Cynics who believe that, when given a chance, politicians will take the politically expedient route were dealt a blow when Gov. Bill Ritter vetoed two priority bills of organized labor after the 2009 session of the Colorado General Assembly adjourned.
One of the bills would have provided unemployment benefits to locked-out workers involved in labor disputes. As the bill was considered, there was much discussion about whether it was intended to address the general policy or whether it was intended to give unions the upper hand in negotiations with grocery stores for the contract that was set to expire in May. The bill’s effective date was amended in the House to make the bill apply only to future contracts, but the Senate’s version was applicable to the current negotiations. After the House accepted the Senate changes, Ritter vetoed the bill, saying that the rules shouldn’t change in the middle of the game.
The second bill involved collective bargaining for police and fire personnel. As introduced, the bill would have applied to all law enforcement and fire officials and would have imposed new requirements even in places where existing collective bargaining agreements were in place. It faced stiff opposition and had to be narrowed considerably to pass the legislature. The version that made its way to Ritter’s desk applied only to fire departments with at least 50 employees that didn’t have a current agreement in place.
Given the bill’s limited applicability and the fact that the governor had already disappointed organized labor and its supporters by vetoing the lockout bill, it would have been understandable if Ritter had split the difference by approving the collective bargaining bill.
However, he vetoed it, saying the state shouldn’t impose its beliefs on individual communities and that the decision to grant collective bargaining rights should continue to be made at a local level.
The first rule of politics is to secure your base. Ritter’s principled opposition and subsequent vetoes of these two bills went against that rule and showed his strong inner compass and willingness to do what he thinks is right regardless of how it looks to others or what consequences it might create.
Ritter is not your typical governor. He came to the office without having served in the General Assembly. His previous elected office was serving as Denver’s district attorney. His law-and-order perspective from his prosecutorial background and pro-life position make him an unusual Democrat but also make him like most Coloradans in that he makes decisions on specific issues based upon his experiences and philosophies. He may not make anyone happy with all of his decisions, but there can be no doubt that every decision he makes is based upon what he thinks is best for Colorado.
Greg Romberg is president of Romberg and Associates, a government relations and public affairs firm. He lives in Evergreen with his wife, Laurie, and three daughters.