Douglas Bruce Archives - Colorado Politics

Dan NjegomirDan NjegomirNovember 24, 20174min8771

It’s not that much of a stretch to say the history of Colorado fiscal policy over the past quarter-century is synonymous with the biography of Douglas Bruce. That’s by and large because of the one groundbreaking policy Bruce authored and relentlessly championed into law in 1992, the voter-approved Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights in the state constitution.

For all of the legendary Colorado Springs tax reformer’s exploits since then — from his repeated attempts to enact other laws through the ballot box, to his time in elective office, to his stints behind bars for tax evasion — it is that one milestone that has seemingly tied the state’s fiscal fate to Bruce’s persona.

Hence, Colorado Public Radio’s three-part series this month chronicling Bruce’s role in Colorado politics and policy, “THE TAXMAN: How Douglas Bruce And The Taxpayer’s Bill Of Rights Conquered Colorado.” To say the podcast/text rendering is both ambitious and compelling is to say the least; it arguably amounts to a new must-listen/must-read for any student of Colorado public policy. That includes not only aspiring officeholders but also many of those already elected to office who are still in need of a tutorial.

It’s such a significant undertaking by CPR — including the feat of nailing an extensive studio interview with the alternately media-craving, media-baiting and media-hating Bruce — that Westword’s Chris Walker took note of the epic effort this week in a story about the story. Walker interviews Bruce’s interviewers, CPR’s Rachel Estabrook, Nathaniel Minor and Ben Markus:

Westword: TABOR seems like such a difficult and technical subject for a podcast. What was your motivation to start this project, and why did you think it would work?

Rachel Estabrook: I got interested because I produce a lot of the interviews that we do with Governor Hickenlooper, and TABOR comes up all the time. I didn’t feel like a lot of people — even some people in the CPR newsroom — really understood what it was about. It felt right for a sort of explanatory piece, but then I started learning more about Douglas Bruce. He’s such a fascinating character with so many twists and turns and complex motivations.

Twists and turns and complex motivations; yup. Walker even delves into the extent to which Bruce himself may view his own identity as being intertwined with Colorado policy; some of his critics would might put it more bluntly — that he has no other life:

… did he understand that your project was as much about him as it was about TABOR? Did he get defensive when you asked him about his personal life, or did he understand why that was something you’d be interested in?

Minor: We talked about policy a lot. And he would say, “Oh, I really don’t want to talk about more private parts of my life.” But then he would go on and tell us about private parts of his life.

Walker’s profile of the piece is enlightening in its own right. The CPR series, even more so. Both truly worth your time.


Dan NjegomirDan NjegomirOctober 31, 20173min12050

That was the upshot of a telling update the other day in the Colorado Springs Gazette on the self-styled taxpayers’ champion, thumb-in-your-eye activist and proud pariah of the political establishment. As The Gazette’s Conrad Swanson noted, even Bruce’s latest stint behind bars for violating terms of his parole on tax charges couldn’t get him to mend his ways:

While pleading for his early release from prison, anti-tax activist Douglas Bruce said he would sell his properties, pay overdue taxes and “lead a quiet life” in retirement in Colorado Springs.

But since his release from the Delta Correctional Facility in September 2016, Bruce has thrust himself back into the political spotlight, sold only three of his 52 or more houses and let his property tax liens and fines multiply.

Two houses fell into such disrepair that they were demolished, and local governments reclaimed three others.

And when Swanson challenged him on it all, the response was vintage Bruce:

Asked last week about those promises during his July 2016 parole hearing, Bruce twice screamed a bovine vulgarity and hung up his phone.

Emailed later on the topic, he responded: “ARE YOU DEAF AS WELL AS STUPID? GO AWAY! DO NOT CONTACT ME AGAIN.”

Like a moth to a flame, Bruce can’t resist a return to the political fray. And each time, he rises like a Phoenix from his own ashes.

Think a comparison of the inelegant and legendarily abrasive political rebel to the mythic bird is a bit much? Consider that the unbowed Bruce is back at it, tearing into a pending Colorado Springs ballot issue to raise funds for stormwater drainage as well as another ballot measure raising taxes for local schools. The author of the state’s landmark tax-limitation policy, amended into the state constitution by voters in 1992, remains ready to fight every tax or fee increase to the bitter end. No matter how local; no matter how small.

Love him or hate him, he’s relentless.


