A Political Cartoonist Comes Out

Congressman Joel Hefley is as conservative as they come. But, oh, how he misses former President Bill Clinton.

That smile. That nose. That zipper.

The scandal-plagued former president was a cartoonist’s dream. And he gave the Colorado Republican enough material to fill parts of two thick notebooks in his Capitol Hill office.

Hefley is known as the grandfatherly dean of Colorado’s congressional delegation. But on the inside, there’s an edgy sketch artist just itching to be discovered.

“I’ve always wanted to be a cartoonist. I can show you some of the rejection notices I’ve gotten over the years,” Hefley said, flipping through his art books at his office overlooking the Capitol. “I don’t keep a journal. I draw pictures instead.”

Hefley has had plenty of material since he was first elected in 1986. He takes playful jabs at colleagues from both parties.

And then there’s Clinton. Oh, Clinton …

As the former president was fighting allegations that he had sexual relations with “that woman, Ms. Lewinsky,” Hefley drew Clinton’s family coat of arms _ featuring a half-lowered zipper.

He drew the former president dressed as a clown riding a unicycle while juggling balls named after all his various scandals: “Whitewater,” “Filegate,” “Paula Jones,” “Waco,” etc.

And as Clinton got close to leaving office, Hefley drew his vision of the future presidential library: a wooden shack featuring sexy silhouettes on the side and the sign: “Girls! Girls! Girls!”

His Democratic adversary made for easy pickin’s, but Hefley hasn’t exactly spared his Republican friends.

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich used to be a regular target _ once portrayed shoving a wheelchair-bound Medicare recipient into a lake.

During the 1996 presidential race, Hefley portrayed Republican nominee Bob Dole as a confused jockey riding the GOP elephant backwards.

In December 2002, he made fun of former Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott’s attempts to talk his way out of the controversy over his praise for one-time segregationist presidential contender Strom Thurmond.

“I’m not a racist,” a panicked-looking Lott says in that Hefley cartoon. “I want more King holidays. Hey, I love Jesse Jackson. Heck, I’m even supporting Al Sharpton for president.”

“Enough, Trent,” another character whispers into his ear. “It’s not working.”

Hefley has dabbled in art since he was a young child. He used to make money painting realistic-looking portraits of champion racehorses, and he still keeps the promotional postcards tucked into his desk drawer. His office also has on display several examples of his Western-themed sculptures.

He sketches the cartoons as a way to document his time in Congress.

As he wrote in an unpublished essay explaining his work: “Woe be unto the person who sits across from me in an airport or committee hearing, for they’re likely to become part of my notes for the day.”

Doodling through committee hearings “actually focuses my attention more,” he said.

Hefley has kept his work buried for years. He brought up the topic when a reporter asked about retirement rumors and whether there’s anything else he could be doing.

“I always thought the greatest job a person can have is to be a writer or an artist,” he said. “Live wherever you want. Set your own hours. Do whatever you want.”

But as for retirement, he said he’s nowhere near a decision. There’s a long list of issues he wants resolved before he leaves _ including serious deficit reduction and a resolution of the Iraq conflict.

“I just do it two years at a time,” Hefley said. “I think I’ll wake up some morning and say, ‘Enough is enough. I’m tired of (House Majority Leader) Tom DeLay telling me when to go to bed at night.’ I’m not there now.”

(Contact M.E. Sprengelmeyer at SprengelmeyerM(at)shns.com)