Ritter Scrambling in Defense After Expected Firefighter Veto

As expected yesterday, Gov. Bill Ritter vetoed SB 180, which would have given collective bargaining rights to firefighters.

We’ve already written about what a mistake this veto was politically, and Ritter’s second veto of a bill backed by labor unions and Democrats in the legislature continues to draw the ire of a wide range of Democrats who say they had no warning that a veto would happen when the bill was being discussed in the legislature. For his part, Ritter has been trying to play up his labor union bonafides despite his second veto in the last three weeks. According to a press release from the Governor:

“I join all Coloradans who honor and value the dangerous work of firefighters in our communities,” Gov. Ritter said at a Capitol news conference this afternoon. “Firefighters have stood with me, and I have stood with them, including yesterday in Montrose when I signed three bills to help volunteer and wildland firefighters; last year when I fought hard to defeat the right-to-work and other harmful ballot initiatives; and in 2007 when I signed legislation, over the strong objection of local government and others, expanding eligibility for workers’ compensation coverage for firefighters suffering from cancer.”

“As the son of a union member, and a former union member myself in earlier years, I have long believed that collective bargaining can create a positive working relationship for public sector employees and local governments,” Gov. Ritter said, citing three main reasons for the veto

Ritter’s veto was immediately condemned by the sponsor of the bill, Democratic Rep. Edward Casso:

I am disappointed that the Governor chose to veto Senate Bill 180. I believe that this bill would give our local firefighters — our heroes — a better opportunity to negotiate for improved safety equipment and other vital benefits.

We will continue to work together to expand opportunity for all Coloradans including our critical emergency services personnel.

Working class families are just that; working class families.  I don’t think that it should matter if they are union members or not.  When we are talking firefighters, the law should reflect an absolute fairness in their ability to make a better life for themselves.  Senate Bill 180 only allowed firefighters a seat at the table when it comes to deciding their safety and future.

Firefighters who choose to organize should have the ability to do so.  There should not be procedural, administrative, or municipal regulations that forbid two sides from coming together for the betterment of the community.

We respect home rule and the preservation of local control at the municipal level.  However, when local jurisdiction gets in the way of what is right or fair, I feel that there indeed is a compelling statewide interest in leveling the playing field, especially when it comes to our first-responders like our firefighters.

Senate Bill 180 had significant guardrails built into the framework of the legislation that would have guaranteed fair and stable negotiations.  SB 180 had an explicit no-strike clause, there was no binding arbitration, and all impasses would require a vote of the people paid for by the entity that refused concession.  

We have done so much to protect and invest in the workers of Colorado.  Yet, with the veto of SB 180, it seems that we have somehow fallen short of this charge with our firefighters.  I am very disappointed.

Ritter’s veto was a front-page story in today’s Denver Post, and the Governor saw fit to call into The Jay Marvin Show this morning to defend the veto. This was all preventable, because it never should have come to this.

This story continues to generate bad press for Ritter and angry reactions among union members (including the firefighters, who continue to say that Ritter had promised them he would sign a bill like this), but more importantly, Ritter’s second veto of a bill passed by the Democrats in the legislature has moved beyond being just a union vs. business issue. This has now become a widely-discussed topic among all Democrats, most of whom aren’t as concerned about the nature of the bills that were vetoed, but rather, about what the veto process says about Ritter as governor. The increasingly common refrain goes something like this: “Why is a Democratic governor vetoing bills that Democrats passed in the legislature?”

And that, dear readers, is the real point here. Democrats in the legislature have spoken out already — including Speaker Terrance Carroll — about the fact that they never got word from the Governor that these bills would be vetoed. If Ritter didn’t like something about the bills, he could have easily asked for them to be changed when they were still being discussed in committee. But by waiting until the bills were already passed to veto them (something he did in his first two legislative sessions as well), Ritter has created an animosity between other Democrats that was entirely unnecessary (note Rep. Casso’s strongly-worded objections). Ritter might have been able to weather animosity from strong labor union advocates, but his own actions have moved it into a broader sphere of criticism.

Also problematic for Ritter is that he has just one more legislative session before re-election in order to try to heal some of these wounds…but it will be very difficult, if not impossible, to pass meaningful legislation in a big election year. Ritter and his campaign folks have backed him into a corner with Democrats, with very little room to get out of trouble before the blows start raining in.


