Just ten months into Gov. Bill Ritter’s administration, the nickname “Back Room Ritter” is already gaining traction. And rightly so – this is a man who likes to make important decisions without public input.
Earlier this year, Ritter remained silent after a Denver District Judge scolded officials from Ritter’s Department of Public Health and the Attorney General’s office for violating constitutional mandates regarding open meetings. The judge ruled that this government coalition had violated the Constitution by meeting in secret to set arbitrary limits on sick and dying patients seeking relief under the Colorado’s voter-implemented medical marijuana program.
And now Ritter is again back in court. Recent open records requests reveal that his administration has met with union officials to develop a secret joint-strategy to force compulsory unionization on public employees. While Ritter handed over some information related to the meetings, he is seeking court relief after refusing to release at least one key document still in his possession.
While frustrating to government watchers, Ritter’s actions should be expected in the aftermath of the 2006 election, where he pulled the bait-and-switch of the century. Campaigning with the financial backing of union contributors and committees, he convinced industry leaders that he’d be a pro-business executive.
His timing couldn’t have been more perfect. Just a year earlier, business coalitions looking to cash in on favorable state contracts supported Referendum C – a $6 billion tax increase pledged to address infrastructure funding shortfalls in previous years. Unlike his opponent Bob Beauprez, who had publicly opposed the measure, Ritter vocally supported it as a necessary development tool to get the state’s economy going.
In 2007, however, after backing both Ritter and Ref C, the business community is voicing a growing frustration as Ritter’s recent actions indicate he is anything but pro-market. While Ritter threw a bone to business leaders by vetoing a key union-backed bill earlier this year, he’s come back strong for labor bosses – pledging to support “partnerships” between unions and government that will inevitably lead to yet more taxes on Colorado’s working families.
To build frustrations even more, he is now also championing a controversial statewide property tax increase, with his fellow Democrats strategizing statewide on ways to pass several more. While basic economics dictates that taxpayers foot the bill every time government expands, this isn’t stopping him from continuing to make conflicting promises.
A few weeks ago, Ritter announced his plan to cut corporate taxes, provide private-sector subsidies, and roll back the much despised business personal property tax. This package is just another disingenuous big-government approach designed to look pro-commerce. The goal is clear: Use favorable tax cuts to buy the silence of business leaders while balancing the state’s budget on the backs of Colorado taxpayers.
State Rep. Cory Gardner, R-Yuma, articulately characterized this strategy, telling a reporter, “The effect of his pro-business package will be the same as a fly hitting a 747. This is nothing more than a spoonful of sugar to help the medicine go down.”
Ritter, a former District Attorney, is also questionable when it comes to his stance on criminal justice issues. Earlier this year, following bi-partisan passage of a bill that would have allowed reformed adults to apply to have their criminal records sealed, Ritter vetoed the effort. He made this decision despite the fact that the legislation included several protections designed to ensure that law enforcement officials could maintain open access to such files.
While Ritter should be commended for his honesty in previously acknowledging “infrequent” marijuana use in high school and college, he isn’t willing to take a stand for those who made the same or similar mistakes – but had the misfortune of getting caught. He remains silent as federal college financial aid is ripped from the hands of students, including those in Colorado convicted under state law of the most minor of drug offenses, such as possessing a marijuana joint.
Ritter is a man conflicted as he strives to reward those who funded his campaign – as well as those who ultimately voted him into office. In the crosshairs of this strategic battle are ordinary voters, left to guess about his loyalties and forced to fund his strategic alliances. Governor, isn’t it time to finally let the sun shine in?
Editor’s note: Jessica Peck Corry’s weekly blogs are part of a new feature on NewWest.Net/Politics called “Diary of a Mad Voter,” a group blog, published in partnership with the Denver Post’s Politics West intended give a glimpse into the hearts and minds of several independent-minded voters and thinkers in the Rocky Mountain West in the ’08 election cycle. Check back this week at www.newwest.net/madvoter.