(Denver Post, Feb. 26) "An empty taxi drove up to 10 Downing Street,” joked Winston Churchill about the man who defeated him for prime minister in 1946, “and out of it stepped Clement Attlee.” Droll, but Attlee laughed last. Nothing succeeds like success.
Detractors who grumble that there is “no there, there” in John Hickenlooper’s remarkable political winning streak, have to admit the same thing about his long-running popularity as Mayor of Denver and now Governor of Colorado: voters just like the guy.
The latest indication of Hick’s undiminished moxie was an odd little news item the other day, in which Secretary of State Scott Gessler, a Republican, hinted at a 2014 gubernatorial bid – but only if Hickenlooper, the Democratic incumbent, were to decline a second term as did his predecessor, Bill Ritter. To which the Gov’s office replied, in substance, fat chance.
The upcoming TBD Project, 120 townhall meetings around the state with private funding of $1.2 million, shows again how Hickenlooper has raised amiable vagueness to an art form. He says TBD stands for “To Be Determined,” an open invitation for citizens to help set the state’s priorities – and bristles at the GOP gibe that it’s really code for “Taxed by Democrats.” The very idea!
Cruising toward halftime in his four-year term, the canny Hick is still not ready to roll out an agenda. No hurry, we’ll just travel the counties and see what folks scribble on our whiteboard. If Christo can take till 2015 to drape the river, the administration’s big push on education, transportation, corrections, and fiscal reform needn’t start yet either. Get reelected, then get serious.
On what record, you ask, would the governor campaign, given his underwhelming accomplishments to date? That’s the interesting thing about being Colorado’s chief executive. Constitutionally the position is so weak – the executive branch being split among four elected offices, the legislative branch having dominance on spending, and the voters controlling taxes and debt under TABOR – that an incumbent can win again just by managing the atmospherics and avoiding blunders.
It worked exactly this way for all of the successful governors in the state’s modern era (since terms went from two years to four in 1962). The Republican John Love and the Democrats Dick Lamm and Roy Romer each won three terms. Republican Bill Owens was easily reelected once and then term-limited. Democrat Bill Ritter, dogged by scandal and done after one, is the exception who proves the rule.
Don’t misunderstand: Love, Lamm, Romer, and Owens were all surehanded leaders and formidably skilled politicians. (Gov. Romer, of course, trounced me in our 1990 contest.) I’m merely saying that if you look for their monumental legacies or enduring policy victories, there weren’t many.
Romer did get DIA built, though Mayor Federico Pena’s name is on the approach road, and he passed the CSAP legislation, though education is little the better for it. Owens pushed T-REX to completion, though congestion persists, and he signed voucher legislation, though judges then annulled it. Lamm ran off the Winter Olympics – though before he became governor – and now we may host them anyway.
Governing our state or any other state simply doesn’t lend itself to transformative Obama-style grandiosity – which from my conservative viewpoint is a good thing. The Hippocratic caution in public policy, “First do no harm,” is hard enough to uphold. Deliver that and we’re grateful, would be the sentiment of most Americans in what is still a center-right nation.
Today’s superstar governors elsewhere – Chris Christie in New Jersey, Scott Walker in Wisconsin, Bobby Jindal in Louisiana – became such by tackling Augean messes, not by peddling utopian dreams. Colorado, for all its problems, is in no such crisis, thank goodness. If the empty gimmickry of John “TBD” Hickenlooper has an upside, that’s it.
(Denver Post, Jan. 9) “Yesterday, upon the stair, I met a man who wasn’t there. He wasn’t there again today. I wish, I wish he’d go away.” The little poem from a century ago should haunt Colorado’s new governor and legislature as they climb the Capitol steps and set to work this week.
John Hickenlooper is shrewdly adding Republicans as well as fellow Democrats to his cabinet, but no one has been appointed from the Tea Party. Speaker Frank McNulty, reclaiming a GOP majority for the first time since 2004, will preside over a House of 33 R’s, 32 D’s, and no T’s. Senate President Brandon Shaffer enjoys an opposite and more comfortable margin of 20 D’s, 15 R’s, and again, zero T’s.
