Flock of lame ducks will make for interesting legislative session

Gov. Bill Ritter’s announcement last week that he wouldn’t seek re-election made political observers seem every bit as sensitive to nuance as TSA types charged with preventing nervous Nigerian al-Qaeda acolytes from boarding jetliners without passports while wearing skivvies primed to blow up.

Ritter’s general reticence of recent weeks might have been considered a hint, but for the most part, a governor who’s angling for face time during the holidays is generally trying to avoid or get out of trouble.

While he was down in the polls to Republican Scott McInnis, Ritter’s political peril wasn’t necessarily one of impending doom.

Several political lifetimes can cycle through the months that remain between now and Election Day, after all. Yet Ritter up and quit on the eve of the legislative session.

To be sure, Ritter has said his reasons for stepping away from a job are “intensely personal,” and most certainly they are.

Still, does anyone doubt that, were the polls showing him enjoying the kind of advantage he had to overcome, the governor might have been able to resist the siren call of retirement?

Personal reasons certainly can’t be quibbled with, but there clearly there was more to the governor’s decision than those.

Last June, Ritter had his son send out a fund-raising e-mail for his re-election campaign, asking donors to “help him continue doing what he loves more than anything: serving our family and millions like ours as Colorado’s governor.”

Ritter could have sat tight, even from being behind in the polls, and watched Republicans rip, smear and destroy themselves as they had done when he ran the first time four years ago.

He might very well have been content to do that, but the Republicans did something he never expected.

Scott McInnis and Josh Penry reached a rapprochement that accomplished the one thing Ritter could least afford — it made him the focus of the campaign. That’s not a comfortable spot, especially for a candidate who’s already down.

Penry made it clear from the outset of his campaign that he had one goal: Beat Ritter.

Everyone took it to mean that he was referring to winning the governor’s mansion for himself.

Even when he pulled out, though, Penry stayed with the “Beat Ritter” mantra.

Now, as he surveys a political landscape largely reshaped by him, Penry has so far resisted acknowledging the obvious conclusion: Mission Accomplished.

Every victory, however, has its cost and we now have a Legislature preparing to go into session under extraordinary circumstances.

Ritter is a lame duck with little sway over his majority legislators. Penry, the Senate minority leader, also is a lame duck, having chosen not to seek election or re-election.

And then there is Kathleen Curry, the freshly minted independent from Gunnison who once had been in the majority leadership. Her presence in the House all session will be a constant reminder to both sides that party needn’t be everything.

In short, none of the usual checks are available to the governor and legislative leadership, though certainly there’s no guarantee that either would actually choose to exercise them if they could.

Every natural urge of the feral Colorado lawmaker will run rampant. We’re embarking on a weird, 120-day saturnalia of politicos gone starkly wild.

Worse, this circus will be played against the backdrop of revenues gone — not gone berserk, just gone — and mounting bills that will make people think this is California with snow.

If you thought that slashing one program at the Grand Junction Regional Center was beyond the pale, prepare to be horrified.

If you thought that increased vehicle-license fees were pushing the bounds, expect promises to rescind them to be forgotten.

That clearly won’t be all as we enter a session of no legislative limits combined with the imperatives of ideology.

In the end, Penry might still be glad he completed the job, but wish he hadn’t done it quite so cleanly, or so quickly.


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