August 2010

McInnis' Water-loo

By David Grant Long

If you've lived in Colorado's Third Congressional District for a while, the name of GOP gubernatorial candidate Scott McInnis should ring a bell. But even if it doesn't, I would like to sound one now — an alarm bell warning you to vote for someone — anyone — else to do the job.

The duplicitous McInnis was elected to Congress for six terms beginning in 1992, even though he'd initially promised to limit himself to three. Term limits were a popular concept then, and the former speaker of the Colorado House wasn't one to miss a political trick when it came to appealing to popular sentiment, regardless of how divorced it might have been from his actual ambitions.

When confronted about breaking his term-limit promise, McInnis explained that he had become so important in Washington, D.C., because of his appointment to the “powerful” (as it's always called) Ways and Means Committee that he would be doing the good citizens of the district a disservice by quitting and thus depriving them of his vast influence. (See, even when it reflected poorly on him, he was always thinking of what was best for us.)

But this was far from McInnis' only about-face during his time in the Capitol. For instance, there was his position on gays serving openly in the military, which was a hot issue at the time and resulted in Bill Clinton's loony and hypocritical “Don't Ask, Don't Tell” policy.

McInnis told me — in one of the first political interviews I'd done for the Cortez newspaper — that he believed the only qualification for serving in the military should be, just as in any other job, the person's ability to do the required work, and that sexual orientation should not be a consideration. That sounded good to me and, I would guess, many other voters who believe in basic fairness.

Of course, as soon as he got to Washington, the freshman representative changed 180 degrees, falling in line behind his religious-right conservative masters and coming out strongly against allowing gays to openly serve, even though many were indeed serving honorably if anonymously and dying right along with the straight soldiers in Iraq, Kosovo or wherever the government was sending our forces at the time. His explanation involved being him told by military brass that it was a bad idea because guys on submarines sometimes had to crawl over one another.

McInnis also said he would work hard to be objective about all proposed legislation, judging it solely on its merits rather than its politics. “The time for partisan politics is over,” I quoted him. Of course, once he got to Washington, his actions again belied his words, and he ended up with one of the strongest conservative ratings in Congress.

But never mind all that. Call it politics. Say they all do it.

What makes McInnis totally unfit to serve as governor involves his venal, dishonest behavior after he finally left office.

For those who haven't been paying close attention, Denver Post reporter Karen E. Crummy recounted in a series of in-depth articles last month that the would-be governor was awarded a $300,000 two-year fellowship from a conservative think tank in 2004 to write a series of articles entitled "Water Musings" concerning Western Slope water issues. McInnis took the money and turned in some articles to the Hasan Family Foundation.

Only trouble was, he didn't even write them and large parts were copied by the man who did from Gregory Hobbs, a water expert who is now a state supreme court judge.

That wasn't what McInnis told his generous benefactor, however.

"All the articles are original and not reprinted from any other source," he wrote in a 2005 memo to the foundation.

Dr. Malik Hasan, who made a fortune in the health-care industry, set up the foundation with his wife Seeme in 1993 to educate state residents on important issues, he told Denver's Channel 7 News, which interviewed him after the plagiarism came to light. Hasan said he was sorely disappointed by McInnis’ efforts, especially after learning that what little material he had produced contained stolen portions. “In his communication to the website he said, ‘This was my original work’,” Hasan told 7 News.

Hasan's wife reportedly read the alleged McInnis pieces and decided they weren't worth publishing, but McInnis was paid anyway.

Asked if he thought McInnis had earned the money, Hasan replied with an emphatic, “No — not even a fraction. And what we got later on, we found that someone else had done that job and basically that somebody copied from somebody else. It's like a joke — a bad joke.

“I thought he loved this state,” said Hasan, a former friend of McInnis’. “I thought he cared about the people he represented — now I think the McInnis I knew was abducted by aliens and there's a substitute."

The foundation asked for its money back but so far McInnis is not reported to have paid.

Teresa Fishman, the head of the Center for Academic Integrity at Clemson University, compared Hobbs' writings with those McInnis represented as his, and told Crummy (the one who dug up most of this stuff and deserves great credit) that portions were definitely copied, both in thought and expression.

“In this case it looks like plagiarism of both — words and ideas lifted from an original source,” Fishman said. She added that if McInnis were her student, she would have given him an “F” and reported him to the academic dishonesty council.

But the former Congressman's naked greed and thievery may not even be the worst part of the sordid mess.

The man who did write the articles, himself a water expert named Rolly Fischer, said he was paid “a few hundred dollars” apiece and was led to believe they were background material for McInnis’ personal use. Fischer said he was given no clue they were to be published as McInnis’ own work.

McInnis then claimed it was Fischer's mistake and asked him to sign a letter taking all the blame for stealing pages upon pages of material from Hobbs. Fischer refused and told Channel 7 McInnis was lying.

“I had this sophomoric assumption that he wanted them for his own inventory,” Fischer said. “I did not know that he intended to submit that as his personal work.”

For his part, McInnis doesn't dispute the basic facts of the matter, but says he's somehow “accepted full responsibility” and it’s time to move on, because this is only a “political” thing cooked up by his enemies.

“It doesn't matter,” he told Channel 7 reporter John Ferrugia when pressed at a recent rally in Alamosa and asked repeatedly if he or Fischer were telling the truth.

So the truth doesn’t matter, you see. It's really small potatoes to the very kind of guy that makes people so cynical about politics and government.

There is still some question whether the matter might be investigated by the state bar association as a possible ethics violation or even by the state attorney general as a crime involving theft and fraud.

But the more immediate question is, do you want as your next governor a man who behaved like this? Who was willing to pass off someone else's work as his own, who was willing to pay an alleged friend peanuts for something that netted him a small fortune from another alleged friend, money that an actual writer might have used to shed some actual light on knotty water issues facing the state?

It’s hard to imagine enough honest, upstanding Republicans saying “Yes” to those questions to give McInnis the nod in this month’s primary election.

But either way, we’d better learn how to spell Hickenlooper.

David Grant Long writes from Cortez, Colo.