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More Thoughts on Bill Ritter

January 10, 2010

Political Blather on Ritter’s Announcement To Pull Out.

I just reread a series of news stories from different Colorado papers about Governor Bill Ritter’s decision not to run for re-election. They were so much political blather. Of course, his fellow Democrats, not wanting to kick the man when he’s down, spoke well of him, expressing surprise and disappointment that he is leaving and how well they worked with him, etc etc. On the other hand the Republicans interviewed were `pumped’ and now think they’ve got the governorship in the bag. Premature boasting.  But what was missing from virtually all the commentaries, left, right or center – save a few insights from Westward reporter Mike Roberts about Ritter’s troubles with the state’s labor movement and his alleged liason with Stephanie Villafuerte – was the absence of any serious discussion of the political motives for what amounts to Ritter’s resignation. It’s as if the state’s media is all in league to fall in line behind a kind of non credible `party line’ accepting the governor’s stated rationale of wanting to spend more time with his family. I don’t doubt he wants to spend more time with his family, but please….

Ritter Defeats Himself

The more I think of it, Bill Ritter, Colorado’s Democratic Party governor who announced last week he would not run for re-election, defeated himself, although the mess he got caught up in – both personal and political – is really quite typical, not usual. Seeing the prospect of a bruising contest that would included mounting personal attacks, and realizing that his support base was shinking if not shriveling to naught, `seeing the handwriting on the wall’ to use a cliche, he bowed to reality and dropped out. Maybe that is wisest thing he could have done under the circumstances. I did not take a formal survey of the depth of his unpopularity among Democrats, but except for one I can think of, virtually all the others with whom I have spoken these past months, Democrats all, were from lukewarm to hostile to his tenure as governor, so much so that it even surprised me. Nor was he particularly someone who `is on my radar screen’ , whom I had strong feelings about one way or another.

 Under different circumstances Lyndon Johnson did likewise as did former US Senators from Colorado Tim Wirth and Ben Nighthorse Campbell. Johnson was facing a war he couldn’t win and didn’t have the gumtion to pull out. Wirth was plagued with questions about campaign contributors especially those from the telecommunications sector that could have backfired in his face. Campbell was having some problems with no bid contracts he was awarding to companies do business with some of his legal advisors. For Ritter, at least from what I am aware, it wasn’t so much about possible financial scandals; instead it focused on his failure to make true on campaign promises that undermined his base of support, that and allegations of an affair.

What’s Wrong With Being A One Term Governor…if you meet your campaign promises?

Had he even been true to his moderately liberal politics – his opposition to abortion rights aside – he would have had a chance to win. But, like so many politicans, once elected, he was more concerned about getting re-elected for a second term than in fulfilling campaign processes to his base. Yes he made compromises,  but mostly with the state’s power brokers, both democratic and republican, developers and the shyster lawyers who represent them, the bullying publisher of the Denver Post, the military (his trip to Iraq, buying into the unsubstantiated and spurious charge that Iran is behind IED attacks against US military forces  in Iraq) and in so doing betrayed his campaign promises, especially but not uniquely to the state’s labor movement. He was also caught up in allegations of an affair with his chief of staff that he was never able to shake (as discussed below)

Two Themes..

There are two themes to consider.

1. Why did Ritter step down? – What lessons, if any, can be learned from his experience

2. How will the Democratic Party chose his replacement, through the usual backdoor political horsetrading by the whores at the top? Once again? or through a more democratic process that respects the values and social base of the party

As to the first point…

Bill Ritter – Not  A Bad Guy, Just A Lousy Governor

Bill Ritter is not a `bad guy’. He was a lousy governor. Of course he was attacked from the right, the business and financial community, developers, oil and gas interests from the outset and the left both within and beyond the Democratic Party were skeptical. And to be fair, being governor of a state like Colorado is difficult to thankless task. Still…as discussed below, Ritter caved into the publisher of the Denver Post, Dean Singleton and betrayed a campaign promise to support legislation that would have extended the right to organize in this strongly anti-labor state. He did very little to rein in oil and gas interests or developers in the state who have run rampant here for decades.

He alienated those elements in the Demcratic Party its left wing – that represent a `peace focus’ by buying into the Bush’s war in Iraq and fully supported the war on terrorism  cooperating with state legislators Joe Rice and Josh Penry to pressure the state pension system – PERA – to divest from companies doing business with Iraq. He sucked up, no more no less than others, to the likes of Larry Mizel  and his reactionay agenda, blessing the creation of an `anti-terrrorism’ museum (The Cell).  Awful place. He showed his lack of balance on the Israeli-Palestinian issue by co-hosting the Mayor of Jerusalem at a time when Israel is dismantling Palestinian homes in that city. He did little of substance for the state’s Chicano or Black citizens, especially where it concerns immigrant rights and his claim to have created jobs here is rather weak.

