Dan Lanotte is one of the 44 El Paso County Republicans who picked Douglas Bruce to fill an open seat in the State House of Representatives. Lanotte doesn’t have a photo of himself handy to share, but in a recent interview he was articulate with his words: “We were wrong,” Lanotte says simply, of sending Bruce to Denver.
“I will take full responsibility for my actions in aiding in the selection of Bruce to fill the vacant House District 15 seat,” Lanotte has noted. “However, having taken that responsibility, I now readily accept that there is a better choice.”
Lanotte has thrown his support to Mark Waller, who is challenging Bruce in the primary. Among other activities, Bruce, a former county commissioner and author of Colorado’s 1992 Taxpayer Bill of Rights, showed up several days late to the Legislature, ostensibly to be able to run for four terms instead of three. His first day, he kicked a news photographer in the knee during prayer and became the first lawmaker in the history of Colorado to be censured for his action. He later refused to vote on a resolution to honor war veterans and was promptly removed by his own party leader from serving on the House Veterans and Military Affairs Committee.
At the county assembly last month, Republican Mark Waller, an attorney, grabbed more support than the beleaguered incumbent, giving him top line on the primary ballot.
Bruce responded by printing up derogatory fliers, demanding, “Where was Waller?,” suggesting that Waller, an Air Force officer reservist, had not voted to Bruce’s satisfaction in past elections. In his latest dustup, Bruce recently distributed the fliers to his colleagues at the Capitol on the day that Waller was visiting.
House Minority Leader Mike May, R-Parker, told the Colorado Springs Gazette that he wasn’t sure if any rules had been broken. “We don’t know whether it’s an infraction or not because nobody else would be dumb enough to do it,” May said of Bruce’s actions.
That last part really irks former Bruce supporters like Lanotte, himself a career Navy veteran who was on the appointment committee that picked Bruce last December. For the record, when Waller wasn’t voting in 2006, he was serving in Iraq, prosecuting insurgents in Iraqi courts with Iraqi judges.
Lanotte spent time this week talking with Colorado Confidential about his initial support for Bruce and his decision to throw his support behind Waller:
Lanotte: “My concern with Mr. Bruce is, while I agree with almost everything that he proposes and his stances on many legislative platforms, what I disagree with is his inability to work with others.
“If I had tried to go through my career with the attitude that Mr. Bruce has toward others, I would have started out as seaman and been a seaman for 30 years. You have to have some form of cooperation — at least give folks the idea that you want to work with him — and I just don’t see that with Mr. Bruce. As an individual I get along with Mr. Bruce – there’s not a lot of rancor — but we disagree with the methodology on how to get a point across. You’ve got to pick your battles.”
CoCo: Yet Mr. Bruce’s combative reputation was known long before his selection to the state House. So why are you surprised?
Lanotte: “I thought it would improve his demeanor. I’ve had other discussions with members of the vacancy board, and I really and truly thought that Mr. Bruce would be able to work with other Republicans, and we haven’t seen that since he’s been in the Legislature.
“Quite frankly, some of us thought he might be able to go up to the Legislature and take a leadership role in getting a more conservative agenda going. Obviously that didn’t happen. We were wrong.”
“You have to be able to work in a cohesive fashion with others, though I will say this: I do honestly and truly believe that Doug Bruce was targeted by the Democrats. They saw him as an easy target, and they went after him very successfully. This is where I fault the legislative Republican leadership. There was no rallying around Doug Bruce, and that was a problem within the Republican leadership. There should have been some effort to do that.”
CoCo: If he’s been targeted, as you say, then why have you decided to throw your support behind Mark Waller?
Lanotte: “It’s fairly simple: Mark Waller has proven he’s got the ability to work with others, especially in an environment that he’s not used to.
“In Iraq he was prosecuting bad guys before an Iraqi judge — that takes a certain amount of communicative skills. To be honest with you, there is very little difference in the viewpoint from Mark Waller with Doug Bruce on the issues, but it goes back to the communications issue – being able to work well with others.
“It’s my understanding that none of Doug Bruce’s bills are even under consideration. The House leadership seem to be reluctant – I’ll be nice about this — to even consider anything he’ll put forward. I think that’s a shame that El Paso County has a representative who cannot be a voice in the Legislature, and I honestly think Mark Waller can.”
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