62 Community Comments, Facebook Comments

  1. wylie135 says:

    Ritter made a smart decision. This was a bad bill, though it has great intentions. Governor Ritter made the decision to stay true to what voters across the state have said. This bill would have only made safety standards better for firefighters that unionize, and I know Ritter wants to increase safety for ALL firefighters.

    Way to go Gov. on the tough decision. I for one like to see an elected official that makes his decisions with the entire state in mind, not one narrow special interest.

    • RedGreenRedGreen says:

      would have been when lawmakers were considering the bill. Ritter could have ordered his people to create statewide fire safety standards months ago — why did he sucker-punch the Democratic legislators and unions the way he did?

      You might “like to see an elected official that makes his decisions with the entire state in mind,” but that’s not what happened here. Ritter made his decision with his 2010 election in mind, screwing a key constituency in the process.

      • Dane12 says:

        Don’t you think that if he “made his decision with his 2010 election in mind” it would have been a different decision?

        • RedGreenRedGreen says:

          Ritter doesn’t take the threat from labor seriously, and he’s probably right — when it comes down to it, labor might not be as enthusiastic as it was in 2006, but it’s not going to risk a Gov. Penry.

          These vetoes are aimed straight down the middle at the 20 percent of Colorado voters who swing both ways and will be willing to support Ritter if they’re convinced he’s not a raving leftist. Working with legislators and labor to craft acceptable bills wouldn’t have given Ritter the press he’s gotten for “standing up to labor.”

          But you knew all that.

          • wade norris says:

            but he could have followed the Obama Administration’s example:

            From Daily Kos’ Ivey 476’s diary

            With the U.S. Conference of Mayors descending on Providence, RI next week, there’s been much anticipation about the arrival of its headline speaker: Vice President Joe Biden.

            However, due to a long-standing contract dispute between the city and its firefighters, Providence firefighters are threatening to picket outside the event. This decision has caused Biden, along with other Cabinet members who were scheduled to attend, to back out of the event.

            Robert Gibbs makes it clear that the administration is NOT taking sides on the dispute, but simply respecting the picket line and keeping with their policy of never crossing one:

               Presidential spokesman Robert Gibbs told The Associated Press that the administration is taking no position on the labor dispute itself. But, he said, “We have always respected picket lines, and administration officials will not cross this one.”

            Part of the reason Obama did so well in this state, was

            1) he appealed to the middle


            2) he motivated his base

            Ritter’s team should remember #2 because he is certainly not getting that one done.

            (isn’t it a coincidence that this picket line is also one involving firefighters?)

            • Ralphie says:

              However, winning the middle is irrelevant if you lose your base.  You need them both in Colorado, no matter whether you are a Democrat or a Republican.  Colorado is simply not that blue, nor is it that red.

              I don’t know who is advising Ritter, but whoever it is doesn’t seem to be very smart.

      • The realistThe realist says:

        So I see two problems:  (1) He handled the planned vetoes poorly with Dem legislators during the session;  and (2) He’s handling it poorly with the general public, i.e. he doesn’t seem to be providing a clear and broadly-understandable reason for his vetoes.  Regardless of who he’s trying to please as he prepares for his 2010 campaign, he and his staff ought to be able to communicate the reasons for his actions more clearly and effectively.  

    • JeffcoBlueJeffcoBlue says:

      Did any of you notice how quickly it was determined you were a bunch of shills? I notice the Pols did not promote Balboni’s diary about, presumably, the same sockpuppets. But sheesh, guys, it couldn’t be more obvious even without all the stuff about IP addresses. You’re just not very good at this yet, you know? Takes a lot of practice.

      In the meantime, for good sockpuppeting I suggest several months of solid character development, building out a believable body of opinion from your shills before they move in for the kill. The other thing I recommend is honesty with your friends, but that is a much longer and more complicated subject. What you guys seem to be doing right now is called the “Sister Souljah” gambit, intentionally fostering hard feelings between Ritter and many Democrats, manufacturing controversy so Ritter can appeal to a percentage of voters who hate controversy. And like sockpuppets it is very easy to recognize.

