Thursday, September 3, 2009

Ritter campaigns on too many fronts

Gov. Bill Ritter campaigned all over the Denver Post on Thursday, from a piece he and Lt. Gov. Barbara O'Brien planted on the op-ed page defending their proposed cuts to public school funding, to a news story at the top of the Denver & The West cover reporting Ritter backed down from taking drunk-driving crackdown funds away from local police departments.

Campaigns were waged against the governor, too. His name was mentioned on the front page of the newspaper as the villain of budget cutbacks to state-funded health clinics, and on page 4B for being the architect of the $260 million batch of cuts overall in order to backfill a $320 million shortfall of revenues in the current fiscal year.

He was praised by the Post's editorial page for both regulating (read: limiting) and promoting the natural-gas industry in the state, and in Susan Greene's column he was the wizard behind the curtain drawn over tragic cost cutting at the state's Fort Logan mental health facility.

One thing you have to say about the governor in all those situations is that he has chosen to govern the people of his state, making tough decisions required of him by state law.

The move to restore funds to pay for drunk-driving arrests was something you might have expected from a former prosecutor once people complained that it would leave more drunks on the road and more victims of drunks in hospitals.

But the Ritter also has stayed firm on cuts that go against his law-and-order grain by releasing some convicts early in order to save prison money, and allowing other convicts shortened parole supervision, also to reduce state spending.

The general impression of Ritter I got after writing a piece in the current ColoradoBiz magazine was that he is doing his job. The report focused on the governor's political prospects for keeping votes in the Colorado business community during his 2010 re-election campaign, specifically by promoting the growth of clean/green industry in the state.

When I briefly interviewed Ritter for the article last July, I asked him if he was already campaigning for re-election given harsh reactions to some of his decisions among his natural supporters. He unabashedly responded that he has been campaigning for re-election ever since his inauguration.

That's the nature of politics today. Campaigns are always on, 24-7.

It's also the nature of being a governor in a state that is divided somewhat evenly between liberal and conservative voters, although large margins of those voting concentrations hone to the moderate center of their groups rather than the outer fringes.

Ritter campaigned as a somewhat undefined moderate and won the day in 2006, but the intervening three years have been hard on his continued efforts not to be pinned down.

He doesn't seem to be brave enough to decide against conservative factions in the state, and yet not liberal enough to provoke them and take his chances. Under that cover, he can claim to be serving the largest number of Colorado citizens, and he's basically right.

But serving a crowd often creates new enemies.

Voters will be making hard decisions for and against him in polling places across Colorado come November 2010. And while pissing off both sides of an argument might be appreciated in a news reporter, it usually doesn't work for an elected official.

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