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Yet More Ritter (3)

January 17, 2010

(related entries: Ritter Drops Out Of The Race (Jan 6); Ritter Drops Out Of Governor’s Race (2) (Jan. 8); More Thoughts On Bill Ritter (Jan 10) )

Why so much of my attention to Bill Ritter dropping out of the governor’s race here in Colorado?

Because probing the governor’s surprise announcement, we get closer to what is going on in politics here in Colorado and to a certain extent, nationally as well. The more I explore it, the more I wonder if one of the key political motives underlying Ritter’s dilemma isn’t related to the immigration issue and Democratic Party fears  – both in Denver and Washington – of addressing it and hopes, which will go nowhere, of deflecting it.  Admittedly this does take some explaining.

National – Colorado Democratic Party Game Playing?

Nationally Ritter’s withdrawal puts some pressure on Barack Obama who has been counting on Democratic governors in the West to help elect Dems to Congress this year. There is a sense that the sweeping Democratic victory of 2008 has already become fragile. That Obama is watching closely comes through can be seen by the speed with which he personally came out and endorsed Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper to replace Ritter, Obama’s attempt to help Colorado Dems avoid a Democratic Party primary battle. But it was alot of the `back room orchestrated stuff and I can say that it annoyed many Colorado Democrats who think that they/we should have say in who gets nominated to replace Ritter.

There are other Colorado-Washington DC links. I admit that they amount to speculation, but still, worth considering.

Remember that most of the state’s Democratic Party machine – the heavy hitters and moneyed power brokers lined up in support of Hillary Clinton and stood by Clinton until she got her butt kicked royally in the February 2008 primaries with Obama coming out way on top. Once again Colorado’s Democratic Party base snubbed their noses – or to put it more immodestly – gave the finger to the state’s Democratic Party machine.  Not the first time this has happened and likely not the last.

Andrew Gets It Wrong. Again.

Obama’s victory seems to have had consequences, especially for Andrew Romanoff, a Hillary supporter,  who can’t seem to find his way at the moment, vacillating between running against Michael Bennet for US Senate or challenging Hickenlooper for the Democratic Party spot for governor. Romanoff, who seemed to be a rising star at the time, was passed over for the US Senate seat when Ken Salazar, someone whose political career has long been closely linked to Norm Brownstein and Steve Farber was offered the Secretary of the Interior position. Instead Michael Bennet, then Superintendent of Schools in Denver with no national or international political experience is plucked out by Ritter (at Obama’s urging according to some sources) and appointed as the junior US Senator from Colorado. Now Hickenlooper has gotten the nod for the governor’s race as once again Obama intervenes and this time quite publicly.

Anyhow I think that the above scenario is plausible (and if it is not, I would appreciate comments explaining how it is not)

Now back to Ritter.

Ritter with his shrinking political base here in Colorado(see earlier entries listed above)  has spent four years looking to strengthen his position by sucking up to local and national powerbrokers. He might have lost the support of labor and women (see January 8, 10 entries above) – two important constituencies in the state’s Democratic Party-  but he had strengthened his connection with Obama by agreeing to Bennet appointment, which he made. What it looks like is that in response, Obama nominated Stephanie Villafuerte for the powerful post of US Attorney for Colorado. Villafuerte had served with Ritter both in the Denver District Attorney’s office and on his staff. Several people commenting on previous entries on this subject noted that 1. the governor doesn’t nominate anyone for the post of US Attorney in Colorado. 2. that Villafuerte was not Ritter’s chief of staff but deputy chief of staff 3. that the allegation of a sexual liason between Ritter and Villafuerte has been unproven and is simply the work of right-wing Republican rumor mongers, little more.

  • to the point about Ritter’s role in `nominating’ Villafuerte for US attorney… technically it is true, he should have nothing to do with. Politically it is obvious Ritter had some role in Villafuerte’s nomination.
  • that Villafuerte is the deputy chief of staff, not chief of staff…ok, but again, both this and the point above are nitpicking – quite insignificant criticisms.
  • as to the sexual allegations – while I think that it remains – despite Ritter’s denials, let us say – unresolved; still I handled it poorly. My main hypothesis was that it is only because Ritter’s base has shrunk that a personal affair would bring him down. As the example of Bill Clinton suggests – a politician in touch with his base can survive the personal attacks.

The Real Ritter-Villafuerte `Affair’ Is Not About Sex… Enter Cory David Voorhis

Actually, the Ritter-Villafuerte relationship did undermine Ritter’s chances at re-election, but it was not so much the personal as the political relationship that came into play. It entails one Cory David Voorhis and goes back to Ritter’s election bid against Republican hopeful Bob Beauprez.