      David Kenney may think this is a great idea, but it is much more dangerous to the legislators you left to twist in the wind this session than it is to the Governor. Perhaps Mr. Kenney really doesn’t give a shit about that, but to those of us concerned with having progressive policy become law, it matters. I don’t want to lose a chamber, or both chambers, because David Kenney ran out of honest ideas and decided Ritter needed a punching bag on his left.

      • JeffcoBlueJeffcoBlue says:

        It’s not just the two union bills that were vetoed, you’ve got major constituencies out there who were screwed over by the Governor’s horrible relations with the legislature, from criminal justice reformers to most of the CSU community outside the Republicans on the Board. The Governor has alienated people needlessly, because better communication could have focused the legislature on more obtainable goals. Instead, people are angry because they feel they were not dealt with honestly. They feel like they were exploited, even misled, so Ritter could score “centrist” talking points at their expense.

        And Mr. Kenney, people increasingly blame YOU for advising Ritter to play these games. Better hope that doesn’t take hold in the press and start to embarrass the campaign, or Ritter might decide you are expendable like you seem to think his Democratic base is.

        Actually, it might not even take that long. What are you going to do, Kenney, when the scary numbers nobody wants to talk about fail to improve – or get worse – after your lame triangulation?

  2. Dane12 says:

    Of your approach to this story that is. Most blogs and media outlets have been coming at this from the wrong angle. “how could he veto this bill, it was a solid bill.”

    We all know this thing was bad policy and should have been vetoed. We all also know that he has done plenty for the labor community and will continue to do so. We all know that the bill brushed with wide strokes and was inappropriate, and that is why he ultimately vetoed them.

    As to the method in which this occurred though, none of us are in the building, and I don’t think we can speculate as to what was communicated and what wasn’t. We just don’t know, maybe his staff did do the right thing, and maybe we are just choosing to accept the excuses of the legislature instead.

    Anyway, I am a huge fan of this site, and a huge dem like most of your readers. I WILL vote for the governor again, as he continues to make smart policy decisions.  

  3. I am getting really tired of this story. OH MY GOD! Ritter vetoed a union bill! Everyone keeps talking about how this might hurt his campaign…about how bad his campaign staff is doing…etc.

    Get over it. This was a bad bill. Governor Ritter isn’t worrying about his campaign, clearly. If he was like most politicians or his campaign staff was like most others he would have done everything the unions asked for, even if it was bad for the state…which this bill was.

    • wade norris says:

      want to bet a least 2 of those guys work for the governor in some capacity…

      (and the other is Jake Jabs)

    • AristotleAristotle says:

      Curious that 3 newly registered polsters would all choose to make their first (and so far only) comments at the same time on the same issue saying the same thing as each other.

      (Indignant reply protesting our judgment in 5… 4… 3…)

      • AristotleAristotle says:

        Notice that their names are all the same format (name+number run together)?

        • wade norris says:

          ritter has guys cruising here to give him big props and to talk dirt about Colorado Pols, then I am guessing he is seeing some pretty bad internal polls.

          that being said, he will win IF he has only a general election fight.

        • gertie97 says:

          I’ve been lurking on this site for a long time and registered some time ago, and I’ve commented some.

          That said, Ritter’s veto on this one was right. It wasn’t about safety, it was about money, whether a little fire district or small town could afford it or not. I live on the Western Slope and that’s the way it is.

          There’s an old political saying, “If you can’t take their money, drink their whiskey, screw their women and still vote against them, then you don’t belong in politics.”

          Ritter was right on this veto. He was wrong on the veto of the bill to give unemployment to locked-out workers.

          But it’s politics. You win some, you lose some and some get rained out.

          • Ralphie says:

            A governor with a majority in both houses shouldn’t have to veto a bill.

            If he vetoes a bill, it’s either because he didn’t communicate his wishes to the legislature, or he did and nobody listened.

            Either way, that demonstrates a lack of leadership.

            • RedGreenRedGreen says:

              The bill applied to fire departments with 50 or more firefighters. Little fire districts or small towns wouldn’t have been affected by this, gertie.

            • gertie97 says:

              Either Ritter didn’t communicate it hard enough, or he did and the legislators just didn’t listen.

              It’s politics. Either could have happened.

              It still took guts on Ritter’s part.

              • RedGreenRedGreen says:

                Considering there’s not a single legislator coming forward to say Ritter “communicated hard enough,” and plenty saying he didn’t, I think your “Ah! Politics!” reading is hogwash.

