It all started with Al Franken calling Rush Limbaugh a Big Fat Idiot. Well not, really. Rush Limbaugh kind of started it first, with his penchant of terming anyone who even remotely disagrees with him repugnant, ugly, nasty names and sending them to the places where they prefer not to go.
Then there’s Ann Coulter, of course, the queen of the smear, who has advocated, for example, that when it comes to Muslims, “We should invade their countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity.”
And now we’ve got Colorado state Rep. Michael Merrifield , floating in the same kind of boat since penning this insulting claim: “There must be a special place in hell for these Privatizers, Charerizers (sic) and Voucherziers. They deserve it!” Specifically, he was referencing D-11 school board members Eric Christen and Sandy Shakes, who were in the middle of being recalled when Merrifield sent out his e-mail to Sen. Sue Windels. But hey, given the nastiness of the tenor, the floodgates have burst wide open.
And actually, what’s been missing, glaringly so, is the context. Merrifield sent the offensive e-mail three months ago, but it was recently obtained through an open records request, and posted last week on facethestate, a blog site whose writers are anonymous, but is owned by Brad Jones, a young GOP activist.
The fallout was fast and furious. The fourth-term Democrat from Colorado Springs, who is undergoing chemotherapy treatments for throat cancer, has stepped down as chairman of the House Education Committee for the remainder of the legislative session.
He cited his health as a partial factor in the decision. But his “special place in Hell” comment has enraged members of the Republican Party, particularly voucher and charter school proponents. It also enraged some members of his own Democratic Party, particularly supporters of charter schools like Rep. Terrance Carroll and Sen. Peter Groff.
Merrifield did not return a message this weekend seeking comment, but he has long taken strident and vocal positions on many issues issues, particularly a fierce opposition to charters and private school vouchers.
A portion of the e-mail seemed to support dismantling the state-sponsored Charter School Institute – and identified Rep. Carroll by name. “Am sure T. Carroll would freak, but who cares, if we’ve got the votes…” Merrifield confided in Windels.
Not surprisingly, Carroll didn’t seem to like the idea of being steamrolled. The Democrat from Denver was subsequently quoted saying,, in the Rocky Mountain News.: “What was a secret apparently is that he believes those of us who support charter schools all belong in hell.”
Actually, that might not really be the case. Merrifield’s “special place in Hell” comment, while vile, appeared later in the note to Windels. Merrifield had moved on to another topic altogether – and was specifically referencing former School District 11 board members Christen and Shakes, whom he called the “evil twins.”
This is the complete portion of what Merrifield had to say about the two in his e-mail: “Meantime, down here [in Colorado Springs], it looks as if our so-called board will vote to turn over Hunt (Elementary School) to (Cesar) Chavez for a charter before the evil twins are forced out by recall!! There must be a special place in hell for these Privatizers, Charerizers (sic) and Voucherziers. They deserve it!”
At the time Christen and Shakes were being recalled after a nasty three-year long episode during which Colorado Springs’ largest school district was a study in dysfunction – largely due to the missiles that were firing out of Christen’s bazooka, otherwise known as his mouth. (During her time in office, Shakes perfected her own style of verbal incineration.)
During his three-year stint on the board, before being recalled, Christen routinely accused his colleagues of being irrational, petty, shameless, out of control, buffoons – even pathological liars. At one board meeting, he hollered at Shakes, his on-again, off-again pal: “Your pettiness knows no bounds…. You are petty and shameless. You are not even a serious person.”
And speaking of e-mails, well, Christen proved to be the king of the poison pen: Here’s just one example, of many: In response to a colleague asking that board members refrain from personal attacks, Christen wrote the following:
“We all know how low you and your handlers will go with re: to gutter politics (I won’t even touch on your pathological episodes where in the space of two weeks you both hit me then accused me of “verbally harassing you’, in a hall full of people) nonetheless I expect to never hear anything about “personal attacks’ or “truth telling’ come out of your mouth again.”
OK, now back to Merrifield. Since his insulting “special place in Hell” e-mail comment surfaced, another right wing blog site – whose sponsors and writers are also anonymous – has gone after the lawmaker with a vengeance. They’ve been calling him things like “scum of the earth” and leveling accusations so rancid that his “special place in Hell” comment pales in comparison. (Here’s a particularly ironic example from the folks claiming to be deeply insulted by Merrifield’s comment: One anonymous braintrust actually predicted that the state representative will “rot in hell.”)
In the most peculiar development to date, the Colorado Springs Gazette called on no other than Christen himself to weigh in on Merrifield’s e-mail. And this is what the disgraced former board member piously had to say:
Christen said he is glad the e-mail was publicized because people – even those who might agree with Merrifield – can see he went too far.
“He needs to do some soulsearching and get some help,” Christen said. “We’re going to add him to our family prayers.”
Heaven help us.
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