Democrats have majorities in the U.S. House (including Colorado’s delegation), and the U.S. Senate. In Colorado, Democrats in 2006 took the governorship, the state house, and the state senate. They also hold the state treasurer’s office. But, with election season over and the challenge of governing awaiting them, the watch word for Democrats over the next two years will be party harmony. Unlike New York State, where politics is a three ring circus of the governor, the state senate president, and the speaker of the state house, and most deals are made in smoke filled rooms by this trifecta, in Colorado, power is more diffuse.
Governor-Elect Bill Ritter, State House Speaker Andrew Romanoff, and State Senate President Joan Fitz-Gerald, themselves, don’t always see eye to eye, or clear their agendas with each other before acting, and a host of powerful committee chairs in each chamber also have their own agendas.
Democrats have been compelled by a Republican Governor not shy about using his veto pen, and the need to secure bipartisan support to address a state budget crisis created by TABOR and a state recession, to restrain their policy preferences in legislation. More than one bill that labor or other Democatic constituencies would have liked have been killed in the past two years to avoid making waves.
Now, with a greatly weakened common enemy to defend themselves against, and real power to wield, Democrats will have to work hard to prevent themselves from turning against themselves.
Governor Ritter’s agenda will provide them with a unifying theme, and some bills upon which Democrats were unified but thwarted by Governor Owen’s veto, like a bill banning discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, are likely to sail through the legislative process quickly now. But, on a host of issues, finding consensus and sticking to middle ground won’t be easy.
While most Democrats agree that that state’s burgeoning corrections budget needs to be restrained, Democrats haven’t reached consensus on how to control it, beyond a few easy points like supporting treatment for first time drug offenders. Ritter coming from a prosecution background may not be sympathetic to some of the more progressive forces in the legislature, who have a stronger rehabilitation focus and doubt the effectiveness of long prison terms at reducing crime.
On a host of economic issues, Colorado Democrats must balanced a hard won long term strategy of convincing business that Democrats aren’t their enemy, with addressing consumer and labor issues that have been unredressed for decades, sometimes despite widespread popular support as illustrated by strong voter backing of the constitutional amendment to increase the minimum wage passed this fall.
For example, while everyone agrees that high foreclosure rates in Colorado (which have led the nation most of the year and now find it number two after Nevada) are not a good economic indicator, there is no consensus approach on the best solution to the problem.
Democrats also agree that state supported education is a good thing, but many view Andrew Romanoff’s latest proposal for a radical overhaul of how the state educates high school students as too radical a change to make in the absence of years of consensus establishing deliberations, which haven’t taken place yet.
In short, while it won’t quite be a case of herding cats, building the strong sense of partisan unity necessary to govern well, without the threat of an opposing party’s veto, will take all the resolve Democrats can muster in 2007.