Mixed Bag For Ritter As Session Nears End

They say legislators legislate with one eye on the next election, and taking a look at the actions for Gov. Bill Ritter so far this year, it’s safe to say that governors…well, govern the same way.

When Ritter emerged as the unchallenged Democratic candidate for Governor in 2006, many liberals knew what they were getting themselves into–a bargain with a pro-life former District Attorney who wouldn’t always do what they wanted but could conclusively win a statewide race in Colorado. Which he did. As more moderate, mold-breaking Democrats like Mark Udall consolidated the party’s hold on elected office in 2008, the wisdom of this approach seemed clearer than ever. The Democratic Party’s move to the center in Colorado, while the Republican Party slipped further to the right, is probably the most important single factor in the state’s move from red to blue since 2004.

But there’s a risk to this approach that needs careful managing, which has become more evident this year as everyone starts looking seriously at next year’s election. Love them or hate them, there is a significant percentage of Democrats, as well as left-trending independent voters, who are not exactly satisfied with Ritter’s, and to some extent the Democratic-controlled Assembly’s, performance in the last few years. Moreover, there is a growing liberal backlash within the Democratic Party nationally, seeking targets for anger at what they see as “Conservadems,” backsliders, or at least undue accomodation of minority Republicans bent on obstruction. As our readers know, we find a lot of this talk to be unproductive whining by a few relatively prominent new media liberals, lacking recognition that elected officials represent more people than just them. But at some level you cannot just ignore it.

In Colorado, much of this anger has focused on the appointment of Michael Bennet to fill Ken Salazar’s Senate seat. Different communities had their objections–Hispanics were angry at Ritter over the process, liberals that key favorite candidates (really one candidate) were passed over. But the fact is that Bennet is not really doing that badly as a Senator so far, and is vigorously touring the state whenever he’s not in Washington–and then there’s the stupendous amounts of money he’s raising. Bennet is going to be a formidable candidate to beat in the general election, and everything we see indicates a Senate primary is growing less likely by the day.

But where does that leave Ritter?

The fact that Bennet seems to be working out does not necessarily save Ritter from lingering negativity over his appointment. However people feel about the process of Bennet’s appointment, it was completely adherent to the law and relatively free of scandal–and calls to primary him right out of the gate never gained traction. Such a primary, most agreed, would have been a referendum on Ritter with Bennet as a proxy, which would be unfair to Bennet. So who emerges as the guy to be mad at? If anybody, Ritter.

Several important events this session will factor into Ritter’s standing with the Democratic base. According to numerous sources, Ritter will veto House Bill 1274, the death penalty repeal, as well as the Senate Bill 286, the sentencing reform bill–if either reaches his desk. Both of these bills are popular with rank-and-file Democrats. There are also fresh hard feelings emerging with some interest groups over his “intervention” in the budget process against the Pinnacol Assurance funds transfer. On the plus side, Ritter can point to the beneficiary act that benefits gays and lesbians, and his key initiatives on transportation funding (passed) and healthcare cost recovery (passed).

But the fact is, these would be factors in a move to primary Ritter, which won’t happen–less of an issue in the general election, and many of the things that have irritated base Democrats will help placate general election voters. This is of course where Ritter’s thoughts have already turned, and one can make the argument that preventing the Pinnacol transfer and massive higher education cuts, for example, will pay far more dividends in terms of attracting business support (and defanging Josh Penry) than it will hurt him. If Ritter’s second quarter numbers show a healthy bump in support from business types, this theory will be proven correct.

Ritter may not be facing a primary, but we have to admit that his somewhat lackluster fundraising numbers in the first quarter are less daunting to potential challengers than, say, Bennet’s $1.4 million. Now you can’t raise money as quickly in a governor’s race as a federal office, of course, so this cannot be considered an apples-to-apples comparison. But if you’re a Republican trying to decide which of these statewide races might better suit you (or your money), well, which one looks like a softer target to you?

