How a Refusal to Lie Changed Colorado History

Rolly Fischer, who bravely fought off 2o1o GOP gubernatorial candidate Scott McInnis' attempts to blame him for McInnis' plagiarized water articles, died last week in Glenwood Springs.

Fischer went from "irascible" water nerd to cult hero in Colorado political circles after some of McInnis' articles, commissioned by the Hasan Family Foundation, on Colorado water issues turned out to be substantially lifted from the writings of then Colorado Supreme Court Judge Gregory Hobbs.

After the plagiarism came to light, McInnis blamed Fischer, who was 82 years old at the time.

"I had staff assistance, I had research, and as you know, the research - that's where the problem is here," McInnis told Denver 7 at the time. McInnis added on the radio that his assistant felt "very remorseful" and "sick about it."

But, oops, Fischer soon told the "Scott's responsible for it."

The piano fell through the floor when Fischer spoke with then Denver 7 reporter John Ferrugia in one of Colorado's greatest political TV-news moments.

Ferrugia asked, "Rolly, is Scott McInnis lying to us?"

After some thought Fischer said, "Yes."

The 82-year-old said, "I never knew about the foundation or any foundation Scott was associated with."

"Did you know how he was using these?" Ferrugia asked, referring to the articles.

"No. I had this sophomoric assumption that he wanted them for his own inventory," said Fischer.

Turned out, McInnis even tried to get Fischer to sign a letter saying the plagiarism was Fischer's fault.

After the Ferrugia interview, McInnis sort of took responsibility for the plagiarism, telling The Denver Post, "I made a mistake. . . . I immediately owned up to it. It's my responsibility. I've got to fix it. I've told my side of the story. So that's where we are on that. I'd love to talk to you on jobs and some of these other things."

He gave his two-year stipend of $300,000 back to the foundation. (He'd paid Fischer a few hundred dollars per water article.)

But in 2014, McInnis appeared to throw Fischer under the bus again, telling the Grand Junction Sentinel that he "didn't plagiarize, period" and that he'd "used ghost writers my whole career" and "didn't make the mistake."

Still, in a Nov. 7 obituary in the Glenwood Springs Post-Independent, McInnis had kind things to say about Fischer.

Scott McInnis, a former U.S. representative and current Mesa County commissioner, called Fischer "a water giant in his time," who prepared the district for the issues it faces today...

Fischer figured in the collapse of McInnis' campaign for governor in 2010, but McInnis said he never held the incident against Fischer.

"That's water under the bridge now. I always thought Rollie was one of the brightest water people on the Western Slope," McInnis said.

Did McInnis really say water under the bridge? A new water musing?

In any case, Fischer's uninvited but starring role in the story of the downfall of McInnis deserves more than an asterisk in Colorado history. It was game changing.

If you were around at the time, you know that McInnis' treatment of Fischer was far more damaging politically to McInnis than the plagiarism itself. It lead directly to McInnis' loss in the GOP gubernatorial primary to Dan Maes, whose many flaws (and despite the best efforts of former U.S. Rep. Tom Tancredo) paved the way for Hickenlooper to be governor.

Unlike now, Hickenlooper, you may recall, was weak and flailing during the 2010 election, and Hick would might have lost to McInnis in a general election. And McInnis might have won the GOP primary had Fischer lied and taken fake responsibility for the plagiarism, as McInnis asked him to do. I mean, Tancredo and Maes, who both ran for governor in 2010, together had nearly as many votes as Hick.

It clearly wasn't easy for Fischer, who served as a Colorado Water District Chief, to stand up to his long-time friend McInnis, but apparently in keeping with his personality, he did, and it brightened the spotlight not only on the plagiarism but on a nasty side of McInnis that GOP voters didn't like. Can you blame them?

We owe Fischer our collective gratitude for his honesty.