In a column appearing in The Denver Post on March 18, John Andrews misrepresented Gov. Bill Ritter's position on a labor measure and distorted his record as Denver district attorney. Andrews, as other Post writers have done, used Ritter's "Colorado Promise" campaign slogan to suggest misleadingly that the Democratic governor wasn't following through on his agenda.
In a March 18 Denver Post column, Claremont Institute fellow and former Republican Colorado Senate president John Andrews tagged Democratic Gov. Bill Ritter with the derogatory nickname "Easy Bill" and argued in favor of the name by misrepresenting Ritter's position on labor legislation and mischaracterizing Ritter's performance as Denver district attorney. In doing so, Andrews continued a pattern in which Post writers have seized upon Ritter's "Colorado Promise" campaign slogan to mislead on his published list of top-priority agenda items.
Much of Andrews' column dealt with Ritter's purported shift in position on House Bill 1072, which proposed revising the Colorado Labor Peace Act to strike provisions regarding procedures under which workers preparing to negotiate a union contract can obtain necessary authority to make the contract an all-union agreement.
From John Andrews' column, " 'Easy Bill' learns on the job as governor," in the March 18 edition of The Denver Post:
Big Labor is furious at the Colorado law making it hard for union bosses to collect dues from workers unwilling to join. A bill to remove that protection flew through the legislature, only to die on Gov. Bill Ritter's desk. Now, the AFL-CIO threatens to run the Democratic National Convention out of Denver unless its pickpocket proposal is revived.
Ritter says he won't be bullied, but stay tuned. Remember that our new chief executive, John Kerry-style, was for the labor bill before he was against it. The battle for the governor's soul, on this and many other issues, has barely begun.
Bill Ritter has the great political gift of not seeming like a politician. Yet unlike his predecessors -- from Republicans John Love and John Vanderhoof, through fellow Democrats Dick Lamm and Roy Romer and down to the recently departed Bill Owens -- this governor has skillfully marketed himself with a slogan, Kennedy-style: the Colorado Promise. Nice work for a rookie.
The trouble with a slogan is that it will stick you if you don't stick to it. Ritter's honeymoon ended when two inconvenient truths came out. First, it transpired -- to the dismay of business, the press and the public -- that the candidate had given his union allies a quiet pledge to support the controversial bill. Then, it was labor's turn for an unpleasant surprise, as Ritter yielded to the outcry, broke his word, and cast a veto. Gov. Promise was damaged goods overnight.
HB 1072 passed the House on January 22 and passed the Senate on February 5. Ritter, who during the campaign indicated he supported the bill, vetoed it on February 9. But Andrews' assertion that Ritter "was for the bill labor bill before he was against it" misrepresents Ritter's position on the bill itself, which has been consistent. As Colorado Media Matters has noted, Ritter stated in his February 9 veto message that it was the failure of the bill's proponents and opponents to engage in "civil" debate -- not the substance of the bill -- that convinced him immediate enactment of the bill was not in the state's best interest:
During the campaign, two labor organizations asked me in written questionnaires if I would support an amendment to the Colorado Labor Peace Act that eliminates the second organizing election ratifying an all-union agreement. I indicated that I would, believing that requiring a second super-majority election seems, on its face, undemocratic. It also injects government into what should be a private negotiating process between employer and employee.
I recognize how deeply disappointed my friends in organized labor will be with this decision. I know that members of my own party in the legislature stood firm in the face of outrageous, unprecedented and shameful partisan rhetoric done only for political sport.
But I strongly believe that the way we do the people's business is as important as what we do. And I am obligated to judge legislation by its consequences, intended and unintended.
Over the last several days, I have listened intently to people I respect who worried deeply about the impact this change would have on our ability to attract new business to Colorado, to create new economic opportunity for all. I am persuaded by their argument that changing long-time Colorado law relating to business and labor negotiations in this manner, in the atmosphere with which it was debated, is not now in the best interests of our state.
From the beginning, this was a bitter, divisive and partisan battle. Opposite sides dug in, refusing to consider reasonable compromises. It demonstrated precisely why so many people have grown so cynical about American politics. The bill's proponents made no effort to open a dialogue with the opponents. At times, the opponents were neither respectful nor civil. It was over-heated politics at its worst.
