Some of the city’s most significant and far-reaching political moments — like the 1971 founding of the national Libertarian Party in a Colorado Springs living room — only loomed large as the years passed and completely escaped coverage in the local paper when they happened.
Other events — from the 1894 Cripple Creek miner’s strike to the 1970 Colorado Springs for POWs letter-writing campaign, and Focus on the Family’s 1991 move from California to Colorado Springs to the 2015 Planned Parenthood shooting — dominated headlines and cast long political shadows but were primarily different kinds of stories.
Here are 10 memorable Colorado Springs political moments that were covered by The Gazette.
Colorado Springs Republican John Love elected governor
Political newcomer John A. Love, a Colorado Springs lawyer, put the mid-sized city on the statewide political map when he ousted the incumbent Democratic governor with 53% of the vote on Nov. 6, 1962, as part of a Republican wave that swept the GOP to power across Colorado. A moderate Republican comfortable crossing the aisle — he ditched statehouse Republicans to craft a budget with the Democrats one session — Love won reelection twice, in 1966 and 1970, though he cut his third term short in 1973 to take what turned out to be a brief appointment as the Nixon administration’s national energy czar.
Only the second Colorado governor elected to a four-year term — prior to 1958, voters chose the state’s top executive every two years — Love for a time held the record as Colorado’s longest-serving governor, though his 10 years over two-and-a-half terms were eclipsed by the 12 years served by his two Democratic successors, Dick Lamm and Roy Romer, in the years before voters imposed term limits.
JFK congratulates Air Force Academy graduates
The charismatic, 46-year-old President John F. Kennedy made a dramatic entrance to speak at the Air Force Academy's graduation at Falcon Stadium on June 5, 1963. The president arrived in a helicopter that landed on the edge of the field and then waved to the crowd of 45,000 from the back of a convertible on two rides around the field’s perimeter. The first president to speak at the academy’s graduation, JFK was made an honorary member of the graduating class.
In his 18-minute speech, Kennedy talked about America’s proud role maintaining “the freedom, the security and the peace” in countries threatened by communist expansion. “I think that this is a burden which we accept willingly, recognizing that if this country does not accept it, no people will,” he said.
Nixon throws down gauntlet at AFA graduation
On June 4, 1969, six years after Kennedy spoke to academy graduates, President Richard Nixon delivered a confrontational commencement speech at the height of the Vietnam War, describing his critics as cowardly and dangerous.
“Patriotism is considered by some to be a backward fetish of the uneducated and the unsophisticated,” Nixon said, drawing cheers from the crowd and sneers from the pundits, who derided the speech as needlessly divisive.
“On a fighting front, you are asked to be ready to make unlimited sacrifice in a limited war,” Nixon said. “On the home front, you are under attack from those who question the need for a strong national defense, and indeed see a danger in the power of the defenders.,” he added, claiming the anti-war moment had created an “open season on the Armed Forces.”
‘Mayor Bob’ elected to first term
As the city’s first popularly elected mayor since 1919, Robert Isaac, known affectionately as “Mayor Bob,” was elected on April 3, 1979 — after Colorado Springs discarded the council-manager form of government, which appointed mayors from city council — and over the next 18 years he held the office helped steer the city into its modern form.
The son of an immigrant watch repairman, Isaac grew up in Colorado Springs and returned after graduating from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and earning a law degree in California. Following stints with the city attorney and district attorney, he became presiding judge in municipal court and won a seat on city council before winning the mayor’s race by a wide margin.
The incisive and often gruff Isaac spearheaded the controversial annexation of the Broadmoor neighborhood and construction of the new airport while pushing for the U.S. 24 bypass and the Homestake water project. Known for eschewing partisan ideology, the Republican drew fire from allies when he endorsed Democratic U.S. Sen. Gary Hart’s 1980 re-election bid and later turned down appeals to run for governor in 1990.
"Greater than any single project that he enabled to materialize was his laserlike focus on what was best for the long-term interest of the community," developer and Isaac contemporary Steve Schuck told The Gazette when Isaac died at age 80 in 2008.
Reagan touts ‘Star Wars’ initiative in campaign swing
President Ronald Reagan said his Strategic Defense Initiative — derided at the time as “Star Wars” — would bring jobs to Colorado and yield technology that would improve life for all Americans. Reagan's declaration came during an Oct. 30, 1986, campaign stop in Colorado Springs, stumping for the district’s Republican congressman, Ken Kramer, who was running for the U.S. Senate.
Reagan signed a bill before the rally designating 75 miles of northern Colorado’s Cache la Poudre River as part of the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System, making it the first river on Colorado’s Front Range with the protection.
In a speech at the Broadmoor World Arena, Reagan said Kramer was “central to our efforts to rebuild the nation’s defenses” and “tireless in his efforts to preserve the environment,” crediting Kramer with helping land the research center Reagan called “the brains of SDI” in the Pikes Peak region.
Amendment 2 passage draws 'Hate State' backlash
On Nov. 3, 1992, Colorado voters passed an amendment to the state constitution that reverberated across the nation, even though it would never go into effect and was eventually struck down.
Inspired by a municipal anti-discrimination ordinance that failed to be adopted, Amendment 2, championed by Colorado Springs car dealer Will Perkins and the organization the evangelical Christian led, Colorado For Family Values, barred any government in the state from prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation. Sold as a ban on “special rights” for LGBTQ Coloradans, the ballot initiative passed with 53% of the vote and immediately spurred a ferocious national backlash.
