Ritter speaks in terms of "we" and talks a lot about bipartisanship. He is credited for continued progress on environmental issues and for kick-starting a "new energy economy" in Colorado. Yet Ritter was elected in 2006 on the strength of a campaign of big ideas for funding universal health care, higher education and transportation at levels that dwarf his modest gains so far.
Many Republican lawmakers say Ritter has squandered an opportunity to make giant strides toward those goals during his first two legislative sessions as governor. They say new governors such as Ritter, whose parties control both houses of the legislature, should come out of the gate pushing big agendas early.
It's interesting that the Rocky choose to frame the discussion of missed opportunities in such a partisan manner. I think that many Democrats feel the same way. When a governor is elected in a landslide election and his Party extends their majorities in the House and Senate it is expected that the new governor will seize the initiative and push at least some bold measures. Not so with Governor Ritter. His cautious first session featured numerous instances where it appeared the legislative leadership was out of sync with the governor's office. Most notably was the introduction of HB 1072 to revamp the so-called "Labor Peace Act." Ritter famously vetoed the pro-labor measure angering many of his supporters and leaving many scratching their heads. All of this was chalked up to the difficulty in putting together a staff and a cabinet in the 2 months between election day and inauguration. Fair enough, I think many people were willing to give the governor the benefit of the doubt.
Now though we are nearing the end of the 2nd session and except in issues concerning the environment and the "New Energy Economy" we've seen little even proposed of note. Indeed the Rocky cites the passage of a education reform bill as a key piece of legislation from this session. But that bill was the brain-child of two Republican lawmakers. It didn't evolve out of the governor's P-20 Education Commission. It didn't come out of the governor's policy office. Rep. Rob Witwer, the bills House sponsor, is being very kind when he states,
"This is a very important bill and there's no way it would have happened this year without the governor's leadership," Witwer said.
Really? The bill in question passed 60 to 4 out of the House. Seems to me that's indicative of a bill that already enjoyed broad support.
There's been no significant headway in health care despite health care reform being a key piece of the gubernatorial campaign in 2006. Ditto for transportation. Education reform has languished as well.
Even the much heralded environmental policies seem a bit hollow now as the use of E85 ethanol was a key component to many of the reforms from the first legislative session. E85 is now known to be a net negative for the environment in addition to having an impact on global food supplies.
As I have lamented before, given the downturn in the economy and the fact that few bold proposals are ever proffered in an election year it appears that the positive momentum has ceased. Political capital is fleeting and when you have a large stock it is best to use it before your stock is devalued. The governor's political capital has peaked and we're seeing it begin to recede. Given that I suppose it's time to face reality - we will not see significant reforms in the areas of health care, education and transportation from a Ritter administration until 2011, if ever.