June 15, 2008
DENVER - Maria Miles thinks Rep. Douglas Bruce is "really rude and arrogant."
She can't understand why the midterm appointee to the state Legislature refused to be sworn in until days after the session began in January.
But she still plans to vote for him in the House District 15 Republican primary Aug. 12.
Many of the 24,300 registered Republicans in Bruce's northeastern Colorado Springs district share Miles' love-hate relationship with their state representative.
In his first election run for the seat, Bruce faces a primary battle with political newcomer Mark Waller, who wrested the top ballot line from Bruce at the El Paso County GOP assembly in March.
That he even has a Republican opponent is partly because of Bruce's string of run-ins during his four months at the state Capitol:
- Before taking his seat as now Sen. Bill Cadman's replacement, Bruce angered legislative leaders by delaying his swearingin so he'd be eligible to run for more terms under the state's term limits restrictions.
- Bruce demanded that he be sworn in before the full House of Representatives and allowed to make a speech.
- After that demand was rejected, Bruce became the first state lawmaker to be censured, for kicking a newspaper photographer who took his picture while Bruce's head was bowed in prayer on the House floor before his private swearing-in.
- Next, Bruce lost his seat on the House committee dealing with veterans issues for refusing to sponsor or vote on the annual resolution honoring service members and vets. As an El Paso County commissioner, Bruce had refused to vote on ceremonial resolutions, calling them a waste of time.
- In the waning days of the legislative session in which none of Bruce's proposals came close to passing, Bruce was silenced after referring to farm workers from Mexico as "illiterate peasants," and was accused of sexual harassment.
Bruce remained unrepentant throughout, causing some residents of his district to predict his ouster in November.
Elsewhere in Colorado, that might be a foregone conclusion, but in Colorado Springs, Bruce enjoys a special cachet.
That's because of the Taxpayer's Bill of Rights, the tax and spending limitations on governments in the state constitution that Bruce authored.
Seventeen years after voters gave Bruce his victory over what he considered rampant government waste, TABOR continues to give Bruce an appeal that, for some, overrides his often caustic personality.
That's exemplified by Bruce's peasants remark, which shocked and alienated all but a few House colleagues.
In his district, his supporters admitted his choice of words was poor, but even his opponents conceded he was attempting to address the problem of illegal immigration.
Far from being offended, Marnie Ellis said she and her husband, Scott, laughed when they heard the quote, rolled their eyes and said: "There's Doug doing his stuff."
Harold Bledsoe couldn't recall specifics about what Bruce did during the 2008 legislative session, but referred to him as an "excellent representative," saying he works for lower taxes.
Bruce's admirers blame a biased media and Republican leaders afraid of change for his clashes in Denver.
Mike Van Horn said that with Democrats in control of the House and Senate in the state Legislature, the only way for Bruce to be heard was to be controversial.
Carole Carpenter, one of about two dozen longtime District 15 Republican voters interviewed last week, said she appreciates Bruce's bluntness.
"Sometimes we need a renegade to make people think," she said.
Other longtime supporters, though, say Bruce has crossed the line in the past year, calling him a "disgrace" and a "fool," and describing his representation of their district as a "disaster."
Jerry Habener, who supported Bruce in 2004 when he was elected to the county commission, said Bruce has made people "ashamed to be associated with him and his party."
Stanley Whonic said it was embarrassing when Bruce kicked the photographer and that he no longer could separate what Bruce stands for and how he acts.
"I probably would vote against him if I sat down and looked around at all the candidates and found one . . . who is more politically astute and not such a clown," said Whonic.
Waller won the top line on the primary ballot by convincing assembly delegates that he is fiscally and socially conservative, and, unlike Bruce, knows how to work with other lawmakers to get things done.
But he lacks Bruce's name recognition - threefourths of the Republicans interviewed had never heard of Waller.
Bob Loevy, Colorado College political science professor, said that may not matter in the primary.
"This election is only about Doug Bruce. The only characteristic his opponent has is: ‘I'm not Doug Bruce,'" Loevy said.
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