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Last night in a crowded bar in Denver, an unlikely thing happened. A leading conservative sat down with a libertarian Republican to begin building a bridge toward a united future. The duo, Jim Pfaff and Sean Duffy, represented opposite ends of the debate on one of 2006's most contentious ballot issues — the ill-fated Referendum I that sought to strengthen legal rights and protections for same-sex partners. Duffy was the public relations guru behind the campaign, representing lead backer and libertarian Democratic millionaire Tim Gill. Pfaff, president and CEO of the Colorado Family Institute, served as the effort's lead opponent.

What’s A Western Conservative?

Last night in a crowded bar in Denver, an unlikely thing happened. A leading conservative sat down with a libertarian Republican to begin building a bridge toward a united future.

The duo, Jim Pfaff and Sean Duffy, represented opposite ends of the debate on one of 2006’s most contentious ballot issues — the ill-fated Referendum I that sought to strengthen legal rights and protections for same-sex partners. Duffy was the public relations guru behind the campaign, representing lead backer and libertarian Democratic millionaire Tim Gill. Pfaff, president and CEO of the Colorado Family Institute, served as the effort’s lead opponent.

Duffy calls himself a “pro-life, pro-gay” Republican, jokingly claiming that he’s been kicked out of the Republican Party multiple times only to come back for more abuse. You may remember him as the right-hand man of former Gov. Bill Owens, a conservative Republican.

“At the end of the day, as Republicans, we should all just want the government to leave us alone,” he told me.

And Pfaff, while frequently identified by his ties to Focus On The Family’s Dr. James Dobson and his commitment to “life” issues, says he wants to work with Duffy and other libertarian Republicans to begin rebuilding the Republican Party in the West after years of Democratic gains. In the last few years alone, five traditionally Republican Western states have elected Democratic governors. Pfaff is passionately eager to work through differences because he says he wouldn’t want to live in a pro-life socialist America. Socialism, he says, ultimately leads to a loss of all freedoms.

Over pints of Guinness, the two tell the story of the mutual admiration for each other. If this was your snapshot of the Republican Party’s two leading ideological factions, you’d have to wonder: What’s the problem?

The problem is huge. Republicans are facing an identity crisis of immense proportions. And social issues like gay rights and abortion are only the beginning. With George W. Bush at the helm, the federal government has maxed out our collective credit cards to continue funding the expansion of entitlement programs and an unpopular — but difficult to end — war.

For Republicans taking a stand against such reckless governance, they risk getting slapped with an “extremist” label. It’s no wonder so few of them are willing to stick their necks out.

It’s a reality already playing out in the early stages of Colorado’s closely-watched 2008 U.S. Senate race, where Bob Schaffer, a former Republican Congressman from Fort Collins, is taking on sitting U.S. Rep. Mark Udall, D-Eldorado Springs. While Schaffer should be given a gold star for his six years in Congress, he is being viciously attacked by liberals as a result of his fiscal restraint.

This is a man who fought consistently for a balanced budget, introducing a constitutional amendment to require such. Also a strong supporter of innovative education reform, Schaffer had the courage to vote against the unfunded mandates of the No Child Left Behind Act, reform legislation championed by many in his party, including George W. Bush. His efforts fell on deaf ears under the modern re-election formula that requires little more than bringing massive cash infusions from Washington to one’s home district. Schaffer kept his promise of a three-term limit pledge, returning to Colorado after serving in Congress. He now serves on the state’s Board of Education, most recently calling for transparency in board member spending, requesting that all reimbursement requests by board members be posted online for the public to see.

A March 9 Denver Post report suggests that Schaffer’s record makes him extreme, with the article relying on an analysis of congressional records done by Keith Poole, a University of California political scientist, who according to the article “has created a more comprehensive picture, analyzing every roll-call vote in the U.S. House and Senate since 1937, ranking each of 3,425 lawmakers relative to one another on a scale from most liberal to most conservative.”

But how do you define “conservative” and “liberal” in today’s political environment? Washington would be a better place if only we could elect more people dedicated solely to voting against spending increases. Amidst concerns about rising inflation and unemployment, and coupled with the fact that the average American works until May every year just to pay his or her tax burden, a little tax relief could go a far way.

