2006 Politics and water

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The maneuvering began as the New Year dawned. Colorado Democrats prayed, not for rain, not for forgiveness, but that wildly popular Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper would deign to run for governor.

None of the other contenders were thought to have a chance against the GOP’s anointed candidate, U.S. Rep. Bob Beauprez.

Democratic candidates come and go — mostly go. Multi-millionaire activist Rutt Bridges announced his candidacy, then withdrew after less than two months, saying that he “just doesn’t have the stomach” for the rough and tumble of electoral politics.

Meanwhile, Marc Holtzman made it clear that he was running for the Republican gubernatorial nod, despite efforts from party elders to persuade him to drop out for the sake of “party unity.”

Far from dropping out, Holtzman began a series of punishing attacks on Beauprez, accusing him of flip-flopping on the issues, and sticking him with the unfortunate moniker “Bothways Bob.”

One delighted Democrat, quoted in CSBJ, quipped “Holtzman’s writing our commercials for us!”

Hickenlooper declined to run, clearing the way for the plodding, colorless former Denver district attorney Bill Ritter. Some Democrats were visibly dismayed — a pro-life former missionary and career law enforcement guy??!! But even the Boulder liberals bit their lips and supported him, if grudgingly.

During a raucous GOP state convention at the World Arena, Holtzman didn’t get enough votes to qualify for the primary ballot. He failed to collect enough signatures statewide to make the ballot, and exited the race on June 22.

Crippled by a vicious primary fight, Beauprez self-destructed. Every week saw a new blunder:

  • The Beauprez campaign accused Ritter of negotiating generous plea-bargains with illegal immigrants, turning felons loose to offend again. It turned out that the only felon in the story might have been the federal agent who leaked confidential NCIS files to Beauprez — and the accusations boomeranged.
  • He was photographed, arms crossed, with fingers pointing in opposite directions. A right-wing blog (totheright.org) lamented “Is Bothways Bob actually trying to live up to his nickname?”
  • Beauprez’ anointed candidate for lieutenant governor, Janet Rowland, equated gay relationships to sex with animals.
  • In a Denver Post profile of both candidates, Beauprez, when asked why he wanted to be governor, replied that he wanted to “… set an example.” Of what, he didn’t say.
  • And in the same profile, he let slip that he calls his wife “Mommy.” Fans of Ronald Reagan were not amused.

Meanwhile, Ritter pulled ahead in the polls, and, running a cautious, mistake-free campaign, won easily.

A new paradigm?

Led by Ritter, Democrats made massive gains across the state. Democrat Ed Perlmutter replaced Beauprez in Congress, giving Democrats a 4-3 majority in the state delegation. In the state legislature, Democrats increased their majorities to 20-15 in the Senate and 40-25 in the House.

Even in Colorado Springs, the Democratic tide was felt, as John Morse easily ousted Ed Jones from his seat in the state Senate, and joined fellow Democrat Mike Merrifield in the legislature.

But despite the loss of Jones’ seat, El Paso County Republicans turned back the Democratic tide elsewhere.

Although incumbent Joel Hefley refused to endorse GOP congressional candidate Doug Lamborn, and a number of prominent Republicans defected to Democrat Jay Fawcett’s campaign, Lamborn prevailed with 60 percent of the vote. In retrospect, it appeared that much of the excitement for Fawcett’s candidacy, fueled by a fall poll that purported to give him a substantial lead, was simply a combination of wishful thinking and media hype.

The Business Journal didn’t fall for the Fawcett hype, thanks to our confidential informant, the Seasoned Political Observer, who observed on Sept. 1: “You know, (Doug) Lamborn’s gonna get elected. All he has to do is keep his mouth shut, and repeat one word every five minutes — Republican, Republican, I’m a Republican …”

But, as we suggested throughout the year, maybe the Democrats have found a new template, embodied by our new governor, by Senator-elect Jon Tester from Montana and by dozens of other newly-elected Democrats from the Mountain States.

By dropping or downplaying their signature issues, such as abortion rights, gun control, affirmative action and business over-regulation, while sticking to crowd-pleasers such as environmental protection, renewable energy and an end to the Iraq War, Democrats finally found themselves in tune with majorities in Colorado, Montana, New Mexico and Arizona.

Too many ballot issues?

Critics of Colorado’s permissive statutes governing initiatives had a field day (or a field year), as no less than six initiatives made the ballot. A brief rundown:

