Anointing the Dems; Dougster for mayor?

Filed under: Hazlehurst |

Only three days to go, and then, blessedly, it’s election day.
No more sleazy attack ads. No more syrupy brochures in the mail. No more pictures of the candidates and their cloyingly cute little families. It’s over.
And if there really is a national Democratic tide flowing, we’ll see it right here in Colorado.
At this writing, Bill Ritter looks like a shoo-in for governor (up 18 points in the latest non-partisan poll, with only 3 percent of respondents undecided).
It also seems possible that Democrats will retain their majorities in both houses of the state legislature, giving them uncontested control of state government for the first time in living memory.
What will this mean for business? Will Ritter & Co. pursue a traditional union-driven Democratic agenda, one which will increase taxes, add to regulatory burdens and generally make life unpleasant for the now-powerless business community?
Probably not.
Ritter’s no fool, and neither is House Speaker Andrew Romanoff or Senate President Joan Fitzgerald. They know perfectly well that Colorado isn’t Massachusetts — that Democratic majorities will melt away as fast as last week’s snow if the Dems fail to govern from the center.
And they also know that retaining the support of independents and moderate Republicans within the business community is absolutely essential if they’re going to become a long-term governing party.
Otherwise, come 2008, they’ll have to give up those nice offices in the Capitol and go back to being irrelevant gadflies.
Can they do it? Can Ritter match actions to words, and use his veto pen to curb the excesses of doctrinaire liberals in the legislature?
My guess is that he’ll do exactly that.
Remember when Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper declined to run, leaving Ritter an uncontested path to the nomination? Lots of Dems were in despair, seeing Ritter as a colorless, charisma-challenged candidate, who wouldn’t be able to defeat popular Congressman Bob Beauprez, the eventual Republican nominee.
Moreover, Ritter was just too conservative — the Democratic base would stay home in droves, he wouldn’t be able to raise money, blah, blah, blah …
Guess what? Precisely because Ritter came across as a thoughtful, essentially pro-business conservative Democrat, he has apparently been able to move beyond the traditional Democratic base and put together a winning statewide campaign.
So what will this mean for Colorado Springs and for the Colorado Springs business community?
Let’s look at the electoral realities. To win a statewide election as a Republican, you’ve got to carry El Paso County by a wide margin, and keep Democratic margins down in Denver and Boulder.
And to win as a Democrat, the opposite is true.
Successful governors — Roy Romer, Bill Owens — have kept their bases relatively happy, while coddling their opponent’s bases.
During Owens’ two terms, for example, did you notice just how lavishly transportation money was doled out to the Denver metro area? And did you notice how the governor would come down to the Springs, pretend to be a fire-breathing conservative and then, back at the Capitol, carefully avoid being identified with the social issues so dear to the Republican base?
If Ritter wins, it’ll be because he kept down Beauprez’ majority in El Paso County and he’ll know that the largely Republican, largely non-ideological business community was an important component in his victory.
So expect Ritter — if he makes it to the governor’s mansion — to be down here a lot. He’ll be schmoozing, listening and trying to figure out how to keep his new friends happy.
So let’s be ready to help him — to tell him what we want, what we don’t want and how he, as governor, can work with local business.
And make it clear that, particularly if he wins by a landslide, he has a mandate to govern — not to embrace every cockamamie notion that his lefty pals come up with.
But let’s face it, Tuesday’s election is already so last week. It’s time for political junkies to turn their attention to next April’s city elections, when we’ll have the dubious pleasure of selecting four at-large members of City Council, as well as a mayor.
When Mayor Lionel Rivera was resoundingly thumped in the Republican congressional primary, garnering only 12 percent of the vote, seasoned political observers speculated that he’d have at least one credible opponent in April. But so far, the usual suspects deny any such plans.
Vice Mayor Larry Small says he’s staying put, asserting inexplicably, that “I have more power now [as vice mayor] than I would as mayor.” Larry, I dunno … to paraphrase Lloyd Bentsen, “I know Dick Cheney, and you’re no Dick Cheney.”
Councilman Jerry Heimlicher also passed, saying that he wouldn’t run unless Rivera decided to retire.
That leaves, essentially, no one. While either Darryl Glenn or Scott Hente might make attractive candidates, it’s doubtful that either could overcome Rivera’s advantage in name recognition and fundraising.
So it looks like a boring spring, doesn’t it? Just a bunch of earnest, community-minded folks trying desperately to get elected to council, and spend the next four years working 20-plus hours a week for the munificent salary of $120.19 a week.
So what are we to do? I know, let’s get the Dougster (El Paso County Commissioner Douglas Bruce for those of you who don’t read this column regularly) to run for mayor. Now that would be fun — and whether he won or lost, we’d all win.
How so? Simple. If he loses, his foes can rejoice, but his supporters can be comforted by his continuing presence on the county commission.
And if he wins, his former colleagues on the commission can return to the tranquil days of yore, his foes can be glad that he’s moving from $64,000 annually to $6,000, and his supporters … well, they can just wait for the first meeting between Mayor Bruce and Gov. Ritter.
Speaking for myself, I’ll take Ritter by a TKO in the seventh round.
John Hazlehurst can be reached at John.Hazlehurst@csbj.com or 227-5861.