Back in 1992, few Coloradans could have imagined Douglas Bruce becoming a politician. He claimed he hated the government and all politicians. But face it, Bruce was a politician then – albeit unelected – and he’s a politician, albeit elected – now. If he’s appointed to fill an open seat in the legislature, come January he’ll undoubtedly be taking his scorched-earth anti-government act to Denver’s Golden Dome. And will his fellow conservative Republicans in Colorado Springs be sorry to see him go? Ha! You’re joking, right?
Bruce’s antics in Colorado are legendary – at least to those who have been around for awhile. Bruce is the author of Colorado’s 1992 Taxpayer Bill of Rights (TABOR), a sweeping and complex tax-and-spend limitation amendment that has had a profound impact on all government agencies, from local school boards and special districts to the state government. In addition to requiring voter approval for any governing agency to raise taxes, the law includes a ratchet down formula that restricts inflationary growth. Consequently it has resulted in voters in a multitude of municipalities and districts to “de-Bruce,” or lift TABOR’s restrictions.
Since TABOR, Bruce has repeatedly and unsuccessfully sued various municipalities over their de-Brucing efforts and other alleged violations. He has also sponsored other failed efforts to restrict government, and has vexed bureaucrats and elected officials with his often personal attacks and name-calling.
Yet at the same time he has also baffled observers by his efforts to join the very government machinery that he proclaims to detest. A onetime prosecutor in Los Angeles County, Bruce was previously a longtime Democrat and moved to Colorado Springs in the late 1980s after losing a Democratic primary for the California State Assembly.
In Colorado Springs Bruce quickly established himself as a conservative Republican. As a landlord with a multitude of residential properties, he’s come under fire over the years for maintaining apartments so substandard that they have driven down the values of surrounding properties. Claiming himself the victim of government retribution, he keeps threatening and promising to sell his properties. But he never does.
In 1996 Bruce challenged Senate Majority Leader Ray Powers, a long-time powerful Republican from eastern Colorado Springs, and lost. Four years later Bruce launched another campaign against then-Rep Ron May to replace the term-limited Powers. Again he lost, this time by just 112 votes.
Finally in 2004, Bruce succeeded in becoming a bona fide elected politician when he was elected to the El Paso County Board of Commissioners, representing an exceedingly conservative district encompassimg much of eastern Colorado Springs and the vast expanse of rural eastern El Paso County.
And by all accounts, Bruce’s four Republican colleagues on the five-member commission will not miss him.
Neither will the elected Republican Sheriff of El Paso County Terry Maketa, nor the elected Republican Treasurer Sandra Damron. Bruce certainly won’t be missed by numerous top-level administrators in county government, including county attorney Bill Louis who last December abandoned all decorum and, during a commissioner meeting, publicly denigrated Bruce, calling him, among other things, a narcissist, a sociopath, a bully, and crackpot enabler. Bruce, technically is one of Louis’ five bosses.
During just one public meeting last week, Bruce laid into by name several county employees and managers, variously calling them incompetent, unsatisfactory, inadequate in their presentation, inexcusably inadequate, grossly disorganized and failing in “attention to detail.” Of the county’s $4.1 million budget shortfall, which commissioners have been grappling with for weeks, Bruce dismissed it as “phony.”
Sheriff Maketa subsequently called Bruce’s attacks “deplorable and embarrassing” and wished Bruce good riddance.
But Bruce has his fans, most notably those Republicans whose reputations and past actions place them far to the right of mainstream Republicans. In his bid for the state House of Representatives, Bruce has posted on his Web site, Douglasbruce.com, five hearty endorsements from former Senate Majority Leader John Andrews, state Reps. Kent Lambert and Stella Garza-Hicks, former GOP chairman Leland Gilbert and state Sen. Dave Schultheis who praised Bruce for “standing firm and advocating strongly for limited government and less taxes, personal responsibility, educational choice and Second Amendment and pro-life issues.
As the Democrat [sic] Party has gained control and power over the past several years, it has passed increasing numbers of socialist laws that intrude on personal freedom and individual liberty, as well as advocate for policies that are blatantly unconstitutional in the view of many of Colorado’s citizens,” Schultheis wrote in his endorsement.
“Unfortunately, growing numbers of Republicans among the electorate have sensed that too many Republican politicians have compromised or abandoned key areas of their Party’s platform both at a national level, as well as at the state level. That fact was clearly seen by the recent switch to the Democrat [sic] Party by former Republican Representative Debbie Stafford, who espoused Republican values to get elected, but too often abandoned them in practice.”
Notably, Schultheis is one of the key coordinators of the Republican Study Committee of Colorado, an assemblage of the state’s ultraconservative Republican senators and representatives. Indeed, when he first admitted his intent to go after the House seat that was vacated by Rep. Bill Cadman, who has ascended to the state Senate, the Colorado Springs Gazette reported that Bruce indicated plans to “push tax-cutting measures with what he identified as 12 other Republicans who `are conscientious about being fiscal conservatives.’ “
The Gazette did not identify the 12 other alleged true fiscal conservatives, but a quick review of the membership of the Republican Study Committee of Colorado shows 13 members currently in the state House. Which means that in Bruce’s analogy, not even every one of those Republicans are conservative enough for him.
And, just as notably, Cadman, whom Bruce aims to replace, is not an identified member of the Republican Study Committee of Colorado.
Meanwhile Democratic state Sen. John Morse, whose published comment about Bruce’s views as “extremist” immediately drew ridicule from Bruce, predicts some uncomfortable moments ahead – for moderate Republicans.
“I think from talking to some of my Republican friends, they’re not sure that would be a very good thing for the Republican Party,” Morse said. “I’m sure it would be a very good thing for the Democratic Party … we’d be able to stand in the background and applaud as he drags the mainstream wing of the Republican Party down.”
Click here for more background on the recent turn of events that resulted in Sen. Ron May resigning early, paving the way for Rep. Bill Cadman to take May’s state Senate seat and leave his House seat open for Bruce’s picking.
Click here to read more about Bruce’s antics as a county commissioner.
Click here for Republican leaders’ comments about the possibility of Bruce in the Legislature.
And click here for Democratic House Speaker Andrew Romanoff’s past stance on the possibility of Bruce serving in the Legislature.
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