So what? This is our state’s two-party system in the same seesaw of power we’ve known since 1876 – politics as usual. These are politically unusual times, however. The men and women who aren’t there under the gold dome in 2011, but whom our elected leaders can’t afford to ignore, are the Tea Party insurgents of the past two years.
Fewer than half of Colorado’s eligible voters turned out last November. The half that stayed home were not all Tea Partiers, of course. T’s came out in large numbers to help Republicans take the state House, unseat two Democrats from Congress, and support Tom Tancredo or Dan Maes for governor. Yet the fact remains that as campaigning now gives way to governing, T’s have no formal seat at the table. So it’s insiders beware.
The late Bill Buckley allowed LBJ only about a week in office before announcing in his magazine: “National Review’s patience with the Johnson administration is exhausted.” The Tea Party, a movement of hard-working Americans fed up with over-spending and over-government, is THAT impatient with politicians of both parties. You can imagine them sending Valentines such as these to the power-brokers at 200 E. Colfax:
“Dear Gov. Hickenlooper: No doubt you’re a good guy to have a beer with, though the motor scooter is a bit effete. But for now, forget the image stuff, park your presidential ambitions, and get the economy roaring again. Go after the unions and the spenders like you were Chris Christie. We’re dying out here. Love, Adams County.”
“Dear President Shaffer: What’s with you proposing to make it harder for us to change the state constitution? The constitution belongs to us, not to you and the other suits. Try reading it on opening day, the way Congress did. Then try again on fixing PERA, before it bankrupts the state. Respectful but steamed, Grand Junction.”
“Dear Speaker McNulty: You must have been quoted wrong about not repealing Ritter’s car tax, that outrageous affront to TABOR. When one of your members said the revenue is needed, you woodshedded him, right? Can a couple hundred of us come see you in the Old Supreme Court some afternoon? Patriotically, Pueblo.”
“Dear Senate Minority Leader Mike Kopp: Please fire up your caucus to fight harder than last year against the Obama transformation agenda on things like energy and health care. The GOP is Colorado’s best hope of not turning into California or Greece, but if you don’t show us more, a bunch of us are outta here. Worried in Widefield.”
“Dear House Minority Leader Sal Pace: Ouch, a few dozen votes in the Ramirez race and you could have been Speaker. For 2012, instead of lurching left with labor, why not become a fiscal hawk, a Dick Lamm-style Democrat? We can be had. Available in Arvada.”
Government isn’t the solution, it’s the problem. So said Reagan 30 years ago this month, and the Tea Party believes it is even truer today. If Colorado’s bipartisan establishment doesn’t pay heed, it will pay dearly.
('76 Contributor) Bipartisanship is greatly overrated as a formula for good government. Every major government boondoggle in recent memory was launched with bipartisan enthusiasm. Bipartisanship has its role in the day-to-day affairs of government. What separates genuine bipartisanship from bogus bipartisanship is one thing: honesty.
In Congress or any state legislature, it is normal for hundreds of bills to be passed with bipartisan support because much of government consists of making adjustments or improvements in ongoing programs that have broad public support. When dealing with the core functions of government, we seldom see sharp divisions along party lines.
But what we see today is a different thing. Bipartisanship is being urged on Republicans not as a "let's split the difference" compromise for a specific bill but as a principle for shaping the very definition of the problem to be solved. For example, if Republicans agree that the problem to be solved in a budget crisis is a "shortfall in revenues," then the compromise solution will inevitably be some level of tax increases to make up the "shortfall." This then becomes a debate over how to finance the growth of government, not how to reduce the size of government.
The Republican Party won victories in congressional and state races by promising to roll back Obamacare and other expansions of government. If they now squander those victories by abandoning the small-government agenda, they will deserve the scorn and ridicule of not only tea-party activists but concerned citizens everywhere.
