The understatement of the year, so far, would be that state Rep. Michael Merrifield has had a bit of a rough patch.
On Jan. 3, just after his 60th birthday, the representative from Colorado Springs – the pro-public education guy some Republicans love to crucify because he is from Colorado Springs, found out he had throat cancer. Then there was his “special place in hell” e-mail. Though the comment was clearly directed at two outspoken school board members from Colorado Springs who were in the midst of a recall election, Merrifield was pummeled – including by some members of his own Party. His comment was subsequently widely, and wildly, distorted.
Recently declared cancer-free, Merrifield talks about his health, resuming his leadership position as the chairman the House Education Committee – and his thoughts on who is likely to be the state’s next education commissioner.CoCo: Is it true, you’re free of cancer?
Merrifield: My first CAT scan shows no cancer anywhere, That’s a good first step. I’ll have more tests, but it really lifted my spirits. I’m still trying to recuperate – they practically kill you to keep you alive. They really zapped my mouth and tongue, and it’s a slow process. I have dry mouth and am still not eating solid foods. I’m getting my feeding tube removed anywhere from two to six weeks.
CoCo: It was a tough legislative session. It really seemed like some people took the opportunity to kick you while you were down.
Merrifield: I got that feeling as well. It really goes with the territory, especially their territory. Being from Colorado Springs and knowing the rough-and-tumble political scene here, it didn’t surprise me.
(In late March, a Republican operative “exposed” an e-mail message, written last December, from Merrifield to Sen. Sue Windels. In the e-mail, Merrifield, a retired high school teacher, was talking about two members of the District 11 Board of Education – Eric Christen and Sandy Shakes – who were in the middle of a successful recall election. This is what Merrifield wrote 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!”
Merrifield’s detractors pounced – including some members of his own Democratic Party – and nearly every news organization covering the “special place in hell” e-mail reported the comment as though Merrifield had been talking in broad strokes about anyone who supports vouchers, charters, or private education. Merrifield eventually stepped down –