How does a candidate earn a “moderate” label? Most likely by supporting just enough spending increases to make Democrats play nice. It’s not a world I want to live in when we have a federal deficit that spins out of control and a Colorado state budget that legislators are still struggling to balance even in the aftermath of Referendum C’s nearly $6 billion tax increase.

Conservatives and libertarians should follow the lead of Pfaff and Duffy, putting aside their differences on social issues to elect viable candidates dedicated to protecting the working families and small business owners who suffer most when government spending expands. Now, after years of watching Republicans falter, here’s something I can toast to.

Editor’s note: Jessica Peck Corry’s weekly blogs are part of NewWest.Net/Politics’ “Diary of a Mad Voter” feature, a group blog, published in partnership with the Denver Post’s Politics West intended give a glimpse into the hearts and minds of several independent-minded voters and thinkers in the Rocky Mountain West in the ’08 election cycle. For more columns check in with And for more information on each of the bloggers, click here.

About Jessica Peck Corry

Jessica Peck Corry serves as a public policy analyst with the Independence Institute, where she specializes in civil rights, higher education, and land use policy.

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  1. Independence Institute policy analyst Jessica Peck Corry may well wonder when and how conservatives and libertarians can put differences aside and join forces against big government.
    Why does the phrase “when pigs fly” come to mind?
    If libertarians simply want to be left alone, conservatives want to push their social values on everyone else, all the while pushing their free market hokem (read Naomi Kline’s “The Shock Doctrine”) and building up a monied aristocracy to the vast detriment of the middle class.
    For Jessica to talk about electing “candidates dedicated to protecting the working families and small business owners” is an absurity, given her party’s and employer’s records in tearing down labor unions, exporting jobs and exaulting Big Business that have laid waste to Mom & Pop shops and the middle class.
    If you swallow the snake oil sold by Jessica and the Independence Institute and ARE NOT a millionaire, then you are a sucker and mere cannon fodder for the far-right agenda.

  2. Soooooo, Inky ~ Jessica-bashing aside ~ did you fail to tell us your own most favored proposals regarding the election of “candidates dedicated to protecting the working families and small business owners” or did I just miss those suggestions being made while I was reading your comments?

    Snake oil of all brands is bad for my digestive system, I am not a millionaire, and I choose to believe that I am not a sucker ~ but why don’t you tell us just which brand of snake oil you’d like us to swallow and just which agenda you think we ought to be cannon fodder for?

    Just a desire to kill the messenger falls somewhat short of seeking-to-find a solution for all the problems that encompass us all, don’t you think?

  3. Rose Mary, poor Inky is mezmerized by labels. NAFTA is a Dem deal start to finish as it exported jobs. In terms of ‘who’ is trying to inculcate their social values, he makes me laugh. Most conservatives want to be left alone. Meanwhile our leftist schools are browbeating students over all sorts of left ‘social values.’

    What has me scratching my head is why Jessica has to even ask the question. A better question is why do reasonable people let labels get in the way of solving problems.

  4. The best way you could help families and small businesses is to get them out of the business of being health care providers.
    A single payer system also has the added benefit of making American companies more competitive worldwide. If this wasn’t the way to go America wouldn’t be the only first world country without universal health care.
    Did you know that America is one of the only countries worldwide that doesn’t mandate paid vacation or sick time. We are also one of about 5 countries that don’t require paid leave for women when they have children?
    Sadly, both the so-called libertarians and conservatives don’t want to help families and small business. Their leaders have proven it time and time again. Endless Jihads, tax cuts for the rich and forced prayer like conservatives want and slashing of education, police departments, fire departments, pollution standards, etc. like Libertarians espouse don’t do anything for most families.

