Monday I join the Republicans
By Jack J. Woehr
Sure, I had been making progress with the Democratic Party of Colorado. A lifelong Democrat, I moved in 1988 to Colorado from California where I had worked on Alan Cranston's final campaign in 1986. I became active in the Jefferson County Democrats in 1992. That year, the four county-wide candidates, two for County Commission, one for Treasurer and one for District Attorney, had sent a joint piece to all Democrat registrants. I called each in turn, asking them "What is your position on the War on Drugs?" After the treasurer candidate, Joe Beaver, answered me without hesitation, "I'm against it!" I started contributing and attending meetings.
In 1994, more from idealism than from common sense, I ended up in a primary for the Colorado 6th US Congressional District nomination. I lost, but had a lot of fun. Although most of the other Democrats running for various offices hated the War on Drugs, they were mostly too scared to say so. My campaign manager hit on the idea of making half-height signs for my campaign and attaching them to the posts of the yard signs of my fellow Democrats who secretly opposed the War on Drugs. When the owners of the commandeered signage squawked publicly, we made fools of them in the press by means of the irony of the situation. The Denver daily newspapers lapped up the humorous impasse like cats in cream.
By 1998, I had made enough progress with consciousness raising that the Democrats nominated me to run for the state legislature in a "lost" house district with a strong Republican incumbent. Conducting my campaign with impeccable manners, my opponent and I were quickly good friends and actually worked together to defeat a pernicious proposed constitutional amendment disguised as a school voucher measure which promised to pay more out of the treasury than was actually taken in. Naturally, I lost the legislative seat to the seasoned professional, but gained status in the Democratic party by a good electoral showing which laid to rest the argument that an anti-drug-war candidature would bring opprobrium on the party itself.
By 2000, the braver Democratic public officials were ready to speak out in varying degrees about the War on Drugs. State Senator Ed Perlmutter and State Representative Penfield Tate spoke at our May demonstration at the state Capitol last year. The US Rep Mark Udall of Boulder voted against the Colombia aid package in 2000, one of only 69 US reps to do so, and spoke out on that subject when I introduced him before an audience of Green Party aficionados shortly before last November.
Nevertheless, Monday morning I'll go down to the "Taj Mahal", as we Jefferson County voters call the elaborate palace which is the seat of our county government, and change my registration to the Republican Party. What has changed, you might well ask?
The answer is that there is a tide in the affairs of man. There is a hump in the road I can't quite push the Democrats over. Let me tell you about it.
The past few years in America have been rife with what can only be termed human rights crime committed by the authorities in the name of the War on Drugs. The Ramparts scandal in Los Angeles in particular comes to mind, but it's endemic across our nation. When I campaigned in 1994 in lovely suburban Jefferson County, my set speech warned that the abuses of the War on Drugs were not going to stay confined to the coastal urban areas, nor to the Denver Metro area, but were going to spread into Jefferson County.
It has begun. For example, the police in Lakewood, Colorado accidentally burned down a house in a drug raid and the city pled "sovereign immunity" and refused to pay compensation. I went to my honorable Democratic elected friends and insisted they speak up. It seemed no great leap to me. But here I met with resistance. I had noticed that there was some gingerness in handling affairs of this type, but I felt we had the authorities dead to rights. They were claiming, in effect, that they had the sovereign right to torch a residence as a prelude to a drug raid. But rather than raise fear in drug felons, the City of Lakewood had managed to intimidate Democrats. The Democrat elected officials would not cross the invisible line and admit that human rights crimes were occurring in Jefferson County. It's all very well, it seemed to them, to call mildly for solutions other than imprisonment, or to advocate an unspecified shift in policy, but confronting the devil on the doorstep was more than I could ask of them, despite having warned them for several years of his satanic majesty's imminent arrival.
I began to re-examine my affiliation with the Democrats. What did they stand for? After all these years, I didn't know. They don't know either. At one time liberalism stood for a break for the common man. Now it seems to stand for zero-tolerance policies in our children's schools and for preventing affordable housing in e-wealthy suburban communities. I was raised to believe that the Democratic Party stood for freedom, but over the years watching my Democratic friends introduce one intrusive snoopervision bill after another into the Colorado Assembly, I'm forced to admit that if they have one consistent principle, it's "More Power to Nanny Government." Pfaugh.
So I began to look at other parties. The Greens? I love 'em, but they're largely a bunch of spandex-suited jet-setters with impractical positions against free world trade. The Libertarians? True friends in the battle against the War on Drugs, yet they are mostly hair-shirted prophets in the wilderness whose self-respect demands that no-one ever prove them wrong by actually electing them to any significant office.
Within the spectrum of Colorado electoral politics that leaves only the Republicans. I like Republican Ben Nighthorse Campbell well enough, with whom I have had several heart-to-hearts about the issue. Nighthorse, when he's not busy in the US Senate, rides his Harley with the Hell's Angels and manufactures turquoise jewelry with his own hands. He also has personally subdued felons in the Washington, DC Metro more than once. Then there's the new Secretary of the Interior, Gale Norton, who as Colorado Attorney General disbanded the AG's Civil Forfeiture Unit on civil liberties grounds. Recently I've been meeting with US Representative Tom "Tank" Tancredo, who before he was in office, was head of the Independence Institute of Golden, Colorado, which regularly and vociferously condemns the War on Drugs on libertarian and economic grounds. Of course, "Tank" has been a bit less vocal since he crossed the Potomac.
Aye, there's the rub: Ideals are for those of us who live north, south and west of Foggy Bottom. Once ensconced in the federal capital, all bow the knee to Big Policy in one form or other.
So Monday I'll go with the Republicans. I won't be going for their leadership; I am sure the Republican leaders are of moral caliber equally equivocal to that of the Democrats.
No, I'm going for the people. I was wrong to narrowly associate myself, in pursuit of policy reform, with only 1/2 of the electorate. Now I am meeting the other half, and, do you know, they are just as charming and human as the half I've been associated with as a Democrat. And if they mean what they say when they endorse individual liberty, personal responsibility and the sanctity of property rights, I may just have found the platform I can run on as a drug policy reformer.
Jack J. Woehr is a computer programmer living in Fairmount, Colorado who has been active in the politics of drug policy reform since 1975.
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