02 November 2005

Gloves Off?

Andrew Romanoff, Democratic Speaker of the Colorado House of Representatives, was the principal author and cheerleader of Referenda C and D. He knew he needed Republican backing from Governor Bill Owens to get the measure passed, and he was right. In an unwritten part of the deal to secure support from Owens, Romanoff basically muzzled his caucus in the 2005 legislative session, despite the fact that Democrats controlled both the House and Senate in Colorado.

Now, the deal is over. Democrats have Referendum C which will give them the flexibility, as the party in control of the legislature, to put together a reasonable budget, rather than a TABOR driven one. The main consolation prize for Owens, funds for 55 major road and bridge projects through a major issue of new debt, didn't pass, in large part due to Owens' failure to rally Republican support. There were, of course, plenty of items in Referendum D that Democrats would have been happy to have funding for, like shoring up pension funds for union firefighters and policemen, and capital funds to fix crumbling school buildings, but this was a secondary piece of the puzzle for Democrats.

Of course, Governor Owens can veto just about any Democratic legislation and can probably sustain most of those vetos in the face of override attempts, as the Democratic majority is slim and on many issues, a sufficient number of Republicans, as divided as that caucus is in Colorado, would back his decision to veto legislation. But, the end of the gentleman's agreement that muzzled the last legislative session means that now Democrats can introduce what they want and turn any bill that is vetoed into a campaign issue for 2006. If they pick wedge issues, like non-discrimination in employment against gays, and emegency contraception access for rape victims, as it did last year, this will force Republicans to either cooperate or defend their unpopular votes in 2006. This year, however, unlike last year, the wedge issues won't be just on social issues, they will also be on economic issues, which made up the bulk of the matters held back in the last session.

Democrats still have a delicate balance to keep. They genuinely don't want to be seen as anti-business, and in Colorado, they aren't, but they do want to present a credible and distinct alternative to the Republican party in Colorado. But, there is enough on the Democratic to do list, after decades out of power in Colorado, that picking and choosing the most popular items from their agenda shouldn't be too difficult.


blogicus said...

The Dems need only sit back and watch the GOP infighting this legislative session. What's that saying, don't get in your enemies way when they are killing themselves?

The Owens wing of the GOP and the Caldara wing will be in open warfare leading up to the General election. The Dems can probably use that to win re-election for the first time since what, the 1940s?

Andrew Oh-Willeke said...

You can use the popcorn strategy when you are in the minority, but when you are in the majority, it doesn't work.

em dash said...

Hmmm... I'm not so sure I'm with you on this one, Andrew.

I'd recommend that the Dems play it pretty close to the sleeve this session and focus on building the trust of the electorate by following through on the Ref C promises and advancing progressive tax policies that benefit all Coloradans but especially woo the moderate Republicans disgusted with the social issue wingnuttery. The clear home for voters who view themselves as "fiscally responsible."

To become too emboldened and go for broke with wedge issue legislation would risk fracturing partisan divides for the 2006 Dem gubernatorial candidate(s), some emminently winnable Congressional seats in CDs 4,5 and 7, and downticket local races.

We need those cross-over and unaffiliated voters who generally recoil from anything resembling partisan politics as usual. While the GOP implodes, this is a great opportunity for the Dems to define themselves for a change.