Paul Nitze: Dodging subpoenas is no way to lie low |

Paul Nitze: Dodging subpoenas is no way to lie low

Paul Nitze
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

Prosecutors learn early on in their careers that what a witness refuses to say can speak a lot louder than what is said. When an investigator gets on the stand and tells the jury that a victim of domestic violence ran across a parking lot to avoid a subpoena, a light bulb goes off: That victim will do anything to protect the defendant. When the jury also finds out that the victim and the defendant are living together, well, you’re on your way to meeting your burden.

Same goes for the defense. When a co-conspirator gets on the stand and takes the Fifth, it gets a lot easier for a defense attorney to pin the crime on that guy, even if there’s not a shred of direct evidence to back that up. No matter if they’re instructed not to, juries love to speculate.

So does everyone else, which is why Doug Bruce has become the gift that keeps on giving for Colorado Democrats. Bruce has been dubbed “Dr. Evil” by Colorado Pols, the online water cooler for state Dems, for his shadowy sponsorship of three tax-slashing initiatives on the ballot this fall. Bruce’s public profile, never all that low, has blossomed over the last month not so much for what he’s done as for what he hasn’t – shown up to court.

Bruce, also known as “Mr. TABOR”, has now evaded more than 30 attempts to serve him with a subpoena to testify in a court case challenging the process by which the three initiatives made it onto the ballot. Bruce has holed up in his Colorado Springs Victorian, refusing to answer the door when the process servers call.

Seems he doesn’t want anyone to know that he’s the mastermind behind Amendment 60, Amendment 61, and Proposition 101, known to opponents as the “Destroy Colorado Amendments.” Getting the sense yet that there’s a fair bit of hyperbole on both sides of this fight? The problem for Bruce’s opponents has been that all of this hyperbole has generated roughly zero public recognition and the tiniest amount of coverage.

Enter Doug Bruce. By flatly denying involvement in the complicated and resource-intensive effort to get these three initiatives qualified, Bruce has come across as a liar and a weasel. His denial stands in direct contradiction to the sworn testimony of Michelle Northrup, one of the backers of Amendment 61, at a May 24 hearing. She testified that Bruce was such a micro-manager that she had to cut ties with him. We also know that some of the folks hired to get the 76,000 signatures required for each initiative stayed at a Bruce-owned apartment.

This adds to the not exactly glowing rep he developed during his short-lived tenure in the Colorado House, which started off when he kicked a photographer for the Rocky Mountain News and ended when House District 15 voters unceremoniously booted him. Along the way he managed to get censured and voted off a committee, and got statewide coverage for calling Mexican agricultural workers “illiterate peasants.”

Bruce has become the perfect foil for Protect Colorado’s Communities, the loose coalition formed to fight these initiatives. Before the Bruce subpoena spectacle, the coalition had to beg reporters to write about the issue. The initiatives got a flurry of coverage last January, when Gov. Ritter identified them in his state of the state address as the greatest threat to Colorado’s long-term fiscal health.

Since then it’s been mostly silence. Which, boring as this issue may be, is bit surprising for a set of measures that would drive the state over a fiscal cliff. Our bridges are already on the verge of collapse, but Proposition 101 would eliminate almost all vehicle tag fees, costing CDOT $277 million in revenue per year. Our schools are facing cuts to core curriculum areas, but Amendment 60 would go one better and cut school district mill levy rates by as much as half. All told, the three initiatives could cut state and local tax revenues by more than a half billion dollars per year starting in 2011. 

If Bruce hadn’t whipped up coverage, there’s a decent chance the initiatives could have stayed under the radar until the last few weeks of the election. Now all three will suffer negative publicity throughout the summer and fall. More importantly, they give Colorado Democrats a perfect whipping boy in Bruce, and a perfect vehicle to pitch responsible government to moderate voters.

In a cycle that strongly favors their opponents, Colorado Democrats can reasonably tell voters that they have a choice between the party that made tough, across-the-board cuts to close the biggest budget deficit in state history, or the party that wants to obliterate the social safety net, close the schools at noon, and let the roads crumble. Thank you, Doug.

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