True he did make the regulatory agency that oversees state oil and gas leases a little more balanced than Bill Owens, but did little more. The state’s banking industry remains as unregulated today, in some ways worse by the way, than it was during the Silverado scandal days of the late 1980s.  Concerning the abortion issue and his alleged affairs, they were not enough to bring him down politically, more the icing on the cake. `The cake’ was his failure to address the issues facing the people of this state sufficiently to earn support for a second term. His biggest shortcoming – one that it seems Barack Obama is running into as well – is to spend too much attention and political energy worrying about how to get re-elected and making his compromises to do so `in the wrong direction’. I fail to see why it is so dishonorable for politicans to serve one term as long as they remain faithful to the program on which they were elected. Yes, he was a better governor than Bill Owens, but that is setting a terribly low bar. And the statement made at the end of  my last entry on this – that we voted for Ritter four years ago and got Beauprez – in the end, is accurate, not unfair

Lessons?

Of course every draws different lessons from Ritter’s experience. , the ones I draw are 1. you can get just so far from your base before parts of it reject you 2. Ritter failed to come through on basic issues 3. When a politican’s base narrows as Ritter’s did, it is then that the allegations of affairs or whatever take hold and only add to the fire 4. the alleged affair would not have worked against him, essentially knocking him out of the runninng, if he had come through for his constituency in other ways. But he didn’t. Unfortunately his is a rather common, not particularly original story. Again, too bad in a way. 

As to the second point

I am already sick watching the way in which the discussions of who might replace Ritter as Democratic Party candidate for governor. It’s all the same backroom horseshit which has typified Colorado politics seemingly since the beginning of time (at least Colorado time). The party’s political brokers, the state’s super rich who happen to be Democrats, that usual cabal of political power brokers who have run the Democratic (and Republican) political parties are doing it again. The consultations are taking place within the narrowest of circles, the only role for membership being that of rubber stamping the chosen ones.

The first discussions in the media had nothing to do with candidate qualifications but who among the Dems has the biggest war chest. Salazar was first floated; he – almost certainly in consultation with those who run him in Colorado – backed away and passed the baton to Denver’s overrated mayor (even more anti-labor than Ritter), John Hickenlooper, perhaps one of the most overrated politicans in the state. Will Hickenlooper accept? I’m sitting on the edge of my seat. The way I figure it, Colorado’s loss will be Denver’s gain if he accepts; if not Denver’s loss will be Colorado’s gain. Now Romanoff who earlier stated he wasn’t interested in the governor’s race is considering a run as well. Same old, same old

Where is the Democratic Party’s Rank and File on the New Gubernatorial Candidate? Seemingly Nowhere

Where is the voice of the Democratic Party base in all this? Nowhere, as usual. The party’s rank and file, so used to being ignored, has come to expect nothing and that is what it will get – minus a few tepid promises easily broken – Labor might have gotten screwed by Ritter. What are they asking of the current crop of  candidates? What are the party’s Chicano politicans asking, other than for promises of places for themselves with this and that candidate? This state has 200,000 either paying into or out of the state pension system, PERA. Will the illustrious candidates for governor support protecting PERA. If so how.

It is only the party’s base that can push its leadership to be accountable. It doesn’t appear to be happening. Nor is it just the Dems. While I have no sympathy for the Republican Party here or its conservative base, more or less the Republican leadership plays the same game as the Democrats  – avoid primary battles as much as possible. Not complicated for to avoid primaries is to avoid hearing the voice of both parties at their base. It avoids clarity on programmatic issues and avoids the full range of dicussions that the election of US Senatorial candidate should address.

It all suggests that despite serious stakes – jobs, the fate of the environment, peace – that once again, this election is shaping up to be more or less the same kind of carefully orchestrated circuses as previous ones, that `the voice of the people’ will be drowned out by lobbyists representing developers,  oil and gas interests, the financial sector, pharmaceuticals and insurance companies…

Another `business as usual’ gubernatorial election in Colorado.  All is well with the world…developers need not worry

One Comment leave one →
  1. John McMahon permalink
    January 11, 2010 9:01 am

    Hi Rob, a couple follow-up thoughts on this post and your others about Ritter’s withdrawal:

    1. I essentially agree with your hypothesis that he saw that he left himself no base – this article makes a similar point: This article made a similar point: http://nuestravoice.com/?p=5354 . In addition to labor, blacks, and latinos I would add young people. Among politically active/aware people that I talk to, there was no enthusiasm for Ritter’s re-election. The potential replacements, flawed as they are all, are likely to garner some youth support.

    2. There was one instance I came across the other day (surprisingly in the Post, albeit buried at the end) of criticism of Ritter from within the Democratic Party, Rep. Casso: http://www.denverpost.com/newsheadlines/ci_14132863

    3. Assuming it ends up being Hickenlooper, I think there will be something similar with what’s gone on with Romanoff – lots of support from young progressive Dems, even if both the support and Hickenlooper’s ‘progressive-ness’ are only superficial. He’ll come out with a more left/’progressive’ image than reality. We’ll hear A LOT about Hickenlooper’s environmental record (this is where ‘support’ from people I know is coming from). He has been involved with some of the sustainability steps taken on the DU campus, and for a lot of people that are politically active here, that will be enough.

    4. One big question still out there is what happens to all of Ritter’s campaign money…at the end of the 3rd fundraising quarter he had something like $600,000 cash-on-hand.

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