How we govern is important to me as governor and to the people of Colorado. The spirit of cooperation and collaboration embodied in the passage of FasTracks, Referendum C and other initiatives offers a perfect example of how we as a state can join forces, forge coalitions and move Colorado forward together.
In suggesting that Ritter had changed positions on the labor bill, Andrews repeated a talking point that Colorado Republican Party Chairman Dick Wadhams promoted and the Post's Jeri Clausing parroted in a February 11 column, which repeated Wadhams' nickname for Ritter, "Both Ways Bill." Andrews' column blurred the distinction between Ritter's "Colorado Promise" campaign slogan and the list of specific policy initiatives that Ritter promoted in his "Colorado Promise" campaign document -- just as Clausing did in a March 8 news article. As Colorado Media Matters has noted, the "Colorado Promise" makes no mention of the labor bill proposal either specifically or by implication in listing Ritter's priorities for business and the state's work force.
Furthermore, Andrews recycled two misrepresentations of Ritter's record as Denver district attorney:
Somewhere in all this melodrama, a nickname awaits our nimble-footed governor. "Switch Ritter" was the inspired suggestion of my radio partners, Krista Kafer and Joshua Sharf. Another we might try for size is "Easy Bill." Think of all the ways that one applies.
Labor found Bill agreeable to a whispered signature promise, business equally so to a loudly demanded veto. He had an easy path to nomination last summer and to election last fall; only this winter did the price of insufficient vetting come due. The campaign did reveal that back in his prosecutor days, Easy Bill was quick with a plea bargain -- and frequently even gentle with illegal-immigrant felonies.
As Colorado Media Matters has noted repeatedly, the claim that Ritter "was quick with a plea bargain" -- which echoed attack ads that Republicans aired against Ritter during the 2006 campaign -- ignores the fact that his plea-bargain rate was comparable to the national average. When Ritter was Denver district attorney, his office plea-bargained 97 percent of cases; federal government statistics indicate that, nationwide, 95 percent of state court felony convictions and 96 percent of federal criminal convictions are obtained through plea agreements. Additionally, as noted by Rocky Mountain News columnist Peter Blake on September 15, 2006, Colorado Attorney General John Suthers, a Republican, estimated that his office plea bargained between 90 percent and 95 percent of its cases.
Colorado Media Matters also rebutted the oft-repeated campaign season charge that as DA, Ritter was "gentle with illegal-immigrant felonies." According to this accusation -- originally leveled by Ritter's Republican opponent, Bob Beauprez, and repeated by members of the media -- Ritter purportedly used the plea bargain "agricultural trespass" to allow illegal immigrants to escape deportation. In fact, while the agricultural trespass plea deals might have helped legal immigrants avoid deportation, illegal immigrants are subject to deportation by federal officials regardless of any pleas to which they agree.
As an October 12 News article reported, "Ritter and the district attorney's office have said the plea generally involved legal immigrants with green cards or visas and allowed them to separately plead their case against deportation before federal immigration officials. The plea did nothing to help illegal immigrants, Ritter said." The article quoted Ritter as saying, "An illegal immigrant is deportable whether they plead guilty to this felony or any other crime, even misdemeanors, even petty offenses. ... It (the plea) was not used to preserve an arrangement where they could stay in the country."
Further, the News noted on June 11, 2006, noted "unlawful presence" in the United States is a deportable offense: "The most common charge against those caught without authorization in the U.S. is 'unlawful presence,' a civil offense. The penalty is removal, and an immigrant can be detained in the meantime."
Likewise, in an October 1 Post article about Beauprez's initial attack on Ritter's plea bargains with immigrants, Ritter said that as district attorney, "he insisted his office contact immigration officials whenever a defendant was an illegal immigrant or had questionable immigration status"; the Post quoted Ritter as saying, "It was up to the federal government to deport them." Ritter also stated "that the scarce resources in his office were used to prosecute violent and serious offenders and, sometimes, cases had evidentiary issues where a plea to a lesser charge was better than losing at trial."