In the High Plains, a Repub­li­can worth vot­ing for

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - OPINION - George Will Colum­nist

Here on the High Plains, where the deer and the an­te­lope once played, Den­ver’s sub­urbs roam to­ward the Rock­ies’ front range and the na­ture of to­day’s poly­glot pol­i­tics is writ­ten in the lo­cal con­gress­man’s cam­paign sched­ule. One day last week, Repub­li­can Mike Coff­man went from a His­panic char­ter school in a strip mall, to an­other strip mall for lunch at an Ethiopian restau­rant with lead­ers of the Ethiopian-Amer­i­can com­mu­nity, then to a meet­ing with the ed­i­tor of the largest of two Korean-lan­guage news­pa­pers serv­ing more than 3,000 Korean-Amer­i­cans in the metropoli­tan area.

Coff­man was elected to Congress in 2008 with 61 per­cent of the vote, re­plac­ing Tom Tan­credo, a firebrand who that year in­ef­fec­tu­ally ran for pres­i­dent as a scourge of il­le­gal im­mi­grants. Coff­man’s think­ing was some­what con­gru­ent with Tan­credo’s. Then, how­ever, the po­lit­i­cal mar­ket — aka democ­racy — be­gan to work, with an as­sist from Democrats, who in­ad­ver­tently made Coff­man a bet­ter politi­cian and per­son.

Af­ter he was re-elected with 66 per­cent in 2010, his dis­trict was ger­ry­man­dered to make it more Demo­cratic — 20 per­cent His­panic, with a gen­er­ous salt­ing of other mi­nori­ties. He won in 2012 with just 48 per­cent of the vote. In 2014, na­tional Democrats re­cruited a for­mi­da­ble op­po­nent, a Yale grad­u­ate who had taught, in Span­ish, in Cen­tral Amer­i­can schools. So, Coff­man learned Span­ish well enough to do an en­tire de­bate in the lan­guage, and to­day ban­ters in Span­ish with the chil­dren at Roca Fuerte Academy.

The pas­tor who founded it in 2008 says this char­ter school is anath­ema to, and un­der­funded by, the lo­cal school dis­trict, which is obe­di­ent to the teach­ers union, which dis­likes char­ters that are not obe­di­ent to it. The dis­trict’s schools have just a 61 per­cent grad­u­a­tion rate. Roca Fuerte Academy does bet­ter.

Some of the academy’s pupils in their school uni­forms are an­tecedents of the pro­noun in Don­ald Trump’s four-word im­mi­gra­tion pol­icy: “They have to go.” They were brought here by il­le­gal im­mi­grants. Trump wants to send them “home” to coun­tries they do not re­mem­ber. Coff­man has coau­thored leg­is­la­tion that would pro­vide le­gal sta­tus and a path to law­ful per­ma­nent res­i­dent sta­tus to those who came be­fore age 16, have lived here five con­sec­u­tive years, and who have been ac­cepted to a col­lege or vo­ca­tional school or have demon­strated an in­tent to en­list in the mil­i­tary, or have a valid work au­tho­riza­tion.

Coff­man, 61, en­listed in the Army be­fore re­ceiv­ing his high school di­ploma, which he earned while serv­ing. Af­ter leav­ing the Army and grad­u­at­ing from the Uni­ver­sity of Colorado, he went to Ma­rine Corps of­fi­cer train­ing. When he left the Corps he be­came a state leg­is­la­tor un­til called back into uni­form in 1991 for the Gulf War. In 2005, he re­signed as state trea­surer to serve a tour of duty with the Marines in Iraq. There he helped or­ga­nize elec­tions in a place where di­ver­sity is rather more prob­lem­atic than in Colorado’s 6th Con­gres­sional Dis­trict.

His op­po­nent this year, who dis­likes char­ter schools and school choice, does not speak flu­ent Span­ish and, un­like al­most all can­di­dates chal­leng­ing in­cum­bents, does not seem to want many de­bates — she even de­clined the Den­ver Post’s. Coff­man thinks she does not want any­thing to dis­tract from her theme, which is: Trump is a Repub­li­can and so is Coff­man.

In early Au­gust, how­ever, Coff­man acted pre-emp­tively with a tele­vi­sion ad that be­gan: “Peo­ple ask me, ‘What do you think about Trump?’ Hon­estly, I don’t care for him much.” Spo­ken like a Ma­rine who does 10 sets of 50 pushups daily.

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