As published in the Colorado Springs Independent, it is time today to have a conversation about Larry Liston and Ben Franklin.
Two men, separated by a couple hundred years and a chasm a mile wide when it comes to the concept of free expression and democracy.
Franklin, you see, believed that “No tyrannical society can long exist when it cannot control the flow of information.” Several years ago, Time magazine published an extensive special report about the founding father, listing what was termed “Citizen Ben’s Great Virtues.” They included an aversion to tyranny, a free press, humor, humility, idealism, compromise and tolerance for every religion.
Let us now consider Liston, a second term state representative from Colorado Springs. In the past, Liston has exhibited little compunction about engaging in behavior that ranges from the seemingly petty and childish to appearing to condone lawbreaking activities – all in the name of “fun.”Several years ago, for example, Liston was serving as vice chairman of Colorado’s Republican Party. In a direct violation of GOP bylaws, Liston decided to openly support one Republican who was running against another Republican. At a public event, Liston went around the room and confiscated, then threw away, the campaign brochures of the guy he didn’t like. A near fistfight broke out.
Ha ha. Liston seemed to think that was pretty amusing. His target, Republican candidate Bill Jambura, didn’t much appreciate Liston’s bit of fun.
On March 3, 2001, also while serving as the party’s vice chairman, Liston was photographed at a GOP fundraiser at Colorado Springs Country Club. From the stage, Liston wielded a long stick with a hook on the end, demonstrating how it can be used as a very effective technique to rip out opponents’ political yard signs. The device proves quite handy during what were termed “midnight commando raids,” during which one self-styled soldier drives slowly down a street while another hooks yard signs along the way.
Now, stealing or vandalizing yard signs is a misdemeanor, with penalties ranging from fines to jail time. So why would the vice chairman of the Colorado Republican Party condone such activities?
Liston subsequently insisted his display of yard sign ripping prowess was actually meant as a “spoof.” He was just “poking fun,” he said. Ha ha. That’s really funny. Except to the aforementioned Jambura, who, when he ran against Liston’s pal two years earlier, complained of dirty tricks, including his yard signs repeatedly being stolen and vandalized.
Liston ultimately became a lawmaker himself, representing a district in north-central Colorado Springs, in a seat that is as safe as he could ever hope for. When he won, we predicted that he would have just as much fun up in Denver, writing and passing legislation that affect all of us in Colorado.
As an elected official, sworn to uphold the Constitution, Liston indeed continues to treat the First Amendment as if it were some sort of Tonka toy truck that he gets to bulldoze through the political sandbox. In all these years, he has never faced serious scrutiny from much of the local press, and near-zilch coverage from larger news organizations. That’s apparently just the way he likes it.
Recently, Liston allegedly sent out an e-mail to a list of recipients, spelling out his latest efforts at censorship. His targets? The Colorado Springs Independent, as well as an online news organization, Colorado Confidential, and yours truly.
Specifically, Liston was lobbying folks to “help keep the Colorado newspapers’ legislative press corps free from overly liberal reporting on the House and Senate floors.”
Apparently Liston believes – incorrectly – that the Colorado Press Association can deny journalists access to the state Capitol, the public’s building -where he works. Liston is urging his supporters to contact the Colorado Press Association and tell them to withhold press credentials from some journalists, asserting that they have the right to keep people away from the public’s building.
In his e-mails, Liston incorrectly refers to me as the editor of coloradoconfidential.com, and the editor of the Colorado Springs Independent, the city’s second largest newspaper, which he described as “a very liberal, local, supposed newspaper.”
As a columnist for and contributing editor of the Independent, (which I helped found in 1993), and as a contributor to Colorado Confidential (which I helped launch last July), I went to the Capitol this week to ask Liston about his latest efforts to quash the free flow of ideas and information. I also wanted to ask this self-professed student of history what he thought Ben Franklin would think about such efforts to suppress free speech.
Liston pushed right past me, refusing to answer my question about his e-mail. “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” was the public servant’s curt response, before ducking into a room reserved only for lawmakers.
A far cry, indeed, from the articulations of a statesman like Ben Franklin: “A nation of well informed men who have been taught to know and prize the rights which God has given them cannot be enslaved. It is in the region of ignorance that tyranny begins.”
This column appears in this week’s Colorado Springs Independent. Click here to read more about Liston’s past anger over “malcontents, low lifes and thugs from the Democratic Party” who several years ago allegedly took down yard signs promoting George W. Bush and Pete Coors. And click here to read more as additional light was shed on that particular aforementioned incident.
Photo: Liston onstage at a GOP fundraiser at the Colorado Springs Country Club on Saturday, March 3, 2001. At the time, Liston was the vice chairman of the statewide Republican Party. The first shot shows Liston displaying a technique designed to rip out opponents’ political yard signs using a long stick with a hook on the end. Liston, who later termed the performance a “spoof,” received hearty applause from the crowd of about 150, according to eyewitness Bill Jambura.
Liston’s smoking gun (AKA the e-mail he sent out to an undisclosed number of recipients, obtained by the Independent):
Thank you for wanting to help keep the Colorado newspapers’ legislative press corps free from overly liberal reporting on the House and Senate Floors. As I mentioned to you, there may be an effort to have Ms. Cara DeGette (the editor of the very left-leaning blog Colorado Confidential) credentialed to be on the Floor at the Capitol. She is very active with her blogging activities through Colorado Confidential. She is also the editor of Colorado Springs’ The Independent, a very liberal, local, supposed newspaper.
If she is allowed unfettered access to the Capitol, she will bring a very biased viewpoint with her. In my opinion, she does not report the news, she manufactures the news she wants.
I hope you and other like-minded citizens will contact:
Ed Otte, Executive Director
Colorado Press Association
(contact information withheld)
and let him know that you hope the Colorado Press Association will not give her and other biased bloggers full press credentials on the Floor.
Your efforts, coming from citizens, will carry great weight and influence.
Thanks to you, and to others, for your help.
House District 16
Cara DeGette is a senior fellow at Colorado Confidential, and a columnist and contributing editor at the Colorado Springs Independent. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org