WashPo versus DenPo on ‘rising’ Republican Josh Penry

Today, Washington Post writer Chris Cillizza featured Colorado Republican state senator Josh Penry in his series “The Rising,” which profiles up-and-coming politicians across the country. In the column, candidate for governor Penry is presented as a maverick, his youth and willingness to critique his party’s track-record– now a main thrust of his gubernatorial campaign rhetoric– covering over the fact that he has been a key player in Colorado politics for years. Penry was Senate minority leader this past legislative session, a role in which he failed utterly to distinguish himself as any kind of party reformer or innovative policymaker, largely championing obstructionism, like most of the Republicans in the country, young and old.

Contrast Cillizza’s view from 30,000 feet with the informed ground-level story on Penry that came out today in the Denver Post. It’s a character profile with real meat written by Tim Hoover, someone who makes his living closely watching Colorado lawmakers wrestle with the budget, the defining issue of state politics. Hoover is unimpressed with Penry’s thinking on the subject. He doesn’t see innovation and credibility. He sees hypocrisy and positioning.

Hoover writes that after criticizing Gov. Ritter for not making “tough choices” on the budget, Penry pounced when Ritter made the tough choice to close a facility for developmentally disabled patients in Penry’s hometown Grand Junction. Hoover details how Penry oozed sympathy for the plight of the patients, which was dutifully reported by the local paper, along with Penry’s more general critiques of Ritter’s governing decisions. Relatives of patients were left with the strong impression that Penry supported keeping the facility open. Penry sent a letter to that effect to one of the moms.

But of course no. Penry told Hoover that, as a fiscal conservative, of course he supported tough choices, including the closing of the clinic.

At the facility, Penry didn’t tell the patients’ relatives that he led a Senate filibuster this past session intended to scotch a key budget reform bill that passed and that will loosen up money for human services in the state. Penry didn’t relate how, instead of supporting that bill, he led his Republican colleagues in a hopeless sideshow opposing it, where for hours they took turns introducing amendments that would have preserved funding for highways instead of clinics and public safety and job retraining programs and so on.

He also failed to mention that he opposed accepting federal stimulus dollars, didn’t tell the people at the Grand Junction clinic that he would have turned away the federal money had he been governor and therefore would have put even greater numbers of teachers and medical clinic staffers and federal employees of all stripes out of work this year, as the recession continues to drain state coffers.

Where was that revealing tid-bit in the Washington Post’s “Riser” series? It places Penry at least partly in the same class with ridiculous stimulus refuseniks like Bobby Jindal, Sarah Palin and Mark Sanford. Innovators! Risers! Results-oriented mavericks, every one!

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