Coloradan of the Year: Who and Why?

(Denver Post, Dec. 27) Remember those times when we thought the world had changed, but it hadn’t? Eight years ago after jihadists attacked the US homeland, and again last year after America elected its first black president, the talk of “forever different” was soon quieted by life’s old patterns. The world does not change, because human nature does not.

But an event that did change the world occurred 2000 years ago in the stable at Bethlehem. Religious differences aside, the earthquake of Jesus’ coming is historical fact. The idea of all persons created equal, all endowed with dignity and liberty, arrived with him and has gained steadily ever since. This makes our seasonal celebrations, both sacred and secular, most fitting.

Among them is the parlor game of tallying up who made a difference in the old year, amid the gusts of forgettable news and fleeting celebrity. In 2009 the very word “change” devolved from a mantra into a punchline. Yet certain individuals had an impact that deserves recognition as the calendar turns. Editors at Time and Sports Illustrated have crowned their national honorees. On behalf of Rocky Mountain conservatives, here’s my award for Coloradan of the Year.

Who would you choose? And by what yardstick would you decide? I took as jurors Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, and Grant, spiritual fathers under whose wise and brave influence our state was born. We looked for distinguished contributions by fellow citizens in keeping Colorado true to its heritage. The field was broad and bipartisan.

This was the year that Mike Coffman, Iraq veteran twice over, took his war-fighting savvy to Congress. Ken Salazar, son of the San Luis Valley, became steward of all the nation’s public lands. Douglas Bruce left public office but remained a potent force for limited government through his TABOR legacy. Peter Groff, descendant of slaves, took charge of faith-based programs for schoolkids across the country.

None of them, however, made our top-10 finalists. Nor did Jim Tracy, the managerial wizard who electrified Rockies fans, or Michael Bennet, the education wizard who vaulted into the Senate. Nor did leftist campaign financier Tim Gill or Islamist plotter Najibullah Zazi – though jurors sent them backhanded thanks for puncturing the complacency of many.

As finalists for 2009, the jury salutes Jon Caldara of the Independence Institute, laughing lancer of liberty; Joe Blake of Colorado State, common-sense businessman turned university president; and Mayor Hickenlooper along with Congressman Salazar, two solid Johns who remind us not all Democrats are loony liberals.

Plus Philip Anschutz, philanthropist, media mogul, and rising GOP rainmaker; Vincent Carroll, senior pundit of the right at the old Rocky and now here at the Post; Dick Wadhams, quarterback of the state’s impending Republican revival; James Dobson, radio hall-of-famer and hero of the American family; and Jane Norton, new voice of women conservatives in the West.

But last and loudest, as Coloradan of the Year, we applaud Archbishop Charles Chaput. He did the state proud as a leading signer of the Manhattan Declaration on sanctity of life, dignity of marriage, and defense of religious liberty. His book “Render unto Caesar” is a timely guide to principled citizenship in a nation under God. Four centuries of Americans who pushed westward from the Old World’s exhaustion to the New World’s promise would recognize in Chaput a friend to their souls.

I’m not a Catholic, and some of my ghostly jurors were but hesitant Christians; yet no matter. The good archbishop models self-government and self-giving for Coloradans of all faiths. Tempted to believe we live by bread and circuses rather than by truth and love, our state is continually reminded otherwise by this fearless prelate. Soldier of civilization, man of backbone, Charles Chaput will live in grateful memory many Christmases from now.

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