                Ritter threw his supporters (labor and Dem legislators) under the bus — that doesn’t take guts but it does take chutzpah.

            • BlueCat says:

              Lack of leadership is the story here. And who is paying attention to much of the very good legislation he HAS signed? Weak leadership.  Weak PR. Still, the Colorado GOP and their field of candidates is so weak, he will probably get away with it and be re-elected regardless.  

            • Colorado PolsColorado Pols says:

              Whether or not the substance of this bill was right or wrong isn’t the point. It’s the way Ritter handled this that is the problem, and it’s created controversy where there didn’t need to be any. Ritter’s problems here are entirely self-created.

          • AristotleAristotle says:

            I’ve seen your comments and believe that you’re an independent polster speaking your own mind and not your boss’s talking points. Even if your handle is in the same style as the others’.  🙂

    • Steve Balboni says:

      Not a surprise that they’ve finally arrived since Ritter’s campaign has been actively seeking people to come onto the blog comment sections and push campaign approved talking points.

      Not exactly the sign of a confident campaign.  

  4. MiddleRoadDem says:

    If labor isn’t careful it’ll defeat Ritter and it’ll actually get laws repealing rights it has won over the years.

  5. mysterio says:

    It seems to me that Ritter made up the mind of whatever business might have crossed over for him on 2006 with his executive order.

    It seems just completely self-destructive for him to try to position himself by vetoing these latest two bills that Republicans and business would have totally expected him to pass, as they are not nearly as far-reaching as his EO.

    It seems a little like sending flowers to a girl after you had sex with her best friend and she knows it.  

    What’s the point, yo?

  6. CastleMan says:

    I have to wonder whether this will serve as an encouragement to Andrew Romanoff. Bennet looks like he’s going to skate into the general election next year, but with this veto I’m not going to be surprised if the former speaker or another prominent Dem challenges Ritter for the party’s nomination as gubernatorial candidate.

    Of course, I’m not sure whether a Gov. Romanoff would have signed this bill. Maybe he would, maybe he wouldn’t. But I think what’s clear is that Ritter is having trouble with the Democratic base.

    • Ralphie says:

      It’s whether Romanoff would have allowed it to get through the legislature if he had no intention of signing it.

      The merits of the bill don’t matter.  The veto was an example of someone who can’t even deal with a majority of his own party.

  7. Go Blue says:

    Stop denigrating labor – you’re not winning any votes here you dumb shits.

    If Ritter wants to take stupid advice from a man who tanked his issue campaign in 08, go for it.

    I for one, might… might support the Governor but I’m not sold yet on why I should and all of you idiots aren’t giving me any reasons… in fact you’re doing the opposite.

    • DavidThi808DavidThi808 says:

      …is not denigrating it. And the firefighters bill was an obvious piece of special interest legislation. I think there are very good arguments for opposing it.

      Now the legislation to provide unemployment benefits to workers who are locked out – that I think is one where I think it is very fair to ask Ritter – WTF!

      And the fact that communication between Ritter and the legislature was broken – again a big problem that is hurting everyone (except the GOP) for no understandable reason.

      • RedGreenRedGreen says:

        The reason is perfectly understandable, David.

        The Republicans will run against Ritter by saying he’s taken the state into dangerous territory with massive new fees and perilous, unbridled new spending. Look at the Democratic Legislature — they even want to repeal the death penalty!

        But Ritter’s “team” is sowing seeds of dissent, creating the impression the radical legislators are unhappy with Ritter because he won’t let them run wild.

        This blunts any Republican appeal to elect a GOP governor to keep the legislature in check, and it comforts some voters who might be getting buyer’s remorse over turning the state over to Democrats.

        • Jambalaya says:

          …Ritter intentionaly kept secret his intent to veto these labor bills in hopes that the leg. would pass them and then he would get a chance to veto them?  To show his grip on the reins?

          • RedGreenRedGreen says:

            It sure sounds like it, to hear Randy Atkinson and Ed Casso tell it. Similar complaints from leadership over the lockout bill. And we all saw how cagey Ritter was over the death penalty bill. Honestly, I have no idea whether that was the plan all along, to give legislators the impression they were fixing the bills to Ritter’s liking when Kenney, I mean Ritter, always intended to make examples of them. Or, after the session ended, Ritter picked through the bills to find a couple vetoes with limited short-term impact that would unleash critics from the left. What do you think happened?