In Colorado, the state now has a liberal Democratic governor-elect, Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper, and a split legislature. Republicans are in the majority in the House and Democrats control the Senate. In this situation, neither party can control the legislative agenda. The question conservatives in Colorado are asking is: Will the legislative agenda become truly "bipartisan," or will Republicans be maneuvered into debating the details of compromises on the Democratic agenda?
To have a chance at genuine compromise and honest bipartisanship, Republicans must first have an agenda of their own. When leading Colorado Republicans like former Gov. Bill Owens join the Democratic governor-elect's transition team, that serves to give the Democrats' agenda a patina of "bipartisanship" at the outset. When the Democratic agenda is baptized a "bipartisan agenda" on Day 1, by not only the liberal media and interest groups but by a group of co-opted Republicans, legislators who don't buy into that agenda can be easily stigmatized as "partisan obstructionists."
Selling out your party's platform and policy agenda before the first shot is fired is a form of pre-emptive compromise that ought to be called by its right name: surrender. It is not bipartisanship in search of genuine solutions; it is gamesmanship in search of favorable press clippings. Such behavior may be acceptable to "party elders" who are accountable to no one, but it is not acceptable for elected representatives sent to the capitol to tackle tough problems and seek real solutions based on constitutional principles.
As other conservative leaders have observed, Big Government is on autopilot and programmed for a crash. Republicans need to find the off switch. Government needs a fundamental change in direction, not a spare fuel tank.
In Colorado, for example, Republicans in the state legislature would be smart to offer their own agenda as quickly as possible and not wait for the Democrats' "partnership" agenda, which will validate the status quo and seek "innovative" and "creative" (read: deceptive) ways to finance the continued growth of government. They could start with proposing a voucher system for public schools, adoption of the federal E-verify program for denying jobs to illegal aliens, a 10 percent across-the-board reduction in each state agency's budget except transportation, and phasing out state support for the state university system.
The clock is running out for the Republican Party. If they do not begin delivering on their promises, the grass-roots citizens' rebellion that swept them into office will find another vehicle for restoring constitutional liberties. In football terms, it is the middle of the fourth quarter, the score is Big Government 24, Small Government 3, and a field goal is not an acceptable play call.
Tom Tancredo is a former five-term congressman from Colorado, 2008 candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, and 2010 independent candidate for governor. He currently serves as chairman of the Rocky Mountain Foundation and co-chairman of TeamAmericaPac. Tancredo is the author of "In Mortal Danger: The Battle for America's Border and Security." This article first appeared on WorldNetDaily.com, Nov. 13
How convenient, now that Bill Ritter is no longer running for governor and John Hickenlooper is hoping to succeed him, Hick suddenly discovers after months of silence that the incumbent Democrat was "anti-business" in brutalizing the oil and gas industry last year and "crazy" in raising taxes during a recession this year. Meanwhile the Governor obligingly plays his part by voicing annoyance at the Mayor's criticisms. Why should we believe either of them for one moment? Hickenlooper has been a tax-hiker and fee-booster himself during seven years in office. Ritter has already taken one for the team by declining a second term, and now takes another by feigning indignation over the jabs from Hick, while winking to signal that of course he understands a Dem candidate has to run to the center under present circumstances. Hick used a business audience, the South Metro Chamber, as the setting for his phony embrace of free-market realities amid the economic doldrums. Let's not witness the nauseating spectacle of Colorado business again being fooled by a Democrat in 2010 as they were in 2006, when Ritter stole Bob Beauprez's clothes. One of Denver's most seasoned and successful tycoons told me this week he will test Hickenlooper's bona fides with two simple questions, on both of which the Mayor is very unlikely to give a firm yes: (1) Will you roll back the Ritter executive order for unionization of state employees? (2) Will you resist pressure from the White House to stack the 2011 redistricting so Dems are guaranteed five or even six of the state's seven congressional seats for the next decade? This downtown businessman is thinking more a lot clearly than suburban chamber director John Brackney, who gave a Hick a softball introduction before this week's snow job. When you cut through all the soothing talk and play-acting, the bottom line is that (a) our Mayor is not really at odds with our Governor and his job-killing statist agenda and (b) neither our Mayor nor our Governor is prepared to cross their President on any matter of importance. That is to say, a vote for Hickenlooper this fall is a vote for Obama. Surely Colorado's business community won't be so gullible as to go down that road -- again.
