Congressman Mike Coffman has done a smart and proper thing. Less than two weeks after questioning gubernatorial candidate, Josh Penry's motives in supporting the property rights of ranchers in Southeastern Colorado in their four-year-long battle with the Army, he has issued an apology. The offending accusations were delivered in a column in the Colorado Statesman on October 23rd. In that piece Coffman accused Penry of voting for HB1317, "on the basis of a political calculation." He went on to impugn Penry's patriotism, suggesting that his vote was cast, "without any regard for the men and women in uniform." What Coffman failed to consider was that he was, by implication questioning the motives of the majority of Colorado legislators. The bill, which blocks the sale of State school sections to the military for expanding the live-fire range at the Pinon Canyon Maneuver site was supported by a large bi-partisan majority in both houses of the statehouse.
Coffman's original editorial was intended as an endorsement of Scott McInnis' position in favor of Pinon Canyon expansion, but it had much broader implications. It brought to light an ideological schism within the Republican party. On one side of the rift are Coffman and McInnis, supporters of the economic interests of the military-industrial complex. On the other side are those like Penry who come down on the side of the property rights of landowners.
Coffman's election-day apology which was also sent to the Colorado Statesman demonstrates good political survival instincts, coming in the context of an angry avalanche of reaction from his fellow Republicans, including military veterans. While Coffman's criticism was aimed at Penry, it was also an implicit indictment of other property-rights Republicans who voted to protect private and state lands from being seized and federalized.
Perhaps Scott McInnis will now follow Coffman's example by apologizing for similar damaging accusations, which have alienated him from many within his own party. And perhaps he will reconsider his position in support of a military take-over of the southeastern corner of our state.