Is Doug Lamborn looking for a fight?
He sure is acting like it.
With six months inside the Beltway, the freshman congressman from Colorado Springs spent more tax money to send mail to his constituents than any other member of the Colorado delegation – while at the same time reading aloud, on national television, a letter from the president of a blog called Porkbusters.com chastising his colleagues for wasteful spending.
If that isn’t silly enough, last week he sent out a press release claiming he has “delivered” $150,000 to pay for a study for the Fountain Creek Watershed – only to have it revealed that he actually voted against the bill that authorized the funding he was bragging about.
Need more? Keep reading.How about another effort last week to kill off Big Bird by way of eliminating all $420 million that feds dole out to hundreds of public radio and TV stations cross the country? (His spokesman, Chris Harvin, called the effort – which failed overwhelmingly – “fiscally responsible.” At the same time, Lamborn continues to support the war in Iraq, which taxpayers in the 5th Congressional District alone have so far shelled out a whopping $934 million.
Many – if not most – of Lamborn’s constituents in conservative Colorado Springs may be extraordinarily happy to be paying for the war. They probably also agree that chopping off peanuts worth of public broadcasting money is just dandy too. Who needs Nightline and Clifford the Big Red Dog when you can get Paris Hilton all the time, and Bill O’Reilly too?
And many, many constituents likely also are plenty happy about another of Lamborn’s recent pushes – which also failed overwhelmingly – to eliminate the National Endowment for the Arts. As Lamborn put it, in a stilted-sounding speech that was broadcast all over the country via C-SPAN: “Artists are free to express themselves as they choose, but the American taxpayer does not need to pay for it. Freedom of speech does not guarantee government funding. Private endowment not only provides artists with more creative freedom, but it also ensures that taxpayers are not forced to fund projects that they may find objectionable. Those who support the arts should do so with their own money, rather than with the money of the American taxpayer.”
In truth, Lamborn is representing his constituents about the same way that any other conservative Republican from Colorado Springs would be representing the district – with the likely exception of spending $42,000 tax dollars on mailings to constituents.
So what’s the problem? It’s two, maybe threefold. There is, as state GOP party Chairman Dick Wadhams has reportedly noted, “unfinished business in the 5th.” That’s a pretty delicate way to put it. Plenty of Republicans are still furious over what former Congressman Joel Hefley famously referred to as the “sleazy” tactics that were employed on behalf of Lamborn during the primary race last year.
Some still believe that Hefley’s hand-selected replacement, Jeff Crank, should have won the six-way race – and would have won had it not been for the attacks on him (he was accused of, among other things, supporting the “radical homosexual agenda.”) Others have rallied behind Bentley Rayburn, a retired Air Force general who also ran last year and, as a newcomer to Colorado Springs, finished a surprisingly strong third.
And there is another factor. It’s called style, and Lamborn’s has been, well, sometimes plain dorky.
During his time in Washington, he has spent time doing things like the aforementioned Porkbuster C-SPAN moment. Recent press releases have him announcing things like he personally recently flew in a Modular Airborne Fire-Fighting System mission flight aboard an Air Force C-130″ and that he was “impressed” with the system and by the crew. He has “applauded” an announcement by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration that it plans to modify its “Explosives Proposed Rule.”
He boasts that he’s “the ranking member of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs Subcommittee on Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs.” For all we know that is one heck of an impressive achievement, but face it, for most of us that ranges from meaningless to sounding vaguely ridiculous.
And finally, there’s the money. Or, in Lamborn’s case, the lack of it. In the second quarter of the year, he raised less than $37,000 – at the same time other congressional candidates are pulling in hundreds of thousands of dollars to fend off possible challengers. After paying off some of his loans, Lamborn’s net gain was less than 20 bucks.
So far, Crank and Rayburn are mum on whether they plan another go against Lamborn next year. Crank recently confirmed he is considering another run; Rayburn said he’ll have a decision by the end of the summer. “I’m watching to see how our congressman is doing,” he said, declining specifics.
Not lost on observers is the possibility that Crank and Rayburn will both decide to jump into the race, creating the possibility that they would split votes from voters who are dissatisfied with Lamborn – which would be a dream come true for the congressman. Crank and Rayburn recently said they speak to each other frequently – though both declined to detail their discussions.
“We talked a couple of weeks ago and had a very cordial meeting – and no, we didn’t flip any coins,” Crank said.
Cara DeGette is a senior fellow at Colorado Confidential, and a columnist and contributing editor at the Colorado Springs Independent, where a version of this column originally appeared.. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org