Dan NjegomirDan NjegomirSeptember 12, 20174min2750

It’s not unusual to see environmentalists on the political left come to the aid of homeowners aggrieved at developers over the latest shopping center or housing tract to intrude on their neighborhood. Less common but at least as potent is when elements of the tax-cutting, government-baiting political right link arms with the left on the same issue.

The left worries about the effect of growth and development on Mother Earth; the right worries about the impact on taxpayers’ wallets. Both end up railing against purportedly rapacious developers as well as at local land-use rules and tax policies that are said to subsidize development.

A commentary this week by Colorado College student columnist Max Kronstadt in his school’s independent student newspaper, The Catalyst, illustrates the point. An acknowledged left-leaner, Kronstadt approvingly quotes none other than Douglas Bruce — the father of Colorado’s taxing and spending limits — in an overview of an upcoming Colorado Springs ballot proposal that would assess a fee on residents to finance stormwater drainage upgrades. It’s a long-standing, hot-button issue in the city — home to both Bruce and Colorado College — that often turns into a barometer on sentiments about growth and development. Writes Kronstadt:

I had the opportunity to talk to Douglas Bruce, a former Colorado state legislator, anti-tax activist, and author of the controversial Colorado Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights (TABOR). He argues that the city is milking its residents for money, putting unnecessary financial strain on low-income households. “The grandma who lives in a trailer pays the same as someone in a mansion in the Broadmoor—that’s a regressive tax,” Bruce said. He also argued that the city government relaxed regulations on developers and is now forcing residents to pay for it. “The city created the stormwater issue by subsidizing developers and giving them a free pass instead of forcing them to pay to deal with their stormwater. And they did that intentionally,” he said.

Kronstadt then notes: “Though Bruce and I likely disagree on many topics, I’m with him on this one. The City Council’s plans are a gift to corporations at the expense of taxpayers, particularly low-income ones. “

Kronstadt nonetheless concludes he’ll probably vote for the fee because, “Colorado Springs has already signed an intergovernmental agreement with Pueblo County that mandates we spend $460 million on stormwater infrastructure … and the money has to come from somewhere.”

The takeaway, though, is that nowadays, Coloradans are as likely to hear the likes of Douglas Bruce chiding cities for “subsidizing developers” as they are to hear it from Bruce’s onetime adversaries on the left.


Dan NjegomirDan NjegomirSeptember 6, 20173min1310

Sure, it’s a commission on which he once served. In his hometown. Where he first conceived and wrote the taxing and spending limits that, since voter approval in 1992, have been part of the Colorado constitution.

Yet, the current crop of commissioners stiff-armed Douglas Bruce on Tuesday, voting 4-1 Tuesday to move ahead with a November ballot issue asking voters to let the county keep an excess $14.5 million it collected in tax revenue. If voters approve the plan adopted by commissioners, the money will be used for park and infrastructure projects including the long-awaited widening of Interstate 25 north to Castle Rock.

As The Colorado Springs Gazette’s Rachel Riley reports:

… about $12 million of the surplus will pay for roadway improvements, including at least $6 million that will be set aside to help fund the widening of Interstate 25 between Monument and Castle Rock. The widening could get another boost from a ballot item that will ask many county voters if $10 million in tax revenues from the Pikes Peak Rural Transportation Authority should be reserved to help pay for construction, which transportation officials say could begin in 2019 if the money can be found. The pledges would be relatively small amounts compared to the cost of widening the roughly 17-mile stretch from two lanes to three lanes — estimated at $290 to $570 million — but regional leaders say the local contribution could be leverage for state and federal funds.

The taxing and spending limits, known as the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, require a vote anytime government at any level wants to keep increases in tax revenue that exceed the rates of growth plus inflation. Otherwise, the extra money has to be refunded to taxpayers.

Bruce had wanted the county to do just that, returning the money via a one-time, $40 credit toward property-tax assessments.

Yet again, the irony of Bruce’s consistent stance against presenting such requests to voters stands out: He is, after all, the one who wrote the provision allowing governments to ask permission to keep the extra cash in the first place. To date, he has never supported its use, always arguing the money is better spent by taxpayers than by their elected officials.

Plenty of times, voters have said no to the requests; they’ve said yes, as well, on many occasions over the years. El Paso County’s decidedly conservative voters are reputedly skeptical of government pleas for more revenue, of course, but just about nobody in the county cares for the bottlenecked drive to Denver anymore. Which set of sensibilities will prevail?