  5. What do I want?
    In an ideal sense, I’d like to see the political reincarnation of Franklin and Theodore Roosevelt, who saved rampant, unrestrained capitalism from destroying itself with its own excesses.
    I’d like an aggresive “trust buster” to break up Big Everything (media, energy, newspaper chains, pharma, ag, meatpackers, retailers, etc.) because economies of scale inevitably morph into abuse of labor, environment and stagnation of creativity.
    I’d like another Ike to take on the military-industrial complex (now wedded with homeland security/anti-terror). I’d like a Pentagon focused on self-defense, not world domination.
    I’d like another Ben Franklin, who recognized that if we sacrifice freedom for security, we’ll have neither. Franklin would be a handy diplomat and negotiator as we try to crawl out of the desolate international relations wilderness created by Bush/Cheney.
    I’d like another Lincoln, who recognized that “Labor is prior to, and independent of, capital. Capital is only the fruit of labor, and could never have existed if labor had not first existed. Labor is the superior of capital, and deserves much the higher consideration.”
    I’d like to put people ahead of capital and end this plutocratic aristocracy so beloved by conservatives who prattle endlessly about freedom, but never admit it is freedom only for the rich and powerful and the rest of you shut up and do as you’re told.
    And in marked constrast to Cheney’s dismissive “So?”, Lincoln was wise enough to observe that “Public sentiment is everything. With public sentiment, nothing can fail; without it nothing can succeed.”
    I’d like to see an anti-Reagan, a master of political communication, who could completely and utterly discredit the fundamentalist Friedmanesque belief system that free markets can do no wrong and regulations can do no right.
    I’d like to see our religious and political leaders embrace the Sermon on the Mount and turn away from Revelations.
    I want public financing of political campaigns from town hall to Washington, D.C. I want my representatives to run on the basis of ideas, not who’s got ’em by the short hairs via big checks.
    Before the Pearly Gates and the bar of justice, I expect to be judged and listened to as an individual. Why should the rich and powerful get a better hearing in city hall or Congress than I, or you?

  6. Inky, kudos for putting real substance on the table. Now just put the red cape of rhetorical labels aside and we can have real discussion.

  7. and flounder, has it escaped your attention that research demonstrates that conservatives give far more to charitable causes than liberals? So….why not holster your judgmental finger?

  8. Inky,

    Your comment should be on the front page of every newspaper in America.

    I am printing it out to keep for a reference, and forwarding this link to friends.

    “Thanks” would be highly insufficient. But thanks,


  9. Craig, I don’t believe that for a second. No wonder you didn’t cite a source.
    It does remind me of something I heard about the robber barons, that they always made sure they gave a street urchin a dime when the reporters were around, while at the same time they were ruthlessly crushing unions and fighting against the 40 hour work week.
    Inky, that rocks, you would never see the wingers around here state what they really want…endless war, forced prayer, and making contraception illegal don’t exactly poll very well.

  10. I’ll bet Duffy has taken a lot of abuse. Is it possible that when Republicans like Pfaff roll back their losses, they’ll forget about the Libertarian wing and the conservative values that helped put them in power once again? Inquiring minds want to know.

    Duffy’s quote is a classic. Should be the Republican Party’s motto but ain’t:

    “At the end of the day, as Republicans, we should all just want the government to leave us alone.”

  11. I knew you would bring that up. If Brooks had let the data guide his book he would have written a book about how Liberals and Conservatives are largely indistinguishable in their charitable contributions, while “moderates” sorely lag both groups. Moderates are the ungenerous ones.
    Instead he plays around with confidence levels, switching from the standard 0.05 confidence to .01 and .10 when it suits his conclusions. Moderates are the least charitable if you really look at the study.
    Brooks also controls for religiosity (is a contribution to a hate group like Focus on the Family or a televangelist that buys a mansion in Miami with the money really charity?), which obscures the meaning of the results.
    Brooks also ignores the fact that liberals are more likely to volunteer (although this difference is just as minor as the charitable giving: i.e. liberals and conservatives volunteer-ism is indistinguishable at .05 confidence levels, same as with donating).

  12. Regarding forced prayer. Please tell us which schools are even able to ALLOW prayer in school, much less force it.

  13. All schools allow prayer. I used to pray before tests all the time. Silently. At my desk. Personally. As it should be.
    Taxes by the top 20% rose 5%. The wage disparity between this group and everyone else rose by more than that. When you figure that wages were flat for middle and lower income workers over this time frame, the net conclusion is that the rich got a tax cut. If you learned a little about reading statistics it would be a lot harder for the rabid wingers at the Heritage Institute to trick you.

