State Sen. John Morse has one thing to say about some people who are continuing to viciously attack Rep. Michael Merrifield, including actually making fun of the fact that he has cancer.
“He took responsibility for what he wrote, and this is how despicable it is: This is a 60-year old man who is fighting for his physical life. He’s battling cancer, very courageously, and if you want to continue to kick him while he’s down, well, you know I just don’t spent my time poking people who are fighting cancer in the eye, and I don’t know of any decent people who do either.”
Merrifield’s e-mail message, sent last December, was widely reported – and largely misinterpreted – after a Republican operative recently obtained it via an open records request and posted it on his website. In the message, written to Sen. Sue Windels, Merrifield noted that there must be a “special place in hell for these Privatizers, Charerizers (sic) and Voucherziers.” Specifically, in his e-mail Merrifield was referring to recalled D-11 board members Eric Christen and Sandy Shakes – and not everyone who happens to support charters,
Since the e-mail was publicized, Merrifield has apologized. He has stepped down, for the remainder of the legislative session, as chairman of the House Education Committee. But a vocal minority are still calling for his head. Some anonymous right wing blog sites have actually resorted to calling Merrifield names – including “washed up choir teacher” – and talking about the “irony” that he has cancer of the throat. Merrifield is currently undergoing chemotherapy treatments.
“The Republicans are trying to stir this pot for all its worth and then some,” Morse said. “Some of the groups he’s been opposed to have seen it as an opening to make hay, but they’ve got to be careful because they’ve overreached.”
Morse is the only other Democrat in the legislature from El Paso County – and has received his own share of ferocious attacks leading up to his trouncing of former Sen. Ed Jones last November, describes the assault as just one more example of many he’s witnessed this year involving the minority party.
But beyond all the rhetoric, Merrifield’s enemies are overlooking one simple, but important fact, Morse said: “He’s doing a really good job of representing his district.”
“If that offends some people then oh, well. He certainly had no intention of [his e-mail] becoming public, and while he used an unfortunate phrase, he believes that charter schools undo public education and strip resources. From what little I’ve heard he’s in tune with the majority of his constituents.”
Merrifield, a retired teacher, is in his fourth term representing a district encompassing much of central and western Colorado Springs, and the city of Manitou Springs. An ardent and vocal advocate of public schools, he’s faced tough Republican challenges, including from candidates with backing from wealthy pro-voucher advocates.
In November he handily swatted away his latest Republican challenger Kyle Fisk, receiving nearly 61 percent of the vote. Fisk, an associate pastor of a New Life Church affiliate, had received the support of developer Steve Schuck, a longtime leader in the battle to install school vouchers statewide. He also was promoted by his former boss, then-Pastor Ted Haggard, whose letter of support, mailed to hundreds of people before he was fired from the church, caused Merrifield to raise questions over church/state separation.
This Friday, a letter signed by Fisk was published in the Colorado Springs Gazette, in which he accuses the lawmaker he lost to of failing the “test of leadership.”
But another letter supporting Merrifield, by Colorado Springs resident Sharon Berthrong, noted that “hypocritical leaders in the charter and voucher movement have employed deception and trickery.”
“We all understand that politics today is a rough business but we should insist that critics be truthful,” wrote Berthrong, a former chairman of the El Paso County Democratic Party.
Yet another Colorado Springs resident, David Knight, termed Merrifield a “breath of fresh air” and a class act.
“The whole voucher flap (excluding successful charter schools and there are many) is all about defunding public education and taking tax money away from poor kids,” Knight wrote. “So thanks, Rep. Merrifield, for working as hard as you have for all the kids in Colorado.”
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