29 May 2009

The High Cost Of Abandoning The Base

For a great many Colorado labor unions and their supporters in the Democratic Party, the decision of Colorado Governor Bill Ritter, a Democrat, to veto of House Bill 1170 was the last straw. The bill would have allowed locked out employees to receive unemployment benefits, something that was true until Governor Owens reversed the policy during his administration. From a common sense justice point of view, this bill presents a much more clear issue than the national debate over the Employee Free Choice Act did.

When I was a a vacancy committee meeting for Senate District 31, replacing Jennifer Veiga as state senator for the district, the vast majority of people I spoke to either sworn not to contribute money to Ritter's 2010 campaign, or to not volunteer for it. A large share of the rank and file Democratic party faithful, probably more the half of the core group of active Democrats, have given up on the Governor as a result of the veto. This is not an idle threat, considering that sixteen of the top twenty contributors to his last campaign were labor unions, and unions provide a disproportionate share of the warm body volunteers needed to run a campaign.

Ritter has also earned the enmity of a good portion of the Democratic caucus in the Colorado General Assembly, not necessarily for vetoing the bill, but for failing to give them clear warning that he planned on doing this, and then publicly claiming that they knew a veto was coming. It doesn't help that his veto message doesn't even claim that the bill itself was wrong on the merits, just as he failed to the last time he vetoed a major pro-labor bill (despite perceived promises that he would sign the previous pro-labor bill). Ritter has earned a reputation under the dome as a man whose word cannot be trusted and who does not communicate with his own party. This dramatically reduces his legislative effectiveness. Suffice it to say also that this isn't the only bill where communication with the legislative caucus has been subpar.

Only a handful of people are saying that they wouldn't vote for Ritter over a Republican. And, Ritter has weak opposition so far on the Republican side. I'm not personally so disgusted by the veto that I've lost all hope, perhaps because I have a somewhat more cynical view of politics. But, the veto doesn't help either. It shows the Governor's bad judgment on the merits of the veto, and it shows miserable leadership and communications skills by the Governor and his senior staff with the legislative caucus and his base.

This veto was a serious self-inflicted wound. It could cost Ritter his re-election if the race gets close and Republicans start acting hungry. The Republicans show no sign of actually mounting a coherent campaign, but there is blood in the water. Yet, Ritter seems in no hurry to mend fences or make amends. If there was a plan in connection with this bill, it isn't apparent to anyone but him. If he wants to accomplish anything for the rest of his term of office, he needs to figure out how to make up this mistake to his base.


Steve Balboni said...

I was at a county party event (not Denver) 2 weekends ago and when the governors name was mentioned he was booed. People are upset and I don't think the governor or his people have any clue just how many bridges they've been burned.

You'd think their absymal fundraising would open their eyes but I doubt it. I don't know if the gov and his senior staff are simply arrogant or just have no political acumen but either way Ritter's ship is sinking fast.

If McInnis pledged to respect the current state of labor law in Colorado, including the state employee Executive Order, Ritter would be up a creek. As it stands now SEIU, AFSCME and AFT have to protect Ritter in order to protect that EO. That hooks in some of the big players who could either actively fund an opposing candidate or passively sit the race out.

Its also worth noting that David Kenney, the guy who led the gov to a 17 point defeat last fall on Amendment 58, is signed on to head up the re-elect campaign.

Andrew Oh-Willeke said...

I don't think McInnis could pull it off. He has too many skeletons in the closet, too few ideas, too little name recognition, and too localized a base of support. He's a has been.

But, if Elway throws his hat in the ring and wins a primary, Ritter is up for the fight of his life.

Andrew Oh-Willeke said...

Colorado Pols also understands how much trouble Ritter is in with his base on labor issues, in the course of reviewing rumors that Ritter may veto the only remaining labor bill passed this year that has not been signed or vetoed.

Michael Malak said...

Aren't unemployment benefits something the union is supposed to supply to its members?

It seems to me that state-sponsored unemployment is unfair competition to labor unions. I.e., if state-sponsored unemployment were eliminated, then there would be more labor unions, in the same way that if public education were eliminated there would be more private schools.

As a less drastic measure, the state could require employers to carry their own unemployment insurance instead of mandating subscription to the state's. Then the union in its collective bargaining could demand that the employer carry insurance that covers lock-outs.

Pam Bennett said...

Union strike payments are for union members on strike and at the lines. You work a shift on the lines to be paid.

A worker locked out of a business is not on strike. That worker may or may not be a member of a union. The owner of the business is saying we will not pay you because we do not want you to work. That person is unemployed. Yet due to Owens and now Ritter that person has no income at all, which would be unemployment payments.

In this Bush recession/depression there are precious few jobs available. So finding any employment is very difficult.

Michael Malak said...

In that case, since non-union employees would be punished merely for happening to work at a union shop, unemployment benefits should be extended to locked out workers. In my mostly-libertarian philosophy, the government should neither encourage nor discourage unions. I would prefer that private sector solutions to unemployment be found, but if we have to have government-based unemployment benefits, then they should be extended to locked out workers.

Andrew Oh-Willeke said...

FYI, EFCA is dead in Congress after a filibuster threat in the Senate killed the bill.