Mark Waller is a conservative Republican and an Air Force officer reservist who in 2006 spent five months prosecuting insurgents in Iraqi courts with Iraqi judges. He is an attorney and he is married with two children. He is a serious man, but friendly, with a refreshing sense of humor. That last part will come in handy, challenging the decidedly unfunny Rep. Douglas Bruce in November.Waller tells the story about his recent encounter with Bruce. It was during a county commissioner vacancy meeting, to decide who should replace Bruce, who resigned his post to fill an open seat in the state House of Representatives representing much of eastern Colorado Springs.
“I was wearing my shinpads, just in case,” Waller deadpans, a reference to Bruce’s infamous kneecapping of a photojournalist the day he was being sworn into the Legislature.
“He was very cordial; he didn’t ask me why I was running, but he did say, `maybe we can talk sometime,’ ” Waller continues. “I’ll be honest with you, I was kind of guarded, fairly or unfairly based on his reputation.”
That last part had to do with the knowledge that Bruce had had lunch with Republican Amy Lathen – who was planning on running against Bruce if he planned a second run for the El Paso County Board of Commissioners. Bruce ended up later eviscerating her in a letter to GOP activists, calling her a flip-flopping tax-loving liar who is on an ego-trip — and a Republican In Name Only. Lathen was appointed anyway, to fill out Bruce’s commission term.
“I can’t say I’ve ever been a fan of Mr. Bruce’s,” Waller says. “As far as politics is concerned, we’re not that much different. But – this is what’s important here – we have to be able to communicate, we have to be able to get along with the other side.
“I know that’s something I can do better; that’s the crucial piece of the puzzle. We’re all fiscally and socially conservative here in El Paso County, but what it boils down to is being able to effectively communicate those ideas and those ideals and values.
“Listening to the constituents is also important, and not just pushing some sort of agenda.”
So far this year, Waller notes, Bruce has presented four bills – none of which made out of committee. He announced his intent to vote “no” on any bill that carries a standard emergency clause – which Waller estimates is upward of 80 percent of them. “That’s called focusing on the minor, instead of the major stuff,” Waller says.
In the opening weeks of his initiation into the world of state politics, Bruce, long known as the anti-tax author of the 1992 Taxpayer Bill of Rights, has, in addition to the kicking episode, engaged in the following:
1. Was censured for the kick, marking the first time a lawmaker has ever received that punishment from colleagues.
2. Will no longer talk to reporters.
3. Refused to co-sponsor a resolution honoring veterans and men and women in the military — prompting his own party leader, Mike May, R-Parker, to opine, “That’s a man with no honor. He has no shame.”
4. Shouted at his colleagues, “Are you all happy?” after they required him to vote on another resolution to urge health care coverage for children in Colorado by 2018 (Bruce voted no).
5. Was booted off the State, Veterans, and Military Affairs Committee by House Minority Leader May.
Waller, a former deputy district attorney in Pueblo, 40 miles away, currently has a private law practice in Colorado Springs. His goal is to raise $50,000 for the House race; his Web site is markwallerforhd15.org.
He rattles off the facts of the situation: Bruce was appointed to fill out former Rep. Bill Cadman’s House District 15 term by just 44 people on a 66-member vacancy committee. (Two other contenders, who entered what many have described as an orchestrated ascendancy of power, received the remaining 22 votes.)
“I don’t think he’s an unstoppable force or I wouldn’t be trying to stop him,” Waller says. “The only thing he’s been elected to is one term as a county commissioner.”
In 2000, Bruce ran for the state Senate, and barely lost the race to Ron May – who quit the Legislature last fall. In 1996, Bruce also tried to take on former state Senate President Ray Powers, and that nasty campaign resulted in the affable and prominent Powers forever banning Bruce from attending any events at his barn in eastern Colorado Springs – which has been a landmark for GOP fundraising and other parties since 1978.
“The barn is open to everyone except one person, Doug Bruce,” Powers reiterated in an interview last year.
Bruce also lost a bitter campaign, running as a Democrat, for the California State Assembly in 1980.
Last week, Waller said he’s already received endorsements, including from former Sen. May, and from the powerful local Housing and Building Association and from the Pikes Peak Firearms Coalition.
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