Real Republican leaders emerge in budget battle

Faced with unprecedented budget shortfalls that could tank higher education in the state, forcing campus closings and steep tuition hikes, Colorado lawmakers are leaning on pragmatists Al White, R-Hayden, and Don Marostica, R-Loveland — both of whom labor on the Colorado Legislature’s Joint Budget Committee, which has got to be one of the most difficult and thankless jobs in government.

In order to cover the proposed $300 million slash to education, the two men introduced Senate Bill 273, which aims to transfer almost $580 million from semi-state controlled Pinnacol Assurance’s reserve fund, the insurer of the state worker’s compensation pool.

The bill, scheduled for a final Senate vote Monday, will be the subject of wrangling. There will be continued posturing from self-styled fiscal conservatives. But the bill will pass because it’s the only solution. Marostica and White have looked at all the numbers. They know.

Indeed, Marostica and White are emerging as genuine leaders this session — and not just for the ire they’re raising among their GOP colleagues, although that certainly helps.

The infighting among Colorado Republicans reflects a national trend of GOP officials dancing on the horns of an increasingly theatrical dilemma: After years of following and furthering Reagan politics, where the anti-government line reigns supreme, the question is how to appear to be a strong conservative leader during the next four years without simply opposing every kind of fiscal proposal that arises — that is, without becoming the kind of doomed comic-champion talk radio and Fox News pundits ache to promote.

As Politico reports, all three of the GOP governors making headlines last month for refusing to accept stimulus funding have been forced to back down by constituents and local officials of both parties.

The list of governors threatening to decline federal stimulus money last month read like a list of Republicans considering running for president in 2012: Govs. Mark Sanford, Bobby Jindal and Sarah Palin led the anti-stimulus charge.

But what began with a bang is ending with something closer to a whimper. All three of those governors have been forced to scale back their expectations, to varying degrees, as the push of conservative philosophy gave way to the pull of political reality.

All three found that praise from the conservative movement in Washington meant nothing to furious state legislators of both parties. And in the end, along with other conservative Republican governors, the three submitted letters in recent days asking to be eligible for federal funds, a spokesman for the White House Office of Management and Budget confirmed.

The GOP dilemma is reflected in the increasing weirdness on display in Foxland. Perhaps picking up on the role pragmatism will play in remaking the Republican ideology, feverish Glenn Beck, in perhaps the most unhinged bit of TV weirdness he’s done to date, asks for “just some common sense” in governance.

That’s entertainment.