Jerry Kopel

Respect for Ritter

By Jerry Kopel

Dec. 25, 2008

In Colorado's history for 60 years (1947-2006) we had 10 governors and all, except John Love, first served their apprenticeship as a member of the state legislature. In the 2006 election, neither Republican Bob Beauprez nor Democrat Bill Ritter had served in the state legislature.

So I voted, without enthusiasm, for Bill Ritter for governor in November, 2006.

I was concerned about newspaper stories of Ritter's meetings with business groups and agreeing in response to questions about the 47 vetoes produced by Gov. Bill Owens in 2005.

Ritter was quoted in the Denver Post as saying "he agreed with about 38 of them" and "I believe (the business elite) came away believing I view my role as gatekeeper of good policy".

Thirty-six of the 47 bills were sponsored by Democrats in both the House and Senate. Ten were "bi-partisan" bills, and only ONE had two Republican (House and Senate) chief sponsors.

I worried. He also supported a dozen of the 44 vetoes by Owens in 2006. Would he be Bill Owens-lite?

In 2006, I was not aware of Ritter's stance on alternatives to prison. Owens, especially in his second term, had an administration that moved us from 25th most number of prisoners in the U.S. to 23rd. To me, Ritter's 2007 address to the legislature on prison alternatives, plus his similar address in 2008 and what I expect to read in 2009, fits well with my position.

Two years have passed. Ritter only vetoed eight bills in 2007 and seven bills in 2008. That doesn't include vetoes within the appropriations "long bill", vetoes made by almost all governors.

It isn't success that turns me on. It's trying to succeed. It took 50 years (probably two dozen bills) for Colorado to adopt warranty of habitability. That concept provides a human being paying residential rent has a right to a place fit for a human being to live in. I hope this was only the opening wedge in now making the doctrine easier for tenants to use by eliminating barriers that had to be accepted in 2008.

It took former Rep. Bob Allen four tries in eight years to end Colorado's miscegenation laws. Eventually many legislative programs once considered doomed do become the law. Some of us were fortunate enough to spend decades at the legislature and see short term losses turn into long term gains.

I believe it will happen as to increases in oil and gas severance taxes, especially if local government concerns are alleviated. The power of local government showed as almost every county voted against Amendment 58.

Several suggestions: Make the effective date 2012 to avoid recession arguments. Add fallback positions for local government property taxes, provisions which require the state fill in on oil and gas property tax declines for a specified number of years. Use the additional oil and gas tax funds received by the state for local government roads and highways in partnership with local government.

Ritter has to look at the broader historical picture. His legacy could well be based on a successful increase in oil and gas severance taxes taking effect sometime in the future. The full value of compromise at the beginning may not show up until years later. But he can be the one that made it happen.

And as long as Ritter keeps on TRYING, he'll have my support.

(Jerry Kopel served 22 years in the Colorado House.)

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