After all the Hickenhoopla dies down, Colorado voters may experience a sick feeling of déjà vu as the Denver mayor and Democrat candidate for governor claims that he's "business friendly."
We've been down this campaign trail before, just four years ago, when nice guy Bill Ritter bent over backward to ingratiate himself to every gulliblebusiness organization in the state. Only the most ardent Republicans refused to fall for the fallacy of a business-friendly Democrat, and business leaders and editorial boards across the state have been (deservedly) kicking themselves ever since.
So, here we go again.
Like Ritter, Denver mayor John Hickenlooper comes across as likable. His knack for self-deprecating humor is particularly endearing.
Like Ritter, Hickenlooper seems like the kind of guy whom you would welcome as your next-door neighbor. Neighborliness might indicate he has the skills to shovel snow off your sidewalk -- as Hickenscooper has already demonstrated -- but doesn't equate to "this guy will make a great governor."
Like Ritter, Hickenlooper aims to avoid any serious challenge from within his own party, and that doesn't happen unless labor union bosses are convinced they have a candidate who will do their bidding.
The Denver Post reported that one of Hickenlooper's early testing-the-waters phone calls was to Wally Stealey, retired lobbyist and labor union stalwart, who complained that "labor had been terribly abused by Ritter."
This is the same Ritter whom The Post -- which in 2006 lauded him as "the best choice for Colorado" -- labeled "a toady to labor bosses" and "a bagman for unions and special interests" just one year later.
While Hickenlabor strives mightily to assure union bosses that he will be even better for them (which means worse for Colorado's economy) than was Ritter, will so-called "business leaders" again be duped?
Will they dismiss the costly lessons learned during the past three years?
Will they believe that a candidate who can enthrall hard-core union leaders and hard-left environmentalists will, once elected, throw them under the bus to please the business community?
When Hickenlooper ran for mayor, he ran in a nonpartisan election decided by personal popularity and he benefited from being "anybody but Don Mares." But as Ritter has learned, when Democrats control the legislature, a Democrat governor who vetoes Democrat legislation -- particularly legislation backed by organized labor -- evokes the ire of his party's liberal base.
Remember that four years ago, The Denver Post reported that candidate Bill Ritter "indicated he would be at least as business friendly as Republican Gov. Bill Owens." To prove this, Ritter reviewed the 47 bills that Owens had vetoed in 2005 when sent to him by a decidedly business-hostile Democrat legislature. Ritter claimed that he would have vetoed 38 of those bills.
Despite that tough talk, Gov. Ritter has vetoed eight, seven and four bills, respectively, in his first three years. Out of more than 1,400 billspassed, that's a rubber-stamp rate of 98.7%. And still Big Labor feels "abused."
Did the Democrat-controlled legislature suddenly turn over a business-friendly leaf and cease to do the bidding of labor unions, trial lawyers and anti-capitalists? Hardly.
Quick-witted Republican state chairman Dick Wadhams dubbed the new Democrat governor-in-waiting "Hickenritter" and argued, "There is not a dime's worth of difference between (Ritter and Hickenlooper)."
Colorado voters deserve, Wadhams says, to know which Ritter policies Hickenlooper will overturn:
* Ritter's property tax increase?* Ritter's vehicle fee increase?* Ritter's early release of violent criminals?* Ritter's executive order to unionize state workers?* Ritter's repeal of state spending limits?* Ritter's job killing energy policy?
Hopefully, Colorado voters will insist on firm answers to these tough questions after enduring three -- going on four -- years of a Democrat monopoly at the State Capitol.
After all, voters bought the myth of a business-friendly Democrat and it's cost more than $1 billion higher taxes and fees ‹ all without a public vote.
The old adage says, "Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me."
Colorado can't afford to be fooled twice.
Centennial Fellow Mark Hillman served as state treasurer and senate majority leader. To readmore or comment, go to www.MarkHillman.com .