Every interview Newsmax had with Colorado’s Democratic former Gov. Dick Lamm was akin to a salon with the wise men of Greece — and something in which this reporter was always eager to participate.
When news broke Friday that Lamm died five days short of his 86th birthday, mighty memories were reignited of his discourse on issues — always provocative and thoughtful.
“When it comes to a balanced budget amendment, consider me Saul on the road to Damascus,” Lamm told us in 1988. Shortly after completing a dozen-year stint (1974-86) in the governor’s office, Lamm explained that he had come to the conclusion deficit spending —“pump-priming”— in good economic times was a mistake and politicians in Washington had to be reigned in by the balanced budget amendment.
“A lot of us read [British economist John Maynard] Keynes in college and embraced his idea of deficit spending in bad times as medicine for recovery,” he explained, “But we either didn’t read all of Keynes or had selective memories. We conveniently forgot that Keynes said once the economic emergency was over, we had to cut spending and resume operating under a balanced budget.”
Always cordial, Lamm nevertheless abjured small talk and pleasantries. Conversation with him meant discourse on public policy, period.
Any such discourse inevitably included the Coloradan’s explanation of his most-controversial statement — that Americans have “a duty to die,” his explanation for his support of physician-assisted suicide.
“The reporter who put that out took words from a speech I gave in March of 1984 and later apologized to me,” Lamm insisted to us, pointing out that his full statement was "We've got a duty to die and get out of the way with all of our machines and artificial hearts and everything else like that and let the other society, our kids, build a reasonable life."
His message, Lamm explained, was that if society continued to prolong life, entitlements such as Social Security and Medicare would run out and the next generation would suffer.
But the phrase “duty to die” would haunt him for the rest of his career, as would the nickname “Governor Gloom” and the impression he wanted the elderly out of the way.
A graduate of the University of Wisconsin (Madison) with a degree in accounting and a U.S. Army veteran, the young Lamm worked his way through the University of California School of Law as an accountant, tax clerk, and lumberjack.
Settling in Denver and taking to the Centennial State’s lifestyle as a skier and mountain climber, Democrat Lamm was elected to the state House of Representatives in 1964.
Recalling his onetime legislative colleague to Newsmax, Republican Ken Kramer — later a congressman and judge of the U.S. Court of Military Appeals — said of Lamm: “He was extremely bright, always to the point, and he didn’t like Republicans very much.”
In 1967, State Rep. Lamm made statewide news by introducing and guiding to passage the first legislation easing a state’s restrictions on abortions. Enacted 6 years before Roe v. Wade essentially legalized abortion nationwide, the Lamm bill allowed abortions when a mother’s life was endangered and in cases of rape or incest.
Lamm remained committed on this issue throughout his career. During a 1996 dinner with reporters in Washington DC when he was seeking the Reform Party nomination for president, Lamm was asked by the late Kate O’Beirne of National Review what he felt about President Bill Clinton’s veto of a ban on late-term abortions. Without hesitation, he shot back: “He was absolutely right on that and I applaud him for it.”
In 1972, he led the statewide campaign to stop the 1976 Olympics from coming to Colorado. In so doing, he forged a campaign based on fears that the environment would be severely damaged and the state would be left with unnecessary bills. The state eventually canceled funding for the Olympics, thus forcing the city of Denver to rescind its acceptance of the event.
His leadership of the anti-Olympics movement and the swatches of publicity from Time magazine naming him one of “200 Young Leaders in America” in 1974 propelled him to the governorship.
Walking the state with wife Dottie, he won Democratic primary for governor over two better-known opponents. In November, he unseated Republican Gov. John Vanderhoof with 53 per cent of the vote.
Working with a legislature controlled by Republicans, Lamm’s stewardship of his state was twice rewarded with re-elections. But he also began voicing some highly controversial stands.
Lamm warned that what he called “unchecked, induced population growth” would have a negative impact on “that unspoiled, beautiful Colorado that stirred me so deeply.” He was also vigorously opposed to the multiculturalism that resulted from immigration, charging that encouraging immigrants to “maintain their culture” could destroy America.
In one of his many books, Lamm expressed a desire to wave a magic wand “across the ghettoes and barrios of America and infuse the inhabitants with Japanese or Jewish values, respect for learning, and ambition.”
“He is a hard-core racist! “declared Vernonica Barela, a leader of the Latina community in Denver.
Lamm would never win office again after leaving the governorship. In 1992, he lost the Democratic U.S. Senate primary to Rep. Ben Nighthorse Campbell (who actually shared Lamm’s passion for the balanced budget amendment and, as U.S. senator in 1995, switched to the Republican Party).
Four years later, after declaring that “both political parties are controlled by special interest money,” Lamm was welcomed into the new Reform Party by founder Ross Perot. He soon declared for its presidential nomination — only to hear Perot announce he would run for nomination if drafted by the party he had essentially bankrolled. To no one’s surprise, Perot beat Lamm by 2-to-1 among party members — leading to jokes about “a Lamm led to the slaughter.”
Dick Lamm never backed down on any of the controversial positions he took. Rather, he elaborated on them in numerous articles and books, including works of fiction. He was surely a complicated politician, but one whose passion for policy and propensity for the controversial made him worth interviewing and recalling.
John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax. For more of his reports, Go Here Now.
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