As the Rocky Mountain News pointed out this weekend, the ranks of Republican women in the Colorado Legislature has dwindled dramatically from just six years ago, and Senate President Joan Fitz-Gerald, a Democrat, is quoted saying she believes the Republican Party’s “march to the right” is to blame.
“Republican women who were more moderate didn’t stand a chance with the right-wing juggernaut,” she said. “That’s a sad commentary.”There is no better poster child for this performance than former state Rep. Marcy Morrison.
For eight years Morrison, a Rockefeller Republican, represented west-central El Paso County, usually voting with her party, but also with her conscience. For this, she was beaten up time and time again by what she called “rigid right” candidates who, at the GOP’s apparent urging, launched primaries against her.
Her last challenger was state Rep. Dave Schultheis, who attacked her viciously during the 1998 campaign. He lost the race, and even when Morrison was term limited two years later, Schultheis continued his attack, pummeling her during a floor speech at a Republican county assembly and inaccurately accusing her of routinely voting with Democrats.
“I was obviously not a pleased person when he got off the stage,” Morrison said at the time. “I went over and said ‘shame on you. As a religious man you profess to be, I think it’s shameful you lie about my record.’ I can tell you that 85 to 90 percent of the time I was pretty much a good Republican trooper.”
By then, Morrison was long used to the tactics employed by the right wing GOP machine that tried to defeat her time and time again.
In December, 1999, Morrison sent a letter to supporters announcing the next year’s legislative session would be her last. Back then she had been urged to run for the state Senate seat being vacated by Republican Sen. MaryAnne Tebedo, who was also term-limited. But, in a letter to supporters, she underscored the difficulties of constantly being challenged by the more conservative wing of her party.
“From a political viewpoint, my ride has been anything but typical or easy,” Morrison wrote. “Perhaps that has made it all the more special. In a partisan context, I have been elected six times — twice as a county commissioner and four times to the Legislature. In five of those six races, I faced intense, well-funded opposition from the powers that be within the local Republican Party … And I note with pride that in every instance I prevailed.
“I prevailed not by compromising myself, but by being myself. My style has been one of openness, candor, responsiveness and, even in this era of increasing political polarization, unapologetic moderation.”
Two years later, however, Morrison was back in the game after being cajoled for months by supporters to run for the Mayor of Manitou Springs, a city of colorful characters and moderate-to-progressive politics just west of Colorado Springs.
“I guess on the 12-step program for recovering politicians I probably reached step five,” Morrison joked at the time. “I was doing very well — I wasn’t going up to the Legislature except on business and I was feeling no pangs of regret, and then I fell off the wagon.”
She handily won that election, and has held the position since. This month, Colorado governor-elect Bill Ritter announced Morrison is helping to head up the local government committee as part of his transition team.
And, there is some talk of trying to recruit Morrison to again run for the state Legislature in 2008, when Democrat Michael Merrifield is term-limited. Whether Morrison’s Republican Party leaders will pay attention is another story.
Cara DeGette is a longtime editor and columnist at the Colorado Springs Independent.