  14. I agree with Hal, Inky! Thanks for posting your comments that sure do go a very long way toward identifying the wishes and dreams of many of us.

    But the challenge remains: how will we apply some of those ideals in a *positive* fashion for the betterment of the USA?

    When they become converted into, or clouded by, what seems to be the perpetual desire to stamp some sort of a label with indelible ink on the foreheads of us all I have a great and ever-growing fear that when we rise from the floor on our ONE leg ~ having shot the other foot off with our own sawed-off shotgun ~ our kids and our grandkids will have been cheated out of those lifelong rights and privileges that you and I have been blessed to receive from our founding fathers who created them for us and gifted them to us.

    In every direction I look around
    And see so little to be found
    That starts or ends with unlike word
    To all the negatives I’ve heard.

    I see no hope for ALL of us
    As long as words ooze like a pus
    Emitted from a bleeding sore.
    Can we not muster up for more?

    When was the last time that an ear
    Heard words proclaiming U. S. dear?
    Can we not let the bashing end?
    We’ve enemies around the bend.

    From coast to coast and in-between
    Too much is spoken that is mean
    And self-destructive to us all …
    … assisting with our Nation’s fall.

    There is NO side of aisle pure.
    Each *politician* will endure.
    Their job security’s supreme
    And foremost with each way they lean.

    But WE are ones who make that true!
    Creation formed by me and you!
    We sit and listen, stoke the stoves
    As we elect them in big droves.

    “Conservative” or “Liberal” or
    Those other words that hit the floor
    Result in NOTHING for our gain.
    Yet they continue, fall like rain.

    And when they do they just DIVIDE
    Our Nation who must reach a stride
    Surpassing others who would kill
    Us off for nothing but the thrill.

    It’s FAR past time to scrape the scum
    From off our ROOTS, quit being dumb,
    And find just ONE cause to restore
    That History that made us MORE!

    But we must HURRY if we care.
    It’s FAR past time to meet the dare.
    While “speak” is dribbling down our chin,
    China’s BUYING land we’re in!

    There’ll never be ONE shot that’s fired
    By any nations who’ll conspire
    While watching us all SELF-destruct
    As we all bury SELVES in muck.

    It does not matter, West or East.
    Within each one there rides a beast
    Who’d rather concentrate on label
    Than disasters on our table.

    The strength of a tree lies in its roots — not in its branches.

    Do not mistake a goats beard for a fine stallions tail.

    … or so it seems to me …

  15. Thank you Rosemary, as usual, you said it so well.

  16. Maybe there’s a Biblical scholar out there that can shed more light, but it seems to me that there is an uncanny resemblance between the Pharisees of the New Testament, and the holier-than-thou Bible thumpers who want religion in schools, government and the public square.
    Like the Pharisees of old, who used to so publically worship and adhere to the Law (but rarely attended to the needs of the poor), Dobson, Robertson, Hagee and Paisley do much the same — making worship a public spectacle and event, rather than a quiet, humble and private conversation with one’s God.
    Jesus called them blind guides who had shut the gates of heaven so that neither they nor the people could enter. He constantly attacked them for hypocrisy, calling them fools.

    “But woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye shut up the kingdom of heaven against men: for ye neither go in yourselves, neither suffer ye them that are entering to go in…
    Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these things ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone. Ye blind guides, which strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel.

    Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye make clean the outside of the cup and of the platter, but within they are full of extortion and excess. Thou blind Pharisee….” (Matthew 23:13, 23:23-26)

    Reminds me of a great bumper-snicker I once saw:
    “Jesus is Coming, and boy is He pissed.”

  17. Inky, I love that bumper sticker line. The places in the US with the highest “religiosity”, which mean the south, midwest, and Utah, also have the highest concentrations of payday lenders. Jesus sure thought usury was bad, I bet Pat Robertson owns stock in usurers.