Jerry Kopel

Memorial Day, and Bill Ritter

May 20, 2007


By Jerry Kopel


When journalists get together, they like to trade stories, specially if the paper's publisher is nowhere in sight.


A Memorial Day Story 


One such former journalist at the Rocky Mountain News, H. Allen Smith,  wrote a book of humorous stories, "Low Man on the Totem Pole". I read it as a teenager in Baltimore, Md., never realizing I would one day be  part of the scenery.


The town in the Memorial Day story was Walsenburg in Huerfano County. The time was Memorial Day, 1933 and the place was the Walsenburg offices of the daily World-Independent newspaper. Eighteen years later, I would serve there as its copy editor, news editor, reporter, editorial writer, and yes, when a customer came in to buy a pad of paper, I was the sales clerk.


There were two culprits in 1933. One was the editor, who later became a successful Chicago businessman. The other was the Associated Press wire service, which was still there and still working for me in 1951.


In 1933, the sun was shining, the fish were biting, and the editor was anxious to complete the paper and take advantage of nature. All he needed was the winner of the Indianapolis Speedway race.


Money was no object in comparison to a few extra minutes of fishing. The editor cut corners and  wired the track's Associated Press  correspondent for fast service on the winner.


The correspondent wired back, "will overhead winner of race". Unaware that "overhead" meant telegraphing in journalistic lingo, the Walsenburg editor wrote a big, bold headline across the top of the paper "Overhead Wins in Indianapolis Classic."


The page one story began "Will Overhead won the Indianapolis Memorial Day race today."


By the time the "error" was discovered, the issues were already delivered and the presses were silent. A champ was born.


My only regret was in not discovering a copy of that paper while I worked there.


Bill Ritter In History 


Everyone else has had their shot at reviewing Gov Ritter's first legislative year, so perhaps I can view it from another angle.


There have only been four Democrats in the past 74 years to have a first year as governor with a Democratic House and Senate. In 1933, it was "Big Ed" Johnson. In 1937 it was  Teller Ammons. In 1957 it was Steve McNichols. And in 2007, it was Bill Ritter.


Three of the four, Johnson, Ammons, and McNichols, had prior legislative experience.  Each had comfortable margins in the House and Senate as does Ritter with 20 senators and 39 representatives.


The 2007 Democrats knew what they wanted: To get the bills vetoed by former Gov. Bill Owens, passed into law. In  large part, they succeeded. The bills were gushing up, where once a dry hole existed. And what they got was more consumer protection. 


Ritter began early with a veto, and ended on the next to last day with a veto of legislative budget footnotes. Obviously, the papers were not going to print the veto language, but the most used language was as  follows:


"I am vetoing this footnote for two reasons. First, this footnote violates the separation of powers in Article IIII of the Colorado Constitution by attempting to administer the appropriation. Second, this footnote violates Article V, section 32 of the Colorado Constitution because it constitutes substantive legislation that cannot be included in the general appropriations bill.


"Notwithstanding this veto, I will direct the department to comply with this footnote to the extent feasible."

The last sentence relaxed the veto and made it easier for Democrats to override it. But Gov. Ritter has a choice to make. Should he be a plaintiff or defendant?


According to the case of MacManus vs. Love (1971) it is not necessary to veto a void and unenforceable footnote. "Such veto was not necessary"  states the annotation in the statute books. Of course, only the court can determine if a veto is void and unenforceable. By ignoring the override, Ritter would become the defendant.''


Or Ritter can be the plaintiff and sue the legislature on the basis that the vetoes were void and unenforceable. In my opinion, Gov. Ritter should attempt to get a definitive response from the Supreme Court as to whether the vetoes were valid or not.


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

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