Sizing up the Owens years

(Andrews in Denver Post, Jan. 7) Bill Owens, you done good. Colorado is going to miss you. That’s my verdict on Colorado’s 40th governor as he leaves office Tuesday. We’ve been friends and allies (as well as infrequent adversaries) for over two decades, back to his days in the state House and mine at Independence Institute. Owens’ eight years as chief executive have seen our state thrive despite challenges. His honorable and capable leadership will wear well in history.

A free society is not defined by its government, let alone by any government official. To make politics the totality of our lives is the road to serfdom. It is people one by one, individually and with voluntary cooperation, who define America. Even to put a president’s name on an era is oversimplification. Still less can a single governor stamp his state’s destiny.

A governor can make a difference, though. That’s why we fight over electing them. And Gov. Bill Owens has made a big difference here. Either of his rivals for the Republican nomination back in 1998, the moderate Senate President Tom Norton or the conservative purist professor, Terry Walker, probably would have lost to liberal Democrat Gail Schoettler. The principles on which Owens has since governed contrast sharply with Schoettler’s – as her column on this page often attests.

Under a Gov. Gail Schoettler – or a Gov. Rollie Heath, the Boulder businessman whom Democrats ran against Owens in 2002 – Colorado would not have seen billions in tax relief, an expansion of our metro and statewide highway system, a school report card with teeth, the growth of public charter schools, and suppression of crime through tough sentencing with added prison capacity.

They would not have signed, as Owens did, bills for parental notification when a minor seeks an abortion, for defense of traditional marriage, for concealed carry of a handgun to protect yourself, for flexibility of health insurance mandates to keep costs down, and for the nation’s most generous voucher to help poor kids escape bad schools. (The state Supreme Court struck down the voucher law, however, in a political bow to teacher unions.)

Speaking of the justices, Schoettler or Heath would not have appointed such constitutionalists as Nathan Coats and Allison Eid. Nor would they have named, as Owens has, scores of appellate and trial judges who resist activism and sympathize with victims not criminals. They never would have defunded Planned Parenthood, or ended the coddling of public employee unions.

The Democrats whom Bill Owens bested for governor would not have cast almost 100 vetoes in the past two years as he did, protecting our liberty and prosperity against unwise bills ordered up by labor, educrats, trial lawyers, environmental extremists, and the minority grievance lobby – wheelhorses of the Democratic coalition.

Asked how his wife was, a man retorted: “Compared to what?” That’s the question in sizing up the Owens years, both for Republicans who are disappointed with him, and for all Coloradans as we welcome a new governor. Bill Ritter, decent but every inch a Democrat, will quickly undo many of the 2005-2006 vetoes and continue left from there. Last summer’s immigration reforms may wither legislatively this winter.

Billy O. will look better and better in retrospect. His bargain on Referendum C, bending but not breaking TABOR, turned off many of us. But Ref C was preferable to any deal Rollie Heath would have made, and we may feel nostalgic for it when Dems move to repeal the taxpayer amendment entirely.

Politics is the art of the possible, despite the occasional philosopher such as former Czech president Vaclav Havel, who titled one book “The Art of the Impossible.” Gov. Bill Owens gets pretty high marks for making the best of his circumstances to the benefit of our state. Godspeed, sir.