Epilogue? There’s plenty room for Democratic trepidation: the base is considerably less excited now than in previous years. They may vote for Ritter, but they probably won’t dig deep to raise money for him, and they won’t be coming out of the woodwork to volunteer for him. It’s almost as if he’s been obsessed with placating the business community at the expense of everything else–the money will be welcome, but the business community won’t staff the campaign office or walk precincts. Additionally, external factors that helped drive Democratic success with independents the last few elections (general GOP antipathy, Obama) will not be as trenchant, and may even work in the opposite direction next year.

We haven’t changed our estimation of what we think will be a weak Republican challenger no matter who of the present field gets the nomination–but Ritter isn’t going to win by 17 points next year, folks. It’s going to be a very different game.

25 Community Comments, Facebook Comments

  1. DavidThi808DavidThi808 says:

    I think Ritter has been doing a really good, albiet not great, job. And my big complaint is that there are issues he did not step up to address. But I can’t think of anything he’s done that I’m unhappy about.

    Oh, oh – maybe I am part of the “business community.”

  2. MesaModerate says:

    Bill Ritter is not a leader and he has no base (fundraising proves it).  He doesn’t know what it takes to run a business and it’s easy to see that he has no core principles.  He’s out on his ear next year.

  3. davidsbane says:

    Bill Ritter was lucky in 2006.  He didn’t have a primary because the collective wisdom was that Beauprez was going to steamroll and nobody else was willing to tilt at that windmill.  Then the generic ballot tanked for republicans, Beauprez was crippled by Holtzman and then ran the worst campaign in recent Colorado history.  Ritter ran a solid, if unimpressive, campaign and more importantly kept his mouth shut.  Nobody asked many questions.

    Now he isn’t going to be as lucky.  The generic is moving the other way.  His base (other than labor) is unenthusiastic about him.  The republican base is excited.  Ritter is running at the top of the ticket in a mid-term election in a very polarized national political environment, and he can’t count on the support of the anti-bush vote.

    He hasn’t helped himself much.  I mean what exactly has he done for three years?  Really?  Colorado Promise?  WTF was that?  New Energy Economy?  Certainly his “management” of the budget in a post Ref. C environment hasn’t been steller.  Oh yeah, he backed that energy tax boondoggle that got crushed by the voters and has raised everyone’s property taxes and car registration fees.  Say goodbye to the senior property exemption.

    • OneEyedOwl says:

      unless the Republicans hand him another term, which is certainly possible in Colorado. I voted for Ritter, mainly because he wasn’t Beauprez, but I probably won’t vote for him again. I’ll go third-party if I have to. Ritter has failed to lead this state on so many important issues, and when he has managed to be part of a solution, it has been a sneaky, back-door tax increase. I can’t help but compare his lackluster style to the dogged campaigning of someone like Roy Romer, who knew what he wanted to get done and then worked — hard — for it. Ritter just seems to sit back and wait for someone to check with him about what he thinks. He is a weak leader and has failed to advocate decisive solutions for a variety of problems, ranging from highway maintenance to higher education. If the Republicans can come up with a halfway bright candidate who doesn’t pick a looney-tunes running mate and can appeal at least once in a while to Colorado’s moderate middle (does the name Don Marostica ring any bells?), Ritter will be a one-term governor.

  4. twas brillig says:

    has been focused on doing the job. Part of the problem is that his team is all about playing prevent-defense, so he’s rarely out in front of the issues during the legislative session.

    But I think he deserves a lot of credit for keeping the legislature from going collectively insane over the higher education funding problem. He pushed for solutions, and he got them.

    And the New Energy Economy stuff might be rote to political insiders, but outside of Denver that economic sector is having a real impact in local economies. It’s at the forefront of what county and local officials are talking about, not to mention regional and local economic development groups. And it’s Governor Bill Ritter’s issue.

    Ritter can’t afford another quarter of lackluster fundraising, and if his team wants genuine job security in 2011, I’m sure they’ll get their heads around that starting yesterday.

