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Plan to expand U.S. powers alarming some in Colorado
| NYTIMES.COM | 03-10-2001
    

 

OLORADO SPRINGS, Oct. 2 - The people who live under the formidable jaw of Pikes Peak like their churches, houses and cars big, and their government small. They send a steady flow of Republicans east, and do not expect much to come west, unless it is tax cuts or farm subsidies.

So to many it has come as a surprise, bordering on outrage, that a government thought to be safely controlled by like-minded conservatives is trying to expand the power and size of the federal policing authority, increase surveillance and wiretapping powers, even consider proposals for national identification cards.

"Here it comes - our government trying to take away freedoms again in the name of a national emergency," said Ted Adamovich, a 53-year-old resident of Colorado Springs. "They can put a little more surveillance in airports, but beyond that - no. Let them try to make me sign up for a national ID card. I dare them."

Mr. Adamovich says he bleeds red, white and blue, and has been consistently loyal to one party. "I'm Republican, for now," he said. "But if they push this stuff, who knows where I'll end up."

His warning was echoed throughout the cradle of New West Republicanism, where it is almost as hard to find a liberal as it is a slice of street-side pizza. To hear some people talk, Janet Reno is still attorney general and Bill Clinton remains president.

"Some of this stuff they're proposing reminds me of a police state," said Bob Kosser, a member of the National Rifle Association, a Republican and an Air Force veteran who lives in this booming, conservative city along the Front Range.

"Cameras, wiretapping, e-mail surveillance," Mr. Kosser counted off, wearing a T-shirt featuring an embroidered American flag. "Are they going to be asking us to show our papers everywhere were go, like the Germans did?"

After the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995, Mr. Clinton proposed expanding the reach of government wiretaps and giving authorities power to trace gun powder from explosives. But a storm of opposition that blew in from the Rocky Mountain West and the South helped to kill the measures.

After the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the Bush administration quickly put forward antiterrorism legislation to give the government more authority to seize people's assets, detain immigrants longer between court appearances, conduct broader wiretapping and other surveillance and to subpoena e-mail correspondence.

A national ID card was not part of the package the administration requested, but some members of Congress raised it as a possibility in the days the antiterrorist plan was being assembled.

Many leading Republicans, including Westerners like Senator Orrin G. Hatch of Utah, favored the plan the administration introduced, and some called for even stricter measures. But Republican and Democratic negotiators in Congress have scaled back some of what the administration sought, deciding to make the wiretap provision temporary, for example.

Still, the train of expanded government authority has run into the very people who helped to put many Republicans in power over the last decade - strong gun supporters and former independents with a Western feistiness. They have been joined, for the moment, by allies from a distant and unlikely camp: liberals like Representative Barney Frank, Democrat of Massachusetts, and the American Civil Liberties Union.

"My position, and the position of most pro-gun organizations, is that it is not a crime thing, it's a freedom issue," said Tony Fabian, president of the Colorado State Shooting Association, which is the state affiliate of the National Rifle Association.

"Any time the government is looking seriously at taking measures that roll back our freedoms as Americans - whether it's guns, communications or transportation - there needs to be very careful, cautious and measured evaluation," Mr. Fabian said.

The National Rifle Association, while expressing concerns that some provisions of the antiterrorist bill could be used by other administrations against gun owners, said it did not oppose the measure.

"As written, we don't see anything in the bill that goes to gun ownership," said Jim Baker, chief lobbyist for the N.R.A. "The way we read it, it's all tied into terrorist acts."

In interviews conducted randomly in Colorado, people seemed particularly concerned about the prospect of more surveillance. "I don't mind profiling as long as they don't do it on average people," said Kory Birge, a high school senior touring the Professional Rodeo Hall of Fame here. "But on the surveillance, I don't want it to get like London, where they have cameras everywhere."

Expanding the federal government's reach - through the establishment of a new home defense agency, increased federal involvement in airport security and bailouts for faltering sectors of the economy - has also struck a nerve among many Westerners. They said they thought the era of big government was over when Mr. Clinton declared it dead.

But the mood across the nation, according to several recent polls, shows that antigovernment sentiments have ebbed considerably. Not since 1966 has such a large majority - more than 60 percent in several polls - said that they trusted the government to do the right thing most of the time.

And here in Colorado, plenty of people say the government should take whatever security steps are needed to curb terrorism, even if it means a loss of civil liberties.

"I don't mind the stepped-up surveillance as long as they keep it in certain places, and don't try to come into the home with it," said Chuck Rice, 55, of Colorado Springs.

While most of the attention has focused on airport security, people here have started to voice concerns about the expanded federal authority.

"Just in the last few days, we've been hearing from a lot of people in the district who wonder what this bill means to them," said Sarah Shelden, a spokeswoman for Representative Joel Hefley, a Republican whose district includes Colorado Springs.

"Surveillance is a very big deal in our district," Ms. Shelden added. "People are concerned about Big Brother, that feeling that somebody might be watching them. It's just not the way they are used to living."

 

 

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