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CO Democratic Party Power Struggles

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News this week that CO Gov. Bill Ritter would not run for re-election in 2010 has, of course, sent the two major parties scrambling.  The announcement was given with no notice to other officials or the party members themselves.  After the announcement, the way in which potential Democratic replacements have been offered up and discussed by the “Serious People” nagged at me.  I want to explore these developments with the removal of a state Representative from a committee vice-chairmanship and trends emanating from the Obama White House.

Starting with the Ritter decision, who were the potential Democratic candidates deemed “acceptable” by Democratic officials and the corporate media?  Interior Sec. Ken Salazar, Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper, former House Speaker Andrew Romanoff, Rep. Ed Perlmutter and state Treasurer Cary Kennedy.  No mention was ever made of Lt. Governor Barbara O’Brien.  That’s an interesting ordering, isn’t it?  I thought perhaps I was being too critical or conspiracy-minded when I questioned why Kennedy and O’Brien were low on the list.  I am now glad to see I wasn’t the only one.

Denver Post columnist Susan Greene has a piece in today’s paper questioning why Democratic women who are currently a part of CO’s state government weren’t more seriously considered.  Gail Schoettler is quoted as saying that there is a pecking order that is more comfortable supporting women for down-ticket slots than for prime positions of power.  Greene also includes this:

In the 40 hours it took for Ritter to quit, Salazar to pass and Hickenlooper presumably to lock up the nomination, a minion of 17th Street male power brokers — some of whom aren’t even members of the party — decided who’s a sure-bet, whose time it is and whose it isn’t.

Should someone buck this system and push for a woman to run for Governor?  Shoettler, Dottie Lamm and other interested parties say they should, according to Greene.

Next comes the interesting case of State Rep. Edward Casso (D-Commerce City), who hasn’t been shy about criticizing Gov. Ritter when he thinks he should.  His last criticism, coming after Gov. Ritter dropped his bombshell announcement, was not seen favorably by House Speaker Terrance Carroll.  Here’s what Rep. Casso had to say in a press release Wednesday:

“I hope my crocodile tears don’t flow too much, or you might actually think I will miss the governor,” Casso said in the release.

“With Ritter’s abrupt decision, we now have a chance to make a real case to the voters of Colorado that we should retain Colorado’s highest office,” Casso said. “As with most of his decisions in the last four years, the governor is a day late, a dollar short, and without regard except for his own well-being and interests.”

Speaker Carroll’s response was to remove Rep. Casso from his vice chair position of the Business Affairs and Labor Committee.  While Rep. Casso’s comment can be viewed as harsh and perhaps unnecessary, I think Speaker Carroll’s response is also harsh and unnecessary.

A little bit more background here might be useful.  Gov. Ritter vetoed two of Rep. Casso’s pro-labor bills which had passed the state legislature.  Those vetoes have frustrated rank-and-file Democrats, and especially those who raised money and pounded pavement for Gov. Ritter back in 2006.  At some point, Democrats in office in Colorado and nationally need to step up the the plate for labor with the same fervor and dedication that labor has stepped up for Democrats on campaign trails.

Indeed, the relationship between the next Democratic gubernatorial candidate and labor will have to be addressed.  Mayor Hickenlooper, today’s leading candidate for Governor, has already had a discussion with labor interests.  One of my leading concerns about Hickenlooper is his attitude toward labor.  He’s been a business owner and has obviously interacted with business interests as Denver’s mayor.  What are his viewpoints on the rights of laborers?  Will he favor businesses over laborers as his predecessors have done, be they Democrats or Cons?  How much should unions do to get Hickenlooper elected without proof he will look out for them if he is elected?

Last, I have grown concerned with the way in which the Obama White House has gotten involved with local and state races around the country.  Ostensibly, Obama was all about grassroots campaigns and the power of people.  It was a good soundbite while on his own campaign.  His office’s practices since then have left me with a bitter taste in my mouth.

Obama quickly got involved in Colorado’s wide open race for Governor.  He acted similarly in 2009.  As free as he is to do so, the kind of candidates he has chosen to back run in contradiction to the tenets he supposedly ran on: outsiders of the political establishment.  The candidates he has backed are deeply rooted in the establishment.  That establishment has been busier supporting its own interests rather than the interests of rank-and-file Democrats.  There’s not much change there.  Those actions don’t inspire much hope for the future – how would it be different than the past and present if the players aren’t changed?

The Democratic establishment operates in ways similar to the Con establishment: top-down control and the squashing of potential intra-party challenges.  I am a believer in the primary process within a party.  I don’t think any incumbent should be immune from challenge within their own party.  Efforts to “clear the field” are anti-democratic: they take away the potential for choice and change by party members.  It makes what should be an organic process a process that is rigid and dead.

So, that’s what’s on my mind this week in CO politics.Does the Colorado Democratic Party have a minority problem?  Between women and the Governor’s office, hispanics and national offices and labor issues, I think so.  These issues need to be dealt with someday.

Should Cary Kennedy run for Governor?  I think if she wants to, she should.  It would be enlightening and beneficial for Democrats to see Kennedy and Hickenlooper have a civil discussion about issues facing Colorado.  Once the Democratic candidate is selected, the discussion with the Con candidate (likely Scott McInnis) will be anything but civil.  McInnis and Dick Wadhams have already shown a propensity to lie and regurgitate tired talking points.

Should I send some cash Rep. Casso’s way?  I think he was well within his rights to criticize the Governor, who is from the same party, for his vetoes of two pro-labor bills.

Cross-posted at SquareState.

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