Jerry Kopel

KOPEL: EARLY DOUBTS TURN INTO APPROVAL

Ritter earns respect by trying to succeed

Nine of the 10 governors who served this state during the 60 years from 1947 to 2006 gained an apprenticeship in holding state office as members of the Colorado Legislature.

In 2006, however, neither major party nominee —Republican Bob Beauprez nor Democrat Bill Ritter — had served in the state Legislature.

So I voted without enthusiasm for Ritter on Election Day 2006.

Some of that lack of enthusiasm was based on newspaper stories of meetings between Ritter and business groups at which Ritter said he agreed with most of the 47 vetoes produced by incumbent Republican Gov. Bill Owens in 2005.

Ritter was quoted in the Denver Post 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.”

Of the 47 vetoed bills, 36 were sponsored by Democrats in both the House and Senate, 10 had sponsors from both parties and only ONE had two Republican chief sponsors in the House and the Senate.

Ritter also said he supported a dozen of the 44 vetoes by Owens in 2006. Would Ritter be Bill Owens Lite?

However, in 2006 I had been unaware of Ritter’s support for alternatives to prison. Policies promoted by Owens, especially in his second term, had imprisoned so many that the state had moved up from 26th to 23rd place among the 50 states and the District of Columbia for actual high prison populations.

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 vetoed only eight bills in 2007 and seven bills in 2008. That doesn’t include vetoes within the appropriations “long bill,” which are 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 a warranty of habitability. The Legislature’s passage of one in 2008 means that a human being paying residential rent can demand that his or her place is fit for a human being to live in. I hope this is only the opening wedge, and that tenants will gain increasing access to legal means eliminating some continued barriers to habitability that had to be accepted in the 2008 bills.

It took former Rep. Bob Allen four tries in eight years before he was able to end Colorado’s miscegenation laws in 1957. Eventually, many legislative programs once considered doomed do become the law. Some of us have
been fortunate enough to spend decades at the Legislature and see short-term losses turn into long-term gains.

I believe this will happen with laws to increase oil and gas severance taxes, especially if local government concerns are alleviated. The power of local government showed on Election Day 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 to fill in for a specified number of years, should oil and gas property tax decline. 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 makes it happen.

As long as Ritter keeps on TRYING, he’ll have my support.

Jerry Kopel served 22 years in the Colorado House.