Dan NjegomirDan NjegomirAugust 9, 20173min1861

He may be recycling some of his quips — Ronald Reagan’s, too — but tax-limitation author and convicted tax evader Douglas Bruce remains a go-to source for curmudgeonly commentary on any proposal for a new tax or fee. The onetime El Paso County commissioner and, briefly, state representative is back in the news this week, dumping on a a pitch by Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers to ask voters this fall for a stormwater fee.

Suthers hopes to finance extensive and expensive plans to improve the city’s beleaguered stormwater infrastructure over the next 20 years. Residential property owners would pay $5 a month under the proposal.

The Colorado Springs City Council heeded the mayor on Tuesday, with a council majority voting to take the first step toward placing the fee on the Nov. 7 ballot.

Bruce was primed for the debate, dusting off an old chestnut about how the fee is in reality a “rain tax.” It’s an argument he has invoked repeatedly in his years-long quest to keep a long-dormant plan for a city stormwater enterprise from fruition. (Voters previously voted against imposing a stormwater fee in 2009 and a countywide tax in 2014.)

As reported by Springs NBC affiliate KOAA-TV, Bruce was in vintage form:

“As President Reagan once famously said, ‘There you go again,'” said Douglas Bruce, author of Colorado’s Taxpayers Bill of Rights, more commonly known as TABOR.  Bruce successfully campaigned in 2009 to convince voters to pass Issue 300, which effectively put an end to stormwater and other enterprise fees imposed without voter consideration.  At the time, Bruce campaigned that the stormwater fee was a “rain tax.”  Now, Bruce is echoing that familiar refrain.

“It’s a slap in the face  of voters who said, ‘We don’t want to pay a rain tax,'” Bruce said.  Bruce contends the proposed fee is not a fee at all, but rather a property tax, considering that property owners would be billed for the payments.

Does Bruce still have his fingers on the pulse of likely voters in his hometown, the cradle of tax limitation in Colorado? Or, has the community moved on since his heyday staring down the City Council over fiscal policy and carrying the day at the polls? The city has until Sept. 8 to finalize its proposal for the ballot.


Dan NjegomirDan NjegomirJuly 4, 20174min28112

His many critics must have seen it as poetic justice — kind of like the hitch he served in a Colorado prison for tax evasion. Even some of his loyalists must have snickered. Here was the guy who has spent decades telling high-and-mighty pols and lowly government functionaries which pier they could jump off of — getting a heaping helping of his own attitude.

From the Colorado Springs chief of police, no less.

As reported Monday by our news affiliate The Gazette, tax-limitation author, veteran political activist and convicted felon Douglas Bruce, of Colorado Springs, wanted no part of an intensive police search the other night for a missing local teen-ager. Bruce was in fact irked at the phone alerts he and his neighbors received that evening about the 15-year-old autistic girl, who was believed to be in the area and ultimately was located unharmed.

The Gazette’s Kaitlin Durbin reports:

Bruce had asked the chief by email to stop city calls to him unless they relate to “specific crimes against me and my property.” He wrote that he was awakened about 10:30 p.m. Saturday by a call about a missing at-risk teenager in the Laredo Ridge Drive area, “wherever that is,” and again shortly before midnight with news that the girl had been found.

“TRY to exercise some judgment and common sense about the timing of random calls to citizens,” Bruce wrote. “This CSPD practice must be stopped.”

… “What do you expect me to DO at midnight about some juvenile in the city who does not tell her parents where she is? … I have no role in finding other people’s thoughtless or runaway children.”

Colorado Springs Police Chief Pete Carey’s email comeback amounted to a rare turnabout that evidently left the notoriously abrasive Bruce flabbergasted — “shocked,” he later complained:

“I regret that the phone notifications took you from your beauty rest. In truth, the beauty rest ain’t working anyway,” Carey wrote.

… Carey replied to Bruce that his “complete lack of care, concern and compassion for anyone but yourself fits perfectly with your obnoxious and bullying personality.”

The teen was found “due partly to the advisories that went out,” Carey wrote.

Bruce one day might be the missing person for whom public help is sought, the chief wrote. “Perhaps not, as that would actually require someone to miss you enough to make an initial report,” he added.

Carey told Bruce he would look into removing him from notifications “for anything but your sole, personal welfare, if you promise to remove my e-mail address from any more boorish correspondence you choose to send.”