Four years later, this incident in a byzantine manner,  seems to have sealed Ritter’s fate. Not only Bill Ritter have to face an apathetic to angry Democratic Party base, but he knew that from the Republican side, he’d run into heat over the Voorhis case. Indeed, it is probably this case which ended Stephanie Villafuerte’s chances to become Colorado’s US attorney more than the alleged fling with her boss. Republicans had promised to make Voorhis an issue at her hearings, raising, as will be explained, in a way Democrats would like to avoid in 2010, the immigration question. Neither Udall nor Bennet, who could have, were willing to fight the nomination battle through, fearing they too could be adversely affected. Salazar couldn’t offer much support for her either from the position of the Interior department and neither it seems was Barack Obama willing to stick his neck on it either. Left to hang by her tooties, Stephanie Villafuerte who could have made – we’ll never know – a fine US attorney in Colorado, saw the writing on the wall and withdrew her nomination.

Behind the Republican Opposition To Villafuerte: Immigration Policy

Why were the Republicans fighting Villafuerte?

Most likely that they feared she would not be tough enough on the state’s undocumented workers, or as it is more commonly put, that she would be `soft on illegal immigrants’. They feared an Hispanic woman in the post who stood in the way of their right wing agenda. So they took out their knives and carved her nomination to bits, the main card being played was Villafuerte’s role in the Voorhis Affair.

So… what was the Voorhis Affair?

During the run up to the 2006 gubernatorial campaign pitting Bill Ritter against Republican Bob Beauprez, Beauprez was passed information about a case that Ritter’s Denver District Attorney office had handled a few years prior. It had come to Beauprez attention that Ritter had offered a plea bargain to undocumented Mexican who was permitted to remain in the county. He is alleged to have gone to California and committed a felony crime. The information had holes in it from the outset among them that it was more likely that one of Ritter’s staff assistants had negotiated the case. No matter, Ritter would be held responsible and it could used against him to argue that Ritter was `soft’ on illegal immigration. Beauprez spent some time verifying the information and was satisfied that it was accurate, and started to make an issue out of it, using the information in an attack ad.

Beauprez, Voorhis Go One Toke Over The Line…

There was one not-so itsy bitsy detail about all this that Beauprez did not consider and which cost him dearly, perhaps even the election.

It was Cory David Voorhis, a federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agent, who leaked the information about plea bargain, to Bob Beauprez’s campaign. Voorhees had gotten his facts from what is called the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) data base – the FBI information data base, an enormous computerized data base which has been collecting information on crime for several decades. Part of the legislation regulating the use of the data base specifies that it is patentely illegal to use information from the data base for political purposes. To do so is to break the law. Not only did it threaten Voorhes with prosecution but Beauprez as well for using the information. It all got pretty serious. Beauprez was not indicted, but a year later, Voorhis was, and was tried but acquitted in the court of Judge John Kane.  Right-wing anti-immigration Republicans took up Voorhis’ case and claimed to have raised $30,ooo in his defense. And it’s not over. A federal hearing will be held to see if Voorhis gets his job back. He’s become the state’s right wing poster boy; since he went to trial in 2008, the right wing has gone to great efforst to paint him into some kind of oppressed martyr instead of the skunk that he has proven himself to be.

So what does Stephanie Villafuerte have to do with all this?

When Beauprez’s attack ads against Ritter hit the air waves, Ritter’s campaign immediately set out to check into the allegation. Villafuerte (among others), was given responsibility for tracking down the veracity or lack there of, of the story.  Eventually the campaign was able to discern where the leak came from and how Voorhis had gotten the information using NCIC data base information using the same data base. Republicans counted that if Voorhis had violated federal law, so had Ritter’s staff by using the data base to clear their candidate’s name.  Technically they were correct, although legally nothing came from all this.

But politically the Republicans held on to this little tidbit and threatened to use it in the 2010 campaign, hoping to play hard on anti-immigration sentiment to bring down by raising the issue again. Villafuerte’s nomination was a trial ballon. Could the Republicans bring her down by just threatening to re-open the Voorhis case and with it, open the immigration issues. Had her fellow Democrats stood by Villafuerte, the key ones being Udall, Bennet and the president himself, my hunch is she could have easily made it through and we all could have seen what kind of US attorney she would have made.

Udall, Bennet and Barack Obama Let Stephanie Villafuerte Swing In the Wind…

But fearing anti-immigration backlash, the unspoken undercurrent permeating all this, not Udall, Bennet or it seems, when push came to shove, Barack Obama, were willing to weather the storm…which will come anyway as sure as day follows night. It was a test case on how far Republicans can push Democrats on the immigration issue and what they found out is that `there is gold in them thar hills’ and you can be sure their defeat of Villafuerte will only make them more brazen in raising anti-immigration issues as the 2010 campaign heats up. And not only did the Republicans bring down Stephanie Villafuerte, but it looks like they brought down Bill Ritter as well. With his Democratic Party base shrinking to naught, the state’s political power brokers quite cool, and and now, after Villafuerte having been knocked out, fearing sharp attacks from Republicans on the right on immigration issues,  Bill Ritter now had nowhere to go, – nowhere to run to, nowhere to hide – as the song goes -either to his left and right. Politically he was dead meat and he knew it. Villafuerte dropped out of her US attorney’s bid in mid December. By Christmas, Bill Ritter’s  family  looked like the only refuge he had left.

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