CALDARA | Dick Lamm – a real political pioneer | Colorado politics
One of the great joys of my career was being friends with Dick Lamm.
Of all the elected officials I know, Lamm was the most unique.
Since his death last week, I’ve been looking for the right words to describe him. And I failed.
Maybe it depends. I have never met a political leader who is more open to questioning his own political premises than Dick Lamm.
Because of this, I have never seen a political leader willing to challenge his own base of supporters. Usually this is a death sentence in politics. It never seemed like a consideration to him.
I was a kid when he became governor. I never thought that one day he would regularly invite me to his lectures at the University of Denver. He said to me, “Jon, I’m a fanatic of ideological balance in my class.” That was, of course, his friendly way of saying that he asked me to speak to his kids because I was so wrong politically.
So humble in character, his young students never had any idea what an important force he was in state and national politics. I found that very informative about his personality. It was never about him. It was always about ideas and politics.
Perhaps the phrase I have been looking for is that I have never known a political leader who was so opposed to me in politics – who I have ever respected so much.
We live in a Colorado that Dick Lamm has greatly influenced.
As the state legislature, Lamm carried and passed Colorado’s law to legalize abortion. That was at a time when the political parties weren’t going to quit. The bill was signed by a Republican governor.
Should the US Supreme Court in Roe v. Wade, passed years after Lamm’s Legalization Act passed, it won’t have much of an impact here in Colorado. We would go back to his law; Abortion would remain legal here.
Today’s traffic jams also have something to do with his politics. Lamm didn’t want strong population growth in Colorado. He believed in a policy of “if you don’t build it, they won’t come”. Denver is now the only subway area of this size without at least one bypass, as he repeatedly destroyed the idea of the C-470 and established his famous “silver thorn”.
Unfortunately they came anyway.
His most famous “if you don’t build it” act was the one that catapulted him into governorship. When the US Olympic Committee, the world, and of course the Colorado business community, were planning to host the 1976 Colorado Winter Games, Lamm led a citizens’ group to deny them that privilege. When he sees how many states are still holding their pockets after the circus has left town, he may have been right.
When the Olympic idea resurfaced in Colorado a few years ago, the mere remark he made that he might turn it down again forced him to drop the idea.
He was keen to keep Colorado, well, Colorado – by keeping the transplants out, both legal and illegal. He warned of the costly “Presse One for English” culture and, together with the Republican icon Tom Tancredo, raised the alarm about uncontrolled illegal immigration, which few liberals had the courage to do.
Lamm made decisions that he later regretted. Apart from a few court decisions, I believe that he most regretted his decision to “deinstitutionalize” people with severe mental health problems. The idea of mainstreaming these people was seen as a compassionate way of dealing with the cruelty of the institutions. Unfortunately, many of the people were not ready for the real world as we see today in the homeless issue.
Dick was one of the few Democrats who could count. This led him to worry about the obscene debt spending the nation is addicted to. Such as his obsession with healthcare costs and his comment on a “duty to die”. He left the world while he was preaching.
The last time I saw Dick was at a mutual friend’s funeral. He had retired from teaching. I had a strong feeling that he regretted it. “Think carefully before you retire Jon,” he told me.
One of the great political pioneers emerges from a pioneering state, and just a damn good man.
Jon Caldara is president of the Independence Institute in Denver and hosts “The Devil’s Advocate with Jon Caldara” on Colorado Public Television Channel 12. His column appears on Sundays in Colorado Politics.