For Now, Teflon Governor Remains Unscratched

It is too soon to proclaim Bill Ritter Colorado’s Teflon governor. But it is safe to say that his Republican opposition has yet to find a way to truly hurt him politically.

“He’s in a place where he’s not been nicked,” said pollster and political analyst Rick Ridder.

Ridder’s firm, RBI Strategies & Research, surveyed 500 likely voters in late August and found Ritter “extraordinarily popular among Colorado voters.” The Democratic governor was viewed favorably by 66 percent of those surveyed, including a whopping 70 percent of unaffiliated voters and 52 percent of Republicans.

Those numbers are holding.

In a couple of weeks, pollster and analyst Floyd Ciruli will release results of his own recent poll that will show Ritter’s positives have surpassed what popular former Republican Gov. Bill Owens’ favorable ratings were.

Ritter is “having an incredible honeymoon” with voters, Ciruli said.“Frankly, he’s got a nice personality. He’s an easy-going, even-tempered person.”

This fact alone is critical.

“Remember, in America it’s more important to be liked than to be competent,” Ridder said, pointing to President George W. Bush as a prime example.

But Ritter is not just well-liked.

“He is properly framed on the issues of unionization and taxes,” Ciruli said of the two issues that Republicans sought to saddle Ritter with.

Ciruli says his poll numbers show that GOP attacks on Democrats as tax-and-spend and soft on unions don’t resonate as well in Colorado as they once did.

So Ritter’s proposal to freeze local property tax rates to increase the local share of school funding is not coming across as taxation without representation the way the Republicans hoped.

The charge that Ritter is flirting with labor bosses to unionize state employees has also failed to gain much traction, said Ciruli.

The meetings between state managers and state workers to discuss improved working conditions have been explained as “relationships” not negotiations.

  “All politics is personal,” Ridder said. “Individuals don’t see themselves losing jobs because of the union issue.”

  “The question,” Ridder added, “is what does the voter think he can get. Is it efficient? Does it benefit me? What has been clear is that the Republicans have been playing old-style politics and have not realized that the state has changed.”

Ciruli echoed that sentiment. “For the general electorate,” he said, “taxes are a secondary issue.”

Ciruli’s numbers show that Coloradans have coalesced around things like health care reform and renewable energy.

Low and behold, what was Colorado’s governor doing last week? He was testifying before Congress about the need for a national renewable energy policy to bolster programs like the one that exists in his state.

“If I was a Republican,” said Ridder, “I’d try to steal that speech.”

Meanwhile, Gov. Ritter’s most delicate task may be dodging self-inflicted wounds.  With revenue projections from the local tax rate freeze now running far above what Ritter originally estimated, the governor may be vulnerable to charges that he’s doing more than is necessary.

At the same time, Ritter has study groups on health care, transportation  and education running simultaneously. Reforming all three of those areas at the same time will not be possible without massive infusions of new revenue.

The governor will have to pick and choose. In his first state of the state speech, he promised near universal health care for Coloradans by 2010. So that may be first on the agenda.

“If he goes with health care,” said Ciruli, “he may have to say no to transportation and higher education.”

If the governor wants to keep his approval ratings in the stratosphere, this may turn out to be more of a political dilemma than talking to unions or freezing tax rates.

To keep from scratching his Teflon coating, Bill Ritter must avoid a collision with what Rick Ridder calls “the smorgasbord of his own commissions.”

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