        • harrydobyharrydoby says:

          … however that would require a lot of politcal sophistication and, bluntly, Machiavellian moves that aren’t demonstrably part of Ritter’s M.O.

          Besides, Ritter signed 464 bills and only vetoed 4 — hardly a show of keeping the legislature in check.  But significantly, two of the vetoes have everything to do with the biggest pain in the ass for Ritter’s first three years — WDS and the Denver Post.

          Keeping in mind Occam’s Razor: I prefer a much simpler explanation that takes 10% of the sophistication, but nets 80% of the benefits you mention above — veto a couple of labor bills and all of a sudden, the Post starts writing love letters to the Gov.

          • the Post endorsed the tuition equity bill and didn’t change a thing – and those are people who actually read the paper.

            Endorsement editorials are good for fundraising.  They are irrelevant to GOTV in an off-year election.

            Blue-collar voters are worth a hell of a lot more than the Denver Post editorial board.

            • harrydobyharrydoby says:

              I was simply offering RG a simpler explanation, if there has to be a conspiracy.

              In reality, I believe Ritter vetoed the bills pretty much for the reasons he stated (although I’m sure he’s liking having the Post praise him too).  

              To me the issue remains that there should have been zero vetoes.

              Having a healthy two-way flow of information and expectations with the legislature is the mark of leadership.  I hope he’ll get it right next year.

              • RedGreenRedGreen says:

                Ritter vetoed these two bills, and in previous sessions other labor-backed bills, while gumming up the communication that could have produced acceptable bills rather than headlines saying labor is upset with Ritter. It doesn’t take a conspiracy, but it does require an explanation. If he were vetoing dozens of bills that hit lots of interest groups, your explanation would make sense, but he’s not.

                And if you really think these kind of calculations aren’t at work, you don’t know David Kenney, who fancies himself quite the Machiavellian strategist.

                • harrydobyharrydoby says:

                  RG, the scenario you offered above is overly complex and quite unlikely in my opinion.  If David Kenney fancies himself a modern Machiavelli, the best of luck to him, but I’m not seeing a lot of smart moves yet to suggest that level of sophistication.

                  From the quotes in the Post, Ritter is definitely being coached on the themes and keywords (e.g. “leadership”) to use for the campaign that is now absolutely underway.

                  So between trying to define the campaign themes and unleashing the sockpuppets, that’s pretty much what we can expect from Kenney, it appears.

                  But I don’t see where we are in substantial disagreement.

      • tallport says:

        Regarding the veto of S-180, It is apparent that any bill that expands collective bargaining rights in this State, even basic collective bargaining rights like Senate 180 is somehow considered  “bad legislation”, “upsetting a balance” or just morally reprehensible to somebody’s at will sensibilities.  Union haters, the party of trickle down and  undemocratic “moderate” democrats always light up and burn when rights are extended to employees.  While I strongly disagree, I understand some people will disagree with extending collective bargaining and job protections to people other than managers, the highly educated and the wealthy,  but what angers me the most is when Democrats claim to support labor unions and ask for their support during campaigns, even promise to support legislation then cave in to the privileged, (as described above) when the moment of truth arrives. Anybody who claims to support collective bargaining rights and working  families simply would have to support a bill like S-180, period. This home rule argument is a bunch of smoke.  Municipalities have no business outlawing collective bargaining.  The employees should have the option to decide to join a union plain and simple. “Fact finding” arbitration to back up collective bargaining is about as basic as basic gets, but he still caved in. I think Governor Ritter has earned a primary. If he wins, he may have my vote, but not my respect.

        The term “special interest” is a weasel word  to describe something that people perceive to be as against them. Everybody, including the majority of people who never get involved in public debate are a “special interest”, group of some kind.  This is about respecting people’s rights and giving them a formal voice to help themselves and to disagree – bringing democratic principles to the workplace.  All people deserve the right to engage in collective effort and action, even maids, janitors, and firefighters.  (I may cross post this)

  8. Jambalaya says:

    …about these bills?  Given Ritter’s history of surprise vetoes of bills run by his so-called friends, I would think that Dems in the Leg. would be wary enough to reach out to him during the debate on the bill.

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