streetlights, parks and open space, museums and office buildings, Tejon Street bars and churches, and every pleasant, leafy neighborhood in our fair city.
Want to move forward? Don't sit around and wait for today's politicians and the TLC to harness up and pull the plow.