  • Amendment 38: Inspired/supported by Doug Bruce, and briefly backed by Bob Beauprez, this amendment would have further relaxed ballot thresholds for initiatives. Strongly opposed by the business community, and by every daily newspaper in the state, it went down 69 percent to 31 percent.
  • Amendment 39: Mandated that public schools devote 65 percent of their revenue to the “classroom.” Early polls showed it heavily favored (58 percent to 25 percent), but strong opposition from educators, local school boards, daily newspapers and the business community eroded that support. The issue failed decisively, 69 percent to 31 percent.
  • Amendment 40: Judicial term limits. Depending on your take, this was either a blatant attempt to emasculate and politicize our independent judiciary, or a long-overdue effort to reform an out-of-control cabal of ultra-liberal judges. Voters turned it down, 57 percent to 43 percent.
  • Amendment 41: Gifts to government officials. Brilliantly titled “The Ethics in Government Amendment,” and almost entirely financed by liberal centimillionaire Jared Polis, this amendment passed 62 percent to 38 percent. The businesses and statehouse lobbyists targeted by the bill mainly stayed on the sidelines, despite their doubts about it. One lobbyist, who complained bitterly about the amendment’s ambiguous language, predicted that it would, like the Taxpayers Bill of Rights, have toxic side effects. “But what can we do?” she said, “Who’s gonna vote against ethics in government?”
  • Amendment 42: Minimum wage. Passed 53 percent to 47 percent — despite business opposition, as did similar measures throughout the country. Hardest hit: upscale restaurants, whose well-compensated servers — many of whom make more than $50,000 annually in tips — will rake in a few thousand more each year. As one restaurant owner told the Business Journal, “It’ll cost me over $100,000 annually — I can’t believe that’s what the voters actually wanted.”
  • Amendment 43: Marriage definition. Voters turned conservative on this one, which passed handily, 56 percent to 44 percent. Marriage was already statutorily defined as being between one man and one woman, but Colorado residents chose to put it in the constitution, safe from legislative tampering.
  • Amendment 44: Decriminalizing possession of marijuana. Straights 59 percent, Stoners 41 percent. Confirming early polls, Colorado voters decided to leave the state’s marijuana muddle just as it is. It’s illegal in name, but, as the Business Journal pointed out in an article exploring the business of marijuana in September, marijuana users fuel an underground economy which flourishes undisturbed.
  • Referendum 1: Domestic partnerships. Despite unanimous newspaper support, this one went down 58 percent to 42 percent, surprising and disheartening its supporters. Proponents were quick to blame voter confusion/fatigue, but the size of the margin suggested that Coloradoans just didn’t like it, period.
  • Referendum J: Education spending. A cleaned-up version of Amendment 39, referred by the legislature in hopes of avoiding the draconian effects of 39, this measure failed by a lesser margin, 58 percent to 42 percent.
  • Referendum K: Immigration lawsuit. Passed 56 percent to 44 percent. Authorized state government to sue the federal government and demand that it enforce existing immigration law.
  • Colorado Springs Issues 200 and 201: Roll back tax rates; restrict city borrowing. These Douglas Bruce-authored ordinances would have, according to opponents, sent the city into fiscal crisis. Voters agreed, dealing the issues a crushing defeat, 68 percent to 32 percent. Anti-Bruce opponents rejoiced, believing that Colorado Springs had finally rejected Bruce for once and for all. Others were less sanguine — as the Seasoned Political Observer remarked some days after the election: “Remember (the Eagles’ song) Hotel California — ‘They stab it with their steely knives/But they just can’t kill the beast’? Doug’ll be back.”

Water, water, everywhere …

Except in the yet-to-be built Southern Delivery System, which continued to encounter roadblocks.

As the Business Journal reported in June, and in subsequent updates, the tangled regulatory environment, as well as stiffening opposition by Pueblo politicians and business leaders, might delay or kill the project.

Locally, our elected officials tussled with Pueblo Chieftain Publisher Bob Rawlings, with U.S. Rep. John Salazar, and even with each other, as Mayor Lionel Rivera accused Councilmember Tom Gallagher of seeking to profit from his inside knowledge about the project.

Money, honey …

And don’t ask where it’s all gone, if you want to get along with me, said Public Employees Retirement Association boss Meredith Williams, responding to CSBJ’s August analysis of PERA’s finances.

Our story, Williams claimed, “presented a one-sided and unfairly negative view of the Colorado Public Employees’ Retirement Association.”

Well, maybe — fairness, after all, is in the eye of the beholder.

Meanwhile, those cranky folks at The Economist unkindly pointed out some weeks ago that PERA’s unfunded pension obligation amounts to $2,500 per Colorado resident — fifth worst among state pension plans.

And speaking of The Economist, its article about PERA ran beside an article about the uranium boom in the American West — covering a story that the Business Journal had explored in detail two months earlier.

Never give a sucker an even break

Exploring the relative odds of various forms of gambling, the Business Journal found on Sept. 15th that the odds of buying a winning Powerball ticket are so bad that “… there’s almost no statistical difference between the odds of buying a winning ticket and the odds of finding the winning ticket on the street.”

That knowledge, however, was not enough to restrain the editorial staff (including the article’s author) from throwing five bucks a piece into the office Powerball pool a week later.

Smoke gets in your eyes

The legislature banned smoking in virtually all public indoor places in Colorado, but exempted casinos, enraging bar and tavern owners.

Curious to find out just how and why the casinos had succeeded in getting such a legislative gift, the Business Journal tried to find the answer. What we found was “… a baffling hall of mirrors, where nothing is as it seems, few legislators who were willing to talk on the record and a labyrinth of powerful lobbyists working quietly to bend lawmakers to their will.”

In other words, we were stonewalled. Thanks to the legislature’s opaque procedures, the likely authors of the casino exemption artfully avoided public scrutiny. And who were they? Read the archived story at www.csbj.com.

Meanwhile, up in Boulder

The Business Journal reported that leaders in Boulder are ardently courting the business community. Massive new construction is transforming and revitalizing Boulder’s once-sleepy downtown.

Springs leaders, asked to comment, were envious, if a little dismissive. But maybe Boulder’s on to something — Forbes announced in mid-December that, based on indices such as the percentage of residents who are college graduates, Boulder is the smartest city in America. Fort Collins came in eighth and Colorado Springs didn’t place.

John.Hazlehurst@csbj.com