Bruce, a former legislator and El Paso County commissioner, wrote the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, amended into the state constitution by Colorado voters in 1992. He was convicted in 2012 of three felonies including tax evasion and was sentenced to six months in jail and six years of economic probation. He was released from Denver County Jail after only 104 days on good behavior but then was convicted last year of violating terms of his probation and was sentenced to two years in prison. He was released from Delta Correctional Facility last Sept. 3, after less than six months.


Dan NjegomirDan NjegomirJune 23, 20174min1340

Colorado Springs native and legendary man about town John Hazlehurst has, in no particular order, served on the Springs City Council; run (unsuccessfully) for mayor; toiled as an appraiser of fine art, and long ago, spent years circumnavigating the globe in a sailboat. And that’s not to mention his New York days as an investment banker.

By many accounts, including his own, he truly found his groove as a journalist, chronicling his community with his characteristic wit and charm along with decades of perspective and global context. All his prior experiences in public service and beyond seemed to culminate in his tenure as a newsman and commentator, informing his insights.

Through it all, no one has accused him of being a government-bashing tax cutter. If anything, he is noted for tilting the other way as he tweaks the sensibilities of the staunchly conservative Springs political establishment.

Yet, there was Hazlehurst, touting, of all things, TABOR — yup, the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights — in a piece he penned not long ago for the Colorado Springs Business Journal. After musing in his inimitable way about buying a victorian mansion he’d seen advertised in far-off Albany, N.Y. — but then noting how he recoiled at its astounding property-tax bill, typical for the region — he observed:

As Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights author Douglas Bruce figured out many years ago, absent external checks, tax rates rise steadily in order to accommodate increased government spending.

Much of that spending is necessary and proper, but it’s interesting to note that there was no city sales tax in 1960. Liberals, moderates and even a few conservatives might complain that TABOR unnecessarily restricts our ability to fund local and state governments, but maybe the Dougster had a point. To the extent that wages, salaries and property values rise in tandem with tax increases, everything is rosy. Public employees get generous pensions, public schools and colleges get funded, and transportation needs are met.

But what happens to high-tax cities when capitalism’s bounty slows? Tax receipts drop, tax rates increase, employment shrinks, crime rises and residents flee.

He concludes:

So when we consider worthy new taxes, be they for stormwater, parks, state transportation, education or anything else, let’s be careful.

Cities, like those who live in them, are mortal. One day we may become the Detroit of the Rockies, undone by military downsizing, climate change, political turmoil or industrial evolution. And high taxes will only hasten the process.

No friend of Doug Bruce, that Hazlehurst. And yet…

It’s a noteworthy take from someone who dwells comfortably to the left of center. It seems he doesn’t mind upending the sensibilities of his own crowd from time to time, either.

Dan NjegomirDan NjegomirMay 5, 20175min1394

A federal judge has lowered the boom on a long-running lawsuit that had sought to use the courts to do what a succession of politicians wasn’t able to do in elected office — dismantle the voter-approved Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights amended into Colorado’s Constitution 25 years ago.

In a 24-page ruling issued Thursday, U.S. District Judge Raymond P. Moore found that the cast of politicians and other officials, mostly Democratic, who had signed on as plaintiffs when the suit was filed six years ago never was able to demonstrate legal standing to sue.

The lead plaintiff is state Sen. Andy Kerr, a Lakewood Democrat, who now is running for Congress in Colorado’s 7th District in the Denver metro area. At one point, counsel for the plaintiffs included former Colorado Democratic U.S. Rep. David Skaggs, of Boulder.

All had argued that provisions of the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, or TABOR — authored by Colorado Springs political activist Douglas Bruce and added to the state’s constitution in 1992 — flouted the U.S. Constitution. The plaintiffs’ core legal argument was that by giving voters direct veto power over all tax hikes and spending increases that exceed constitutionally set spending limits, the landmark policy in effect does an end-run on representative democracy. It was a novel legal strategy.

Yet for all their years of trying to make that case, through repeated court appeals, plaintiffs never even got as far as proving they had the right to bring the unconventional lawsuit in the first place. Moore ruled they never met the minimum burden required to have their day in court on the merits of their legal claim, having failed to make the case under either of two potential legal arguments:

“…plaintiffs make no effort to discuss, analyze, or even ruminate on how the elected officials, educators, and citizens have standing under either strand. Simply asserting that all plaintiffs have suffered concrete TABOR-related injuries, falls far short of satisfying either strand. And the Court should not step in to perform the analysis for plaintiffs. The analysis for both strands is nuanced and cannot take place in an argument vacuum, not least because it is far from certain whether the individual plaintiffs could satisfy either strand.”

