Tuesday's clues for 2010

(Denver Post, Nov. 8 ) Before Tuesday, only one loss had ever marred Barack Obama’s smooth ascent to greatness. From the Harvard Law Review to the Illinois Senate to the United States Senate to the White House, the charmed young leader rose unstoppably. The lone speed bump was his congressional primary defeat in 2000. Then came the shellacking of 2009. Governorships in two key states flipped from Democrat to Republican despite the president’s best efforts. Virginia and New Jersey were both solidly blue a year ago. But recession-weary voters proved to be a stingier prize jury than the leftists of the Norwegian Nobel Committee. So much for water-walking on the Potomac. Meanwhile on the Platte, how did these elections treat Bill Ritter? Our beleaguered governor was not on the ballot. But he is under more pressure than Obama, with a budget to balance, no health-care razzle dazzle at hand, and one year left in his term. While clues for the next election from Tuesday’s results were slight, they held little comfort for Ritter.

Maine’s spending lobby may have succeeded in defeating a TABOR-style requirement for voter approval of taxes, with teacher unions doing a $1.8 million ad blitz of lies about Colorado. Former Gov. Bill Owens and former education commissioner Bill Moloney responded as a truth squad, but the dark side won.

At home in Aurora, however, sensible citizens turned down a tax hike for libraries, of all things. Not even motherhood and apple pie could move the tapped-out taxpayers. It’s a sign that Ritter and his government pals will face a tough sell for any “revenue enhancements” in 2010, or for an outright repeal of TABOR in 2011, if he’s still around. No wonder he prefers a flimsy fix for the budget shortfall with federal stimulus dollars.

This governor’s entire persona has morphed from flinty to flimsy since 2006. It’s harder and harder to take him seriously. He has a gravitas gap. His blunders with labor-management issues have made the statehouse “feel like Detroit,” said Republican challenger Josh Penry at a candidate forum the other night. Team Ritter can’t keep their story straight about the Villafuerte scandal, job creation data, or his own hiring record.

Nor was union political muscle, so helpful in Bill Ritter’s victory three years ago (along with “lawbreaker” slurs against opponent Bob Beauprez), fearsome this time out. Teacher-union candidates did tip the Denver School Board their way on Tuesday. But a reform slate defeated four union-endorsed candidates for Douglas County Schools, and conservative Laura Boggs unseated a liberal incumbent in Jeffco Schools.

Last week’s local election results also hinted of a GOP that is regaining its ground game. My party pushed back against the stealth Democratic efforts in those nominally nonpartisan municipal and school board races. Arapahoe Republican Chairman Dave Kerber helped elect Marsha Berzins to the Aurora Council and Ron Phelps to the Centennial Council. Douglas Republican Chairman John Ransom courageously put money and muscle into his county’s board of education fight.

Hearing that some paper had published his obituary, Mark Twain played it for laughs. Republicans at that forum for governor hopefuls (held Nov. 3 at the Centennial Institute) had a laughing optimism seldom seen since 2004. Senate Minority Leader Penry, former Congressman Scott McInnis, and businessman Dan Maes are campaigning as if they missed the memo that this is now a one-party state. And attitude counts for a lot; ask the Broncos and Coach McDaniels.

Twelve months is forever in politics, it’s true. As Obama slumped in the year past, so Ritter may rebound in the year ahead. But his blue crew is reeling right now. Though no great seer – I’m the guy who thought the Beatles were a flash in the pan – my hunch is Colorado returns to red in 2010.