    But I can’t fault the guy for making the job his main focus. This country is in a pickle, and thanks to Colorado’s crazy budget & revenue mechanisms, this state manages to make every crisis that comes along worse.

    The guv deserves a lot of credit for keeping the wheels on the wagon in this state. It’s something you don’t notice until they are not there.  

  5. MesaModerate says:

    http://www.politicswest.com/39

    I agree with a recent assessment I read somewhere — Bill Ritter is a problem identifier, not a problem solver.

    I’m sure his numbers are just as bad or worse than Udall’s.

  6. redstateblues says:

    Well, it’s on the right side of the diaries section, and the front page right now in the form of GOPstudent’s diary. McInnis and Penry are going to have their hands full with each other while Bill Ritter will be primary-free.

    No matter who wins between Crown Prince and McLobbyist, the GOP will be so fractured that they’ll have a hard time getting enough support to beat Ritter. The Dems, on the other hand, though not particularly excited with him, will be supporting Ritter because they know what’s at stake if they don’t.

    The GOP’s problem since we started talking about this race last year has been an incredibly weak field. Nothing has changed in that regard, and unless something changes soon, then this is still Ritter’s race to lose.

  7. GOPwarrior says:

    Ritter. Is. Going. To. Lose. If he loses because he’s pissed off all of you illegal immigrant-hugging, abortion promoting, sodomized so long by taxes that you like it bleeding heart Polsters, that’s cool. Or if he loses because the majority of decent, reasonable Coloradans decided they have had enough with the trickery and “this is not a tax increase” tax increases, like I think he will, that’s fine too.

    Awful lot of words to say the words “weak incumbent,” don’t you think guys? Is it that hard for you to say?

    • Einstein's dreams says:

      Most Coloradoans are pro-choice – No on 48 won by huge margins statewide, even in El Paso County.

      The problem for McInnis is that the base of the Republican party is intolerantly anti-choice, and unable to accept any discussion of moderation (like birth control and preventing unintended pregnancies) on the issue.  Just as Holtzman pushed Beauprez into positions that were unacceptable to the majority of Colorado voters, the intolerant wing of the Republican party can and probably will do the same to McInnis.

    • gertie97 says:

      You can’t beat somebody with nobody. And the Republicans have nobody.

      So there.

    • DavidThi808DavidThi808 says:

      that the majority of Coloradoans remain illegal immigrant-hugging, abortion promoting, sodomized so long by taxes that you like it bleeding heart liberals?

      • GOPwarrior says:

        We’re bringing up our game. This is a red state to the bones and will be again.

        • Republican 36 says:

          Besides that there have been mass defections away from the Republican Party in Larimer, Jefferson and Arapahoe counties over the past four years. Look at Arapahoe. A decade ago, if a candidate won the Republican nomination they might as well bring out the Bible and swear them in. Democrats didn’t standa chance.

          Fast forward ten years to the present. There are eleven state representatives whose districts are completely or partially in Arapahoe County. Eight are held by Democrats and only three by Republicans and two of those are in jeopardy (Swalm and Balmer).

          In the state senate one is a Republican and three are Democrats. A stunning turnaround and most of it happened in the last five years.

  8. hairycowman says:

    Ritter may be well intentioned, but has managed to spend exceedingly well( 5 BILLION more a year since his start), anger western slope interests(coal miners, gas industry, non- tax lovers), and focus on minute issues while constitutional and necessary issues loomed. He has done well trying to turn Colorado into “Colifornia”. While this may send a thrill up the leg of most Front Range folks. We on the Western Slope would like to send him packing.

    • gertie97 says:

      Ritter hasn’t spent anything other than his office budget, allocated by the legislature. The legislature makes the financial decisions.

      Yes, he angered the oil and gas types who refuse to accept the reality that the slowdown in the gas patch is the result of cratered commodity prices. Coal is doing nicely has has no bitch with the governor that I’ve heard of. The anti-taxers think highways will pave themselves and other fantasies, and they hated Owens for Ref C.

      Stick to the facts.

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