I worked very hard as Lt. Governor and before as Senate Minority Leader to expand the telecom infrastructure with broadband to support use of the internet and free communication, the exact kind of communication you are reading right now by looking at this blog.
But the ability to exchange ideas is just a tool. Like any tool it can be used constructively or destructively.
Recently I offered to fill a vacancy in House District 3 when our incumbent legislator resigned mid-term. I know it seems a little “nuts” (as Madeline Albright might say) but if you read my resume and think about the deep problems we face as a community right now you might understand why I might feel a need to respond to the call of these times by pursuing public service. (I wrote about this more specifically in my original letter to the members of the vacancy committee.)
It is critical to the quality of our lives as a community that we all do public service. Doing it in the legislature is a test of character unto itself. So it was ironic in a way that the bandwidth I fought so hard for became an instrument in hands of the worst kind of politics.
But, the only way to fight bad information is with good information, so allow me to use some of our own bandwidth to answer some of the charges that have been made against me.
1. CHARGE: At the first mention of my name in the media, a supporter of one of my opponents blogged that I was a Republican when I was Lt. Governor. He wrote that back then we could have a Governor from one party and a Lt. Governor from another (Gov. Romer, a Democrat, was Governor at the time). FACT: The Constitution did not provide for a Governor being from one party and Lt. Gov. from another. I was in fact appointed by Gov. Romer. I have been registered as a Democrat since Richard Nixon was President.
2. CHARGE: “I was from Big Oil.” FACT: I have never worked for a big oil company. I fought “big oil” when I was in the Senate because in my Senate District the County Commissioners were trying to protect surface owners from irresponsible gas operators. The fact is I have no oil and gas properties. My largest investment right now is in two solar companies: First Solar and Ascent Solar. (This is not a stock recommendation.)
3. CHARGE: I ran the Colorado Association of Commerce and Industry, which is the “toxic” operative of the Republican Party. FACT: CACI is the state Chamber of Commerce. While it is true that CACI had a reputation for endorsing only Republican candidates that was not so when I was there as CEO. For the first time CACI endorsed Democrats, and urban democrats at that, because believe it or not business interests in our community are not the enemy of democracy, or of Democrats. If Democrats want to draw the circle that small they are doomed to always be in the minority. Business provides opportunity for our citizens, it puts bread on the table and a roof over our heads; business organizations have promoted tax increases, bond initiatives and political support for the cultural amenities which distinguish our community. To paint business with the brush of “toxicity” is dangerously inappropriate. If we want to be dominant in Colorado politics we must be trusted by a broad majority of citizens and some of them own and run businesses.
4. CHARGE: “He is just passing through.” FACT: Well, I suppose this is true in that we are all just passing through. The question is what will we leave behind. I suppose the reference was meant to indicate that I somehow was a carpetbagger in this House District. I have lived here and owned my home here for 9 years, which is as long as this House District as presently composed has existed (the lines are redrawn by the legislature every 10 years). Before that I lived at 1390 Ash, also in Denver. I work in this District as well. I can walk to my place of work, the University of Denver, where I teach. I prefer to think that the author of “just passing thru” might grow to mean that we are all just passing thru and that while we are here we should see ourselves not a the center of the universe but as a small part of a community, a community that was here before us and will survive our life experience. In a real sense the only question is what we contribute to that community. Carl Sagan in the article I posted above says this so elegantly. Our choice is recognize the truth of our role or live with the illusion that we are separate and apart from everyone else; that our own career ambitions are more important than the damage done to the community in advancing those ambitions.
5. CHARGE: Sam is too conservative for Denver. He was fine as a Senator from the 6th District but here in Denver we are WAY more radical liberal democrats. FACT: I was elected to the Senate in 1990. Two years later I was elected Senate Minority Leader by my Senate Democrat Colleagues, most of whom were from Denver. We were a minority of 12 in a 35 person Senate when I was elected. Those Democratic Senators had watched me vote for two years before electing me as their leader. Many of them were pretty liberal. While I was minority leader we expanded the number of Dems in the Senate from 12 to 16 adding voices like Ed Perlmutter, Mike Feeley, and Paul Weissman. Dems were a minority but beginning for the first time in four decades to build a majority. We did not accomplish majority status by trying to be more radical (whatever that means) than one another. We became a majority because our opponents became too arrogant and radical.
There are two ways to bring people together and create social capital. The first is to say to the group “we are different than those people over there. They are bad people and we are good. They are a danger to us and we need to band together to destroy them.” This is a political tactic built on fear. It dehumanizes the “others” and thus justifies treating them in any way necessary to achieve our goals. It was skillfully used by the Nazis in the 30s, by McCarthy in the 50s and by W in more recent times. But it does matter how we treat others. It defines our character.
Just as powerful a method of bringing people together is to articulate core values which we share with those outside the group but which guide our decision making process and all of our actions.
The way we campaign is the way we will govern because we are defined by our actions. If someone is willing to mislead electors now that person will do it when elected, and will do the same to colleagues in the House. Our actions define us as a person and collectively define us as a community.
For too long we have said politics is a blood sport and anything goes. No, politics is how we work together as a community and we need to stop excusing a negative culture that rewards individual ambition and ignores the means deployed to affect that end.
Just as the internet is a tool for communication, the power of elected office is a tool. It can be used to promote one’s own career or to promote the best interest of the community.
I entrust the vacancy committee to see through any attacks, and work together with me to promote the best interests of the district, the state, and our nation in following the strong progressive leadership example of President Obama. I am convinced that we can do that starting right here in House District 3.