Mostly GOP politicos address churchgoers

By Leslie Jorgensen
THE COLORADO STATESMAN

COLORADO SPRINGS — At the public political forum at the Mountain Springs Church, you could almost hear Jimmy Dean singing, “Now, give me that old time religion. Give me that old time religion. Give me that old time religion! Lord, it’s good enough for me.”

Republican lawmakers were swamped with questions by people who lined up for one-on-one time at the end of the forum in Mountain Springs Church in northeast Colorado Springs.
Photo by Tatianna Gruen/The Colorado Statesman

On a stage churchgoers call the “Crocodile’s dock,” and beneath a sign that reads, “Where fearless kids shine in God’s light,” one lone, courageous Democrat, Sen. John Morse, sat with four Colorado Springs Republicans — Sen. Dave Schultheis, Reps. Amy Stephens and Marsha Looper, and El Paso County Commissioner Amy Lathen.

Event organizers Debbie Chaves and Lathen also had invited Democratic Reps. Michael Merrifield and Dennis Apuan, but only Morse bravely appeared at the spirit-filled forum to discuss federal, state and local politics.

U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn, of the 5th Congressional District, was unable to attend because the House didn’t vote on the so-called “cap and trade” bill regulating carbon emissions until the wee hours of the morning.

The 75 or so members of the audience submitted questions that covered a gamut of sinful grievances — from homosexual rights to illegal aliens to local governments lusting for federal stimulus dollars that promise to burden future generations with taxes to repay the country’s staggering debt.

If there was any salvation in a room with a 10-foot-tall wooden cross as its focal point, it was the Republican lawmakers’ vows to continue battling against borrowed money from the federal government and fee and tax increases by the state government in a gamble to create jobs and ward off another Great Depression.

In response to a question about the role of government, Schultheis said he believes it should be “limited — extremely limited,” and not waste taxpayers’ money for charitable handouts.

“It’s not the role of government to be caring. It’s your role,” said Schultheis, expressing concern about the change in tax code that gives less tax credit for contributions to private charities than to public charities approved by the federal government.

“We’ve all heard many times that Americans are the most charitable people in the world,” said Schultheis. “I think Christians are probably more willing to give to charities than any other group.”

As a member of the Joint Legislative Audit Committee, Schultheis said he had repeatedly reviewed department budgets and seen a “significant waste of our tax dollars — your tax dollars.”

The audience burst into laughter and applause when Schultheis revealed his prescription for surviving the budget reviews.

“I’m telling you — you need a Mylanta and a tranquilizer,” he declared.

Equally difficult, he said, is serving on the Senate Health and Human Services Committee.

“People say the word ‘Schultheis’ can’t be used in the same sentence as caring,” he said.

“Our rights don’t come from government, our rights come from God,” declared El Paso County Commissioner Amy Lathen, a coorganizer of the political forum.
Photo by Tatianna Gruen/The Colorado Statesman

“It makes me sick to my stomach,” said Schultheis of the sadness he feels as he listened to pleas of people seeking government funds to pay for health care problems.

It’s not the role of government to provide health care, he said. It’s the role of charities and individuals to help others.

“I want to reserve my own money to help meet people’s needs,” said Schultheis, adding people in wheel chairs and on crutches testify before the committee.

Schultheis recalled being moved by one woman’s plea for help.

“I came this close to writing a personal check for a thousand bucks to one of these people because I was touched by her,” he said.

However, the senator neither wrote that check nor voted to approve taxpayer funding to address the woman’s health needs.

“I don’t want my neighbor to have to pick up the tab when this woman’s trying make it on her own as a single mother right now,” Schultheis said.

“Nobody hired by the government has the same concern for their neighbor as you,” he declared.

Morse offered a very different view of government — but also touted his “brotherly love” for Schultheis.

“I don’t frankly care about the size of government. I care about the effectiveness of government,” said Morse.

He said government has a role in education, public safety, prisons, transportation and more.

“Senator Schultheis suggests that you care more about your neighbors than government,” said Morse. “That might sound true, but many neighbors fall into the Hatfield and McCoy kind of thing.”

Morse laid out the complicated categories of the state budget — percentages of state tax-funded programs, mandated programs, federally funded programs and so on.

“We’re a very lean state,” said Morse, adding that Colorado is ranked 49th of all states in tax collections.

Morse recalled Republican presidential candidate Arizona Senator John McCain introducing his running mate, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as a “fiscal conservative” in 2008.

