Governor Bill Ritter’s decision not to run for re-election in 2010 is a wonderful, belated Christmas gift to Colorado Democrats in general and organized labor in particular.
With Ritter at the head of their ticket, the Democrats would have gone down to an ignominious defeat in Colorado, possibly losing their majorities in both the house and the senate. Without out him, they have at least a 50-50 chance of maintaining control of both the legislative and executive branches of state government.
Ritter had a lot of problems, the biggest of which was that he could generate no enthusiasm from labor’s rank-and-file for the top of the Democratic ticket. The state’s unions provide most of the volunteer manpower that does the heavy lifting—the precinct work– during campaigns. When there is no enthusiasm among the rank-and-file for the candidates in key statewide races (governor, U.S. senator, etc.), that attitude trickles down to the legislative candidates, generally leading to disaster at the polls.
When Ritter was elected in 2006, labor leaders were ecstatic. Most of them considered him a close friend. His father had been a union member, and he had always been empathetic toward union families. Most of the state’s labor leaders had met with him both individually and as a group before his election and he promised them he would be there for them when the time came.
But that was not to be.
Ritter made four major mistakes with the unions. First, right out of the box, soon after he was inaugurated in 2007, he vetoed House Bill 1072, which would have repealed the Colorado Labor Peace Act. The peace act is an onerous and unfair state law making it difficult to organize workers who have already voted for union representation.
H.B. 1072 was passed by legislative Democrats despite tremendous opposition from minority Republicans and the business community. In the senate, President Joan Fitzgerald held her slim majority together for a full day, beating down a raft of silly amendments proposed by Republicans before the bill was finally passed. Fitzgerald was livid when Ritter vetoed the bill, after he promised the unions he would support its passage.
Then in 2008, he vetoed a bill that would have required that all electrician apprentices be federally registered to ensure that they were adequately trained.
To pacify the unions after the veto, Ritter appointed a committee to study the issue, and legislation was passed in 2009. Unfortunately, labor was not represented on the committee and the unions say the legislation was only beneficial to the electrical contractors.
Ritter’s third affront to labor also occurred last year when he vetoed House Bill 1170, which would have allowed workers who were locked out, through no fault of their own, from their jobs by their employers to receive unemployment benefits.
Finally, Ritter’s fourth blow to labor in 2009 was his veto of a bill that would have allowed collective bargaining between firefighters and local governments.
For more than 50 years, labor has done more for the Democrats than any other group in Colorado. The unions have worked diligently for the party, even during times when there was virtually no possibility their efforts would pay off. They provided precinct foot soldiers that often faced hostility in the neighborhoods where they volunteered to work. They participated in Democratic Party county, state and national conventions. And they sometimes were forced to relinquish traditional labor goals in favor of the greater good of the Democratic Party.
Colorado unions have no reason to shed any tears over Bill Ritter.