Opponents labeled Colorado the "Hate State” and groups organized boycotts against Perkins’s auto dealership, Colorado Springs and the state, starting with the U.S. Conference of Mayors canceling a scheduled convention and soon including cities across the country banning travel to Colorado by their employees. Locally, gay-rights groups formed high-profile advocacy groups, including Ground Zero, named as a reminder that the amendment had been spawned in Colorado Springs.
The amendment was struck down as unconstitutional by the Colorado Supreme Court two years later and then, in May 1996, the U.S. Supreme Court, in a 6-3 ruling, found the measure violated the 14th Amendment. “A state cannot so deem a class of persons a stranger to its laws,” Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote for the majority.
Douglas Bruce gets TABOR across finish line
On the same night voters passed Amendment 2 on Nov. 3, 1992, they also approved another state constitutional ballot measure that has had a more clear-cut and enduring legacy: Amendment 1, known as Colorado’s Taxpayer Bill of Rights. Passed with 54% of the vote, the complex amendment, authored by Colorado Springs anti-tax advocate Douglas Bruce, sets limits on government spending and requires voter approval for higher taxes. Bruce told The Gazette taxpayers wouldn’t feel any pain, but opponents — led by labor, education, law enforcement and tourism groups — warned that local services would wind up being cut.
“The politicians in Colorado will not be able to raise our tax rates without our permission, put us into debt without our permission or continue to engage in runaway spending,” said Bruce, a local real estate investor. Before TABOR passed, state voters had rejected tax limitation measures eight times over the previous three decades, including efforts led by Bruce in 1988 and 1990, but a local measure passed a year earlier in Colorado Springs suggested voters were ready to bite the bullet.
Described as “jubilant if not gracious,” Bruce taunted his foes on election night. “It’s the refusal of the voters of Colorado to be bullied by a bunch of hysterical lies by the opposition that insulted their intelligence and their desire to be free,” he said. Opponents, however, cautioned that voters “will learn the hard way that imposing spending formulas will not automatically create better government.”
Barack Obama rallies supporters at Colorado College
More than 4,000 people packed onto the quad at Colorado College on Aug. 9, 2012, to hear President Barack Obama, with some expressing gratitude that the Democrat’s reelection campaign had brought him to deep red Colorado Springs. Introduced by Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, a CC alumni, Obama turned up the heat on his GOP challenger, Mitt Romney, and congressional Republicans, whose approach to the economy he ridiculed. “They tried to sell us this trickle-down, tax-cut fairy dust before,” Obama said. “And guess what? It didn’t work.”
Obama stressed that veterans who protect the country deserve the country’s help when they return home, touting a proposed veterans jobs corps to help vets get hired as first responders in communities that need them. “What’s standing in our way is the politics in Washington,” he said. “It’s a bunch of people who think ‘compromise’ is a dirty word.” After the rally, Obama met athletes at the U.S. Olympic Training Center and toured gyms at the facility with the U.S. Paralympics swimming team captain, Michael Prout.
Nearby, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal rallied a small crowd of Republicans, calling Obama the most liberal and least competent president in decades. “Clearly, his policies have failed,” Jindal said. “Yet all he knows to do is to borrow more money from the Chinese, raise more taxes, spend more money.”
Firefighters rescue Donald Trump from stuck elevator
In perhaps the first Colorado Springs political moment to go viral on social media, then-Republican nominee Donald Trump and a large entourage had to be rescued on July 30, 2016, by the Colorado Springs Fire Department from an elevator stuck between the first and second floors at The Mining Exchange, a swank downtown hotel. After the firefighters used the elevator’s top hatch to lower a ladder, Trump and nearly a dozen others climbed to safety, the department said. Later, at a rally at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, Trump tore into the city's fire marshal, complaining that the official had prevented supporters from attending by unfairly capping the venue’s capacity, though Fire Marshal Brett Lacey later told the Gazette that he had agreed to increase seating for the event by 10% above its normal capacity.
A little over a week later, reporters at Denver7 discovered that the fire department had been clear about the rally’s capacity days before Trump attacked the department. According to emails between the university, fire department and Trump campaign obtained by the TV news crew, Lacey also revealed details about what he called “the elevator fiasco” in an email to a friend. It turned out that someone in Trump’s group had an elevator bypass key and disabled the elevator between floors but didn’t know how to turn it back on. “[E]levator guys get there and say what the crap? Who turned this off?” Lacey wrote. “Turned it back on and voila."
Trump rallies thousands at World Arena
A triumphant Trump returned to Colorado Springs on Feb. 20, 2020, to rally support for his re-election bid with a nearly 100-minute speech that brought the capacity crowd of 10,000 cheering supporters at The Broadmoor World Arena to its feet again and again.
“We are going to defeat the radical Democrats, and we are going to win Colorado in a landslide!” said Trump. Then, calling Republican U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner a “rock solid” ally, Trump embraced the lawmaker and delivered an endorsement that would appear in numerous Democratic ads through the election: “And you’re going to help us get Cory Gardner across that line because he’s been with us 100%. There was no waver. He’s been with us. There was no waver with Cory.”
Noting that Gov. Jared Polis had met with him to lobby for making Colorado Springs the permanent home of U.S. Space Command shortly after he landed in Air Force One, Trump teased his ultimate decision, saying he would make the announcement before the end of the year. “You’re being very strongly considered for the Space Command,” he said.
Trump also paid tribute to Donald Stratton, one of the last surviving crew members of the USS Arizona, who died at 97 in Colorado Springs five days before the rally he had planned to attend. “We just want to pay our respects,” Trump said. “He was going to be here.”