For Colorado, one not obvious, but very lasting, legacy of revered former Republican Rep. (1972-78) and Sen. (1978-90) Bill Armstrong is the large number of staffers he trained, employed, and then helped guide into other careers. Whether the issue was cutting taxes, limiting abortion or protecting property rights, stalwart conservative Armstrong never pulled punches. He demonstrated that a politician can have strong beliefs and still command enough respect from voters to not to have to trim his philosophical sails.
And 14 years after he stood by his commitment to term limits and retired from the Senate when a lifetime career there could have been his for the asking, Armstrong’s influence in the Centennial State and in Washington is carried on through former staffers who are now elected officials, top executives with trade organizations, key government program heads in the Bush Administration and in the state government of Republican Gov. Bill Owens. In effect, the “Armstrong School” has been pivotal in promoting conservatism well into the 21st Century.
One “star pupil” in the “Armstrong School” has been Greg Walcher. A fifth-generation Coloradan and graduate of Mesa State College, Walcher went to Armstrong’s Washington office to answer telephones and open constituent mail. He went on to become legislative assistant and executive assistant in his near-decade with the senator.
Forsaking a career in Washington, Walcher returned to his home state to become president of Club 20, a group that represents the interests of the Western Slope of the state on such issues as property rights, water, rural road improvements, and the environment. When friend and fellow conservative Owens became governor in 1999, he tapped Walcher to be secretary of natural resources–overseeing more than 2500 employees, eight different divisions, 15 boards, and a $160-million annual budget. Much of Walcher’s work involved dueling with federal officials such as staffers at the Environmental Protection Agency over the rights of property owners.
When Republican Rep. Scott McInnis announced his retirement last year, the 47-year-old Walcher became one of 11 Republicans vying to succeed him. Soon that figure was narrowed down to five. With the help of more than 850 individual donors and a districtwide network of eager volunteers who had come to know and admire his work for Club 20 and the Owen Administration–plus the endorsement of mentor Armstrong–Walcher won the heated primary.
Walcher’s opponent in November, State Rep. John Salazar, bears one of the best-known Democratic names in Colorado. His brother is two-term State Attorney General and present U.S. Senate nominee Kenneth Salazar.
“And while John has served only one term in the legislature, it’s very revealing to find my opponent casting 20 different votes for more than $12 million in taxes and fees,” Walcher observed dryly. “With a record like that, I’m not surprised he wants to raise taxes by repealing all of the Bush tax cuts and restoring the estate tax that has hit small farmers and ranchers here so hard.” Walcher, of course, supports making all of the President’s tax cuts permanent.
At times, the issue differences in the Walcher-Salazar contest are as current as tomorrow’s headlines. With the legal status of marriage debated from coast to coast, Walcher supports a federal constitutional amendment to define marriage as a union between man and woman. “And my opponent,” he charges, “supports legalizing gay marriage in Colorado.”
Walcher is a stalwart supporter of the war on terror. Salazar supports placing U.S. troops in Iraq under UN command in Iraq. (“About the last place I would let our boys be placed,” says Walcher.) and according to the Craig (Colo.) Daily Press (Feb. 4, 2004), Salazar once belittled the war by characterizing it as “a war for oil.”
Were congressional races determined exclusively by issue stands and rĂ?Æ? Â©sumĂ?Æ? Â©s, Walcher would win in a walk. But the hard fact is that money is the pivotal factor in such races and, with big-dollar backing from Peace PAC, the Council for a Livable World, and the League of Conservation Voters–all sworn enemies of Walcher–Salazar is a tough customer. Greg Walcher needs to match his opponent dollar-for-dollar if he is to become a conservative leader in Congress–in the Bill Armstrong mold.
(Walcher for Congress, P.O. Box 4800, Grand Junction, Colo. 81502)