Commenting on a recent Rasmussen Poll, political strategist and former Democrat state chairman Floyd Ciruli notes that Gov. Bill Ritter’s approval rating is running nearly 20 points behind that of another western Democrat, Montana’s Brian Schweitzer.
In a Rocky Mountain News op-ed, Ciruli cites a checklist of Ritter’s missteps, miscalculations and shortcomings in his first year-and-a-half in office:
* He created transportation and health care panels that recommended significant new programs, but produced minor legislative and policy changes and little new money.
* He froze propertytax rates, which would have dropped, and directed excess funds to favored programs. A lower court has ruled Ritter’s action unconstitutional, and the ruling is under appeal.
* He has proposed raising the mineral severance tax, but the increase has only weak support from key constituencies and powerful opposition from oil and gas interests and drilling boom towns. Also, he has proposed strict environmental rules on oil and gas drilling and is getting political resistance.
* He is in a peculiar fight with his former gubernatorial campaign manager over financial issues. Civil and criminal violations are being investigated.
* And, most unexpectedly, Ritter unionized state employees, unleashing an onslaught of criticism from business and editorial pages – especially in The Denver Post, usually the state’s main liberal paper. His action contributed to a labor/business ballot war involving “right to work” and other labor-oriented initiatives.
Ritter was ill-prepared to be elected governor, but had the good fortune to run in a year with a very favorable political climate and with the Denver Post committed to kneecapping his markedly more qualified opponent. Now with no bold initiatives under his belt, he increasingly looks like the tentative high school athlete who is playing “not to lose”.