“I checked Alaska’s spending,” said Morse, adding that Alaska spends $6,800 per person versus Colorado, which spends $1,510 per person.”

Morse conceded that Colorado has a huge challenge ahead in cutting “$873 million from the state budget” next year.

Perhaps placating his audience, Morse talked about his friendly, agree-to-disagree relationship with Schultheis.

“People say to me all the time that Dave Schultheis is very, very difficult and doesn’t have a compassionate bone in his body,” said the Democratic senator.

“And I’m very quick to correct them,” Morse said. “I disagree with an awful lot of what he believes, certainly. But I think he’s a wonderful human being.”

From the audience, a woman bellowed, “Your time is up! Time’s up! Time’s up!”

Gen. Bentley Rayburn, a former Republican candidate for 5th Congressional District, shared his views with Sen. John Morse, D-Colorado Springs. It was rumored that Rayburn might challenge Morse in 2010, but now he’s a candidate to head School District 49.
Photo by Tatianna Gruen/The Colorado Statesman

Looper said that an example of government waste is the fee to discard tires in landfills — an additional fee was approved during the legislative session for the purposes of recycling.

“Where has all this money gone?” asked Looper.

She said the fee generates more than $100 million annually, but El Paso County’s dumping site in Fountain has more than 50 million discarded tires.

“The money was supposed to have been used to recycle tires, but apparently the program isn’t working,” said Looper.

The legislator from Calhan plans to be the squeaky wheel to get this program on track. Looper said that she’s attending meetings to resolve the issue — and to determine where the money from fees has been spent. Looper said she has contacted the overseer of that program here, El Paso County Commission Chairman Jim Bensberg.

Bensberg hadn’t yet provided answers and was unable to attend a meeting this week to address the problem.

When she was asked about the role of government, Looper’s response generated thunderous applause.

“I believe in life, liberty and property rights,” she said. “Our property rights are under attack every day!”

Stephens asserted her belief that the United States Constitution clearly defines the role of government and concurred with statements made by fellow Republicans.

“Yes and yes and yes — I agree,” said Stephens.

“And no,” interjected Morse.

“And no!” replied Stephens with a laugh.

In closing, Lathen offered a more spiritual view of government.

“Our rights don’t come from government. Our rights come from God,” she declared.

“Amen!” shouted several people in the audience.

Schultheis read a list of the reasons he votes against bills — touting the more than 180 “nay” votes he cast in the past session.

“If it attacks my Christian values, I vote ‘no,’” he said.

In the spirit of “love my neighbor as myself,” Schultheis told Morse that he’d be happy to sit as a minority party member on a Democratic-dominated political forum in the future.

“I have no plans for that,” Morse told The Colorado Statesman.

After the formal presentation, members of the audience lined up for tete a tete conversations with the legislators — except Morse, who roamed the room to talk with folks.

“It was nice to learn where they stand on the issues,” said Cindy Lyons.

Her only disappointment was Morse.

“He filibustered. It was rude!” Lyons declared. “The fact that the other Democratic legislators were invited but couldn’t move their butts to come is too bad. He wasn’t entitled to their time.”

Several social conservative Christians disagreed with Lyons’ perspective.

“I wish the other Democrats had come, because the views would have been more balanced,” said Mark Andre, who moved from Long Island to Colorado Springs several years ago as an employee of Focus on the Family.

“I am most concerned about the growing national debt that will burden my 12-year-old daughter and future generations,” said Andre, wearing a navy T-shirt with an American flag and the message, “One nation under God.”

“The debt is obscene!” he declared.

“I have a lot of respect for Senator Morse for participating in this panel,” said Andre, who hopes to attend more bipartisan political panel discussions.

Attendees were treated to cookies, coffee cake and an abundance of booklets, including “The Bible, the Church and Homosexuality,” “The Other Side of Tolerance” and “Political Science: The Manipulated Approval of RU-486 and Its Dangers to Women’s Health” — all published by Family Research Council of Washington, D.C.

They also were invited to participate in a two-question survey about “traditional marriage, abortion and healthcare.”

Perhaps most defining was the yes-or-no question, “Do you believe that political involvement, ranging from simply voting all the way to running for political office, is necessary to defend your principles and protect your Christian way of life?”

And as the old hymn concludes:

“Makes me love everybody, and it’s good enough for me
I said give me that old time religion…”

Leslie@coloradostatesman.com