Pending a decision by plaintiffs to appeal yet again, the ruling may well draw the saga to a close. Some observers and critics, particularly in TABOR-friendlier Republican ranks, certainly hoped so. As reported via Denver’s Channel 7 news:

Colorado Attorney General Cynthia Coffman praised Judge Moore’s decision.

“After 6 years of litigation, the federal court … entered an order that should put an end to this protracted and unproductive litigation. The district court’s order recognizes that this suit is an improper attempt to debate a public policy question through a federal lawsuit,” Coffman said.

“We hope the plaintiffs in this case will not appeal, given that my office has won victories in the Supreme Court, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals, and now the federal district court. The parties can certainly continue to oppose TABOR as a matter of policy and politics, but it’s long past time they gave up their frivolous lawsuit.”

State Senate President Kevin Grantham, R-Cañon City, released a statement on the ruling:

“Senate Republicans applaud the district court’s decision to dismiss this case, which clearly was aimed at end-running and undermining, through sly legal maneuvers, the will of voters who wrote TABOR into the State Constitution. If TABOR foes are sure Coloradans no longer support the taxpayer protections and fiscal discipline TABOR provides, they should stop waging these guerilla wars and put a repeal measure on the ballot. They don’t do so because they know Coloradans continue to support the spirit and letter of this law.”

According to Channel 7 News, a spokeswoman for the plaintiffs said they would meet next week to decide next steps.

Dan NjegomirDan NjegomirFebruary 27, 20174min790

Douglas Bruce can’t be the first felon who ever tweaked his backstory to fit his circumstances. No doubt plenty of perps have told a prospective employer, for example, that they regret their bad choice — only to turn around and tell mom, “I was framed!”

Yet, it takes someone with Bruce’s trademark audacity — unmitigated gall, if you prefer — to change his tune quite so publicly as he did last week in 4th Judicial District Court in Colorado Springs. That’s where the inimitable political figure, legendary tormentor of public officials — and, more recently, convicted tax evader just months out of prison — was back at it jousting with his old nemesis, Colorado Springs City Hall, over a pending tax question on the spring municipal ballot.

Bruce, who authored the taxing and spending limits that the public voted into Colorado’s constitution 25 years ago, was challenging the city on technical grounds over its proposal to keep extra revenue. Perhaps unexpectedly, the tables were turned on him in the courtroom of Fourth Judicial District Judge Gregory Werner. Bruce’s credibility as well as legal standing to press his complaint in the first place were called into question; he is, after all, a convicted felon who can’t even vote.

As The Gazette’s Lance Benzel reported on Friday, Bruce, who had served time in 2012, as well, seemed anything but contrite about his brush with the justice system:

“I don’t consider that I was convicted by a lawful jury. The whole procedure was a fraud,” a defiant Bruce said in a series of testy exchanges during an emergency hearing Bruce requested to contest a TABOR notice in citywide ballots scheduled to go out in the mail March 10.

Noting that he has appealed the convictions in U.S. District Court in Denver, Bruce said he was “framed” and blamed Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers — then Colorado’s attorney general — for “maneuvering” to bring the case against him.

“The guy is an evil person,” Bruce told The Gazette during a break in the proceedings after being asked to elaborate on his claims.

The real backstory, as recapped by Benzel:

Bruce, 67, was convicted in December 2011 of tax evasion, filing a false tax return and trying to influence a public servant, all felonies. He was sentenced in 2012 to six years’ probation and two consecutive 90-day stints in Denver County Jail and ordered to report all financial transactions. When he didn’t, he later served six months of a two-year prison sentence for probation violations.

As Benzel also noted, Bruce’s vintage performance last week represented an about-face from the humility he displayed last summer when petitioning authorities for early release from prison.

…Bruce contested his guilt, but suggested he was a changed man.

“I’m accepting responsibility,” Bruce told Alfredo Pena, the member of the Colorado State Board of Parole who heard his request for early release in July. “I regret that this whole situation occurred. It will never happen again.”

He was granted parole in September.

You think Bruce was putting on an act for the parole board? Say it ain’t so. Well, not our place to judge, at any rate. What is fairly safe to conclude, though, is that not even time behind bars will chasten Douglas Bruce enough to keep him out of the political fray.

Incidentally, his challenge of the city’s ballot issue flopped. Rest assured, though, the experience only whet his appetite for more.