State leaders critical of speakers’ tactics
How do you get a former state Republican Party chairman and the current legislative leader of the Democratic Party singing the same tune?
Ask them about Jon Caldara.
Caldara was a one-term member of the elected board that runs the Denver-area transit authority, RTD. He currently serves as executive director of the Independence Institute, a think tank with libertarian leanings.
He is also the Front Range’s best known opponent of light rail. He gained notoriety by using his position as RTD board president to lead the successful fight against “Guide the Ride,” a proposal to expand light rail and bus service with an 0.4-cent increase in the sales tax.
Caldara and Wendell Cox, a transportation consultant from Illinois, were at the Wheeler Opera House last night for a political meeting hosted by the Common Sense Alliance.
Both spent much of their time lambasting proposals to build a commuter and light rail system in the Roaring Fork Valley. And neither pulled any punches when they said elected officials and staff members working at the Roaring Fork Railroad Holding Authority were essentially liars, distorting statistics and overlooking damning information to support rail.
“I’ve seen the numbers,” Cox told the Times. “It’s important people know that they are absolutely being misled by the local transit agency.”
But, at least in Caldara’ case, some of the state’s political leaders are quick to say he is the one distorting information and misleading people.
“He’s always coming up with statistics to suit his ends,” said Bob Tonsing, current chairman of the RTD board and past executive director of the Colorado Republican Party.
An example, Tonsing recalls, was Caldara’s claims that light rail would only be used each day by 2 or 3 percent of Denver’s potential automobile users. But, Tonsing points out, Caldara ignored studies showing that most light rail use would occur during peak commuting hours, when it mattered most.
Another Caldara tactic was to use worst-case scenarios to inflate the likely cost of Guide the Ride, Tonsing said. With a one-vote majority on the 15-member RTD board, Caldara managed to have the agency publish estimates that said the system would cost as much as $16 billion – more than three times the $5 billion estimate that was generally accepted as accurate.
“He developed a little inventory of one-liners,” Tonsing said. “It was almost impossible to appear on a program with him, because it would take him just 10 seconds to put out an assertion that would take four or five minutes to prove false.”
Mike Feely, a Lakewood Democrat and the minority leader in the state senate, said Caldara ran a very effective, although somewhat deceitful, campaign against Guide the Ride.
“He is very loose with the facts. He throws numbers around that are very difficult to verify, and if you do they tend to be skewed to meet his goal,” Feely said.
Denver-area residents subsequently voted down the tax increase.
Wendel Cox served on the Los Angeles County Transportation Board from 1977 to 1985, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Cox says he has consulted “hundreds of organizations – governments, corporations and think-tanks” on transportation issues. However, when he was asked to name a government organization he had recently consulted, he couldn’t.
He did say his recent work includes an evaluation of transit in the Seattle area, an audit of transit in British Columbia, and consulting in New Zealand.
Cox claims to have authored a study that was very critical of a 1995 proposal to expand light rail in downtown Chicago. He said he believes that it played an important role in the Illinois state government’s decision not to support the project. A media officer for the Chicago Transportation Authority could find no references to Wendell Cox in that organization’s files on the City Circulator proposal.
Said Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority spokesman Mark Littman: “Mr. Cox has definite opinions – he doesn’t think much of rail. He recently wrote an opinion piece for the L.A. Daily News, but didn’t offer any alternatives to light rail. It just said he doesn’t like rail